High School Students Learn from Masters at Newport Jazz Workshops
At the recent Berklee Global Jazz Institute Workshop at the Newport Jazz Festival, 40 high school student jazz musicians spent a week honing their craft with some of Berklee’s most talented faculty and newly minted recipients of Berklee’s contemporary music (global jazz concentration) master’s degree. The students selected for the intensive program ate, slept, and breathed jazz for five days. All of them were accepted into the program on a full scholarship from Newport Jazz Festival founder (and Newport Folk Festival co-founder) George Wein via the Newport Festivals Foundation and the Joyce and George Wein Foundation, with additional support coming from the Mary Hailer Scholarship Fund, established by John and Maureen Hailer.
“There are so many young people in the world who want to play jazz, so this was a natural fit and I am very grateful for what Berklee has done,” Wein says. “I hope the program continues for many years.”
Indeed, many of the young people who participated in the program described it—from the classroom to the stage of Newport—as a life-changing experience.
In the Classrooms
Located on the campus of Salve Regina University, not far from the Newport Jazz Festival, the classrooms of the Berklee Global Jazz Institute Workshop were teeming with music. In one classroom, Grammy-winning pianist and composer Danilo Pérez '88, the world-renowned artistic director of the Berklee Global Jazz Institute, advised a student pianist to “let the song tell you what to do.”
Meanwhile, next door, another virtuoso, Grammy-winning bassist and Berklee artist in residence John Patitucci, encouraged his young bass students to explore music history and particularly the African cultural influence on jazz. Down the hallway, Yoron Israel, assistant chair of Berklee’s Percussion Department, instructed his student percussionists to sing the melody to “When the Saints Go Marching In” as they played, noting that the melody would inspire new elements in their drumming.
Above all of this, on the second floor, veteran jazzman George Garzone, a Woodwinds Department professor at Berklee, peppered constructive criticism with personal anecdotes. “Growing up in an Italian family, I learned that the criticism was all because they wanted me to be better,” he told his students. A few doors down, Tim Miller, guitar professor at Berklee, helped a student guitarist that was struggling with a particularly difficult passage, suggesting, “Grab some triads that will help you get through that tough moment.” A few blocks away, Berklee Voice Professor Donna McElroy wrapped up her vocal ensemble’s practice with hugs.
Passing the Torch
The workshop was not merely a chance to learn from musical heroes such as those above—and others such as Grammy-winning percussionist Terri Lyne Carrington '83 '03H and Marco Pignataro—however; it was also a chance to put that learning into action, and the next generation of Berklee-trained musicians rose to the challenge. In addition to BGJI pianist Witness Matlou ’15 ‘16G, who handled the workshop’s logistics, Berklee Global Jazz Ambassadors Edmar Colón ‘15 ‘16G, Seung-Ho Jang ’14 ‘16G, Mao Soné ’15 ‘16G, Anthony Fung ‘15 ’16G, and Isaac Wilson '16G, each a member of the inaugural graduating class of Berklee's Master of Music in contemporary performance (global jazz concentration) program, led student ensembles in in-depth practice sessions that culminated in outstanding performances on the workshop’s final night.
Soné says that he and Colón have been friends since they first met as high school students at a workshop Carrington led in 2008, and he is excited about facilitating similar connections among the workshop’s young students. “I really want them to love this music,” Soné says, “but also to make friends with really high-level musicality” that they will collaborate with in the future.
“The faculty has passed to us what was passed to them by masters like Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, and many others,” Colón says. “It’s almost like an umbilical cord to the music and to the culture, so we want to pass to these students what has been passed to us, which, in the case of the Berklee Global Jazz Institute, is not just music, but how, with music, we can become better human beings for the society of today.”
An Education Beyond Music
That message was not lost on Eden Eskaros, a pianist going into her junior year, who says she’s interested in attending Berklee for college. “I liked how they were teaching us how a musician isn’t just the music they play. It’s who you are as a person,” Eskaros says.
For many students, such as high school bassist Colson Jimenez, the experience was almost overwhelming. Jimenez says he has been listening to John Patitucci, whom he describes as “a giant,” for years, so “the idea of studying with him is just absolutely insane.”
Austin Zhang, a saxophonist whose father, also a saxophonist, looked on with pride as he performed, summed up the gratitude that many of his peers expressed: “I’m just feeling really thankful that we can come together from all over the country and world,” Zhang says. “It’s been a really beautiful thing to make music together.”
As the workshops concluded, the students made more of that beautiful music on stage at the Newport Jazz Festival, a thrilling capstone to this fulfilling week.