||February 22, 2000 The Groove-Berklee’s Syudent Voice
The Berklee Concert Jazz Orchestra was invited to perform at the IAJE Convention, held in New Orleans January 12-l6, 2000. The invitation itself is quite an honor, and gives Berklee the opportunity to show off the unique international talent of the writers and players, under the enthusiastic leadership of director Greg Hopkins.
In preparation for this performance, Greg started intense rehearsals with the band on Monday and Tuesday, January 11-12. These culminated in performances at Boston Latin High School on Tuesday night, sharing the program with the Boston Latin High School Jazz Band, directed by Massachusetts IAJE Chairman, Paul Pitts. On Wednesday evening, the Berklee Concert Jazz Orchestra traveled by bus to Natick High School, sharing the program with Natick High’s Concert Jazz Orchestra, directed by Jerry Ash. The Natick High Concert was attended by many local luminaries, such as Berklee’s own Ted Pease, as well as Paul Broadnax, Natick Arts Center Director Mike Moran, and jazz fans from as far away as Manchester, NH. At both of these concerts, the audiences and students alike were duly impressed by the diversity of the program and the range of talent represented by Berklee.
On Thursday morning, the band assembled at the pre-dawn hour of 4:30am to head out to Logan Airport, catching the 6:00am flight to New Orleans via Baltimore. Due to the first snow of the season, we had a two hour delay in Baltimore, but everyone was easily pre-boarded on the next flight to New Orleans, landing by 12 noon. Chaperone Barbara LaFitte arranged for two airport shuttles to transport the group to the Holiday Inn Superdome, where we bad arranged a group check-in to accommodate the students. At that point, we walked en masse to the LAJE convention, and registered the entire band, at which time they were free to take in the seminars, concerts, and exhibits.
On Friday morning, everyone was well rested and psyched to play. The IAJE sound crew was diligent about perfecting the mic setup, and Greg took the band through a thorough warm-up and sound check. The program order and the group energy level had been carefully calculated to present the group at their very peak. Beginning with ‘The Time Has Come, The Walrus Said,” by Mike Gibbs, guitar soloist Lage Lund burned through his choruses and set the tone for the rest of the concert. Kari Harris and Mike Shobe followed up with their own creative statements and the audience was enraptured with the spirit coming from the stage. Tenor soloist Jesus Santandreu and pianist Sasha Sanisonova shone brightly on the Spanish phrygian “Mauetica,” by Berklee’s own Abe Rabase. This continued the rising energy, while exploring the international expressions of Berklee’s Jazz Composition program. Along these lines, the tantalizing tango, “Clarascuro,” by Pablo Ablanado came next, with its romantic nods to Piazzola evoking sighs of ecstasy from the audience, and a mesmerizing trombone statement by Kari Hams.
Another Berklee composer, Cirillo Fernandez, provided the next selection, “Fugal Animation,” with its advances contrapuntal swing. Opening with the smooth super fast brush work of Ferenc Nemeth, and wonderful solo contributions by Jesus and Sasha, the music boasted to the audience that “jazz orchestra” can exhibit compositionally complex sophistication and not sound square! The impressionistic “Mineur,” by Berklee Alumni Michelle Barbeau provided another adventurous exploration into the possibilities of the resources of the concert jazz orchestra. Baritonist Mark Tragesser and bassist Emmanuel Vaughn-Lee wove interesting lines while maintaining the bluesy groove. By this time, the audience was completely blown away by all the flavors of the musical travelogue.
After introducing the Jazz Composition Department Chairman Ken Pullig to the audience of an estimated 2000 listeners, Greg finished the program with his arrangement of James Williams’ “Stretchin’,” acknowledging James’ presence as well. The entire band burns on this chart, especially Mike Shobe and Sam Thomas’ solo spots, and the stupendous trombone solo. Lage Lund and Ferenc Nemeth’s solos brought the chart to a frenetic climax, causing an immediate standing ovation at the end of the program. The educators and students quickly rushing the stage to congratulate the band and Greg Hopkins. Remarks were heard throughout the ballroom, wondering how to get the charts, how to recruit these players into graduate programs, and general comments of amazement at the comprehensiveness of the Berklee program. There could be no better way to show off the college than to have this ensemble, with its hand tailored compositions, perform at these festivals.
In conclusion; the trip was an incredible success. Greg and the band members could not walk through the crowd without being congratulated at every step. Many people asking for the charts, suggesting a potential project for the future. The students were all responsible, and thrived on hearing all the music at the convention. Berklee’s presence at these festivals is a wonderful vehicle for promoting the strengths and diversity of the truly unique Berklee experience.