Students Perform at 2016 Newport Jazz Festival
At the 2016 Newport Jazz Festival, high school students from the Berklee Global Jazz Institute Newport Jazz Workshop summer program took the same stage that has been so often home to many of their jazz heroes. The performances came after a week of workshops in which the students honed their chops in classrooms with esteemed Berklee faculty and recent master’s degree graduates.
“Today is the most special moment in our relationship with the Newport Jazz Festival,” said Grammy-winning pianist and composer Danilo Pérez, artistic director of the Berklee Global Jazz Institute, in introducing the workshop’s students, whom he described as “guardians of the creative process” who will “give us hope and give us something to think about.” And on the festival stage, that’s exactly what these promising young students did.
As an ensemble directed by Tim Miller, Berklee guitar professor and Berklee Online faculty member, took the Newport stage, student trumpet player Brandon Woody quickly kicked it into high gear for an epic solo, standing on his tiptoes as he played as if he were about to take flight. He was well supported by his fellow students; guitarist Elijah Cole delivered a similarly simmering solo, while drummer Joshua Green flourished in the pocket. Subsequent student ensembles didn’t take their pedal off the gas on tunes such as Kenny Dorham’s “Short Story,” Edmar Colón’s ‘15 G ‘16 “El Sur,” standards such as “Autumn Leaves” (performed a cappella by Berklee Voice Professor Donna McElroy’s vocal ensemble), and Berklee Percussion Professor Yoron Israel’s “Tippin’.”
On the latter, student pianist Eden Eskaros delivered a performance with her fellow students that she won’t soon forget.
“It was super exciting,” Eskaros says. “I had adrenaline coursing through my veins. It was such an experience and an opportunity I’m very grateful for.”
The successful performance didn’t just happen by magic, however. Eskaros says that the Berklee Global Jazz Institute workshop classes in the week preceding the festival performance were key.
“We learned how to be very interactive and to hear the others and not just be focused on our own little box without looking around at what the others are doing, so we were really listening to each other, and I think that’s why we played pretty well.”
Beyond the performance, Eskaros says that she has made friends in the workshop, a bond that came across loud and clear both on stage and backstage. Before student ensembles took the stage, many huddled together in a group embrace, aware that they were about to partake in the most high-profile gig in their burgeoning performance careers.
In addition to performing with their ensembles, a few of the workshop’s students also had a chance to perform on stage with the Berklee Global Jazz Institute’s faculty and master’s graduates band, which included Pérez on piano, Grammy-winner John Patitucci and Seung-Ho Jang ’14 G ‘16 on bass; Israel and Anthony Fung ‘15 G ’16 on drums; Miller on guitar; Marco Pignataro, BGJI’s managing director, and Colón on saxophone; Isaac Wilson G ‘16 on piano; and Mao Soné ’15 G ’16 on trumpet, as well as saxophonist Patricia Zarate ’99, executive director of the Panama Jazz Festival.
Woody returned to the stage to join the band of instructors, again extending on his tiptoes at apex points in the performance. Also joining in was Panamanian percussionist Eric Blanquicet, whose tambor folclórico work mesmerized festival attendees as the band charged through Pérez compositions “Galactic Panama” and “Chocolate.” As the performance neared its climax, the crowd heartily joined in on a chant led by Pérez and smiles spread throughout the workshop students, who Pérez introduced as “future legends.”
The high school students attended the program on full scholarships with support from Newport founder George Wein via the Newport Festivals Foundation and the Joyce and George Wein Foundation, as well as the Mary Hailer Scholarship Fund, which was established by John and Maureen Hailer.
While the festival performance was clearly the highlight, student Hersh Gupta says that what he learned in the classroom throughout the week leading up to it was most valuable to his musical development, as well as to his worldview. Gupta says that he and other students were initially nervous about how they would compare to others, particularly those who might be more advanced in their playing.
But, says Gupta, the faculty de-emphasized comparing oneself to others, and instead focused on “how this is all about sharing ideas with one another and learning how to appreciate each person for who they are.”
Judging by the overwhelmingly positive response from the Newport crowd, festival attendees shared in that appreciation.