Photo credit: Berklee College of Music
50th Berklee High School Jazz Festival to Honor Ellis Marsalis, Students on February 10
This free event is the largest high school jazz competition in the nation
Berklee College of Music will present the 50th annual Berklee High School Jazz Festival, the country’s largest high school jazz competition, on Saturday, February 10 at Hynes Convention Center. Over 3,000 high school students who comprise over 215 bands and vocal ensembles will compete for $175,000 in scholarships to various Berklee summer programs. The free event, which is open to the public, will feature performances or workshops by National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Jazz Masters Ellis Marsalis and Delfeayo Marsalis B.M. ’89 in addition to workshops by jazz groups 7th Degree and House of Waters, a performance by the Berklee Concert Jazz Orchestra, and an awards presentation honoring high school ensembles, singers, composers, musicians, and educators. The event will run from 8:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
As part of the festival’s 50th anniversary celebration, Ellis Marsalis will receive an honorary Doctorate of Music degree from Berklee at the awards ceremony. Marsalis is regarded by jazz lovers and critics alike as among the world’s premier modern jazz pianists and bandleaders, and has more than 20 albums to his name. He is also one of the foremost jazz educators of all time, having taught lauded musicians and composers such as Terence Blanchard, Harry Connick Jr., and Donald Harrison Jr., among many others, including four of his highly accomplished sons who are also well-known musicians, composers, and educators: trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, saxophonist and Berklee alumnus Branford Marsalis ’80 ’06H, trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis (also a Berklee alumnus), and drummer and vibraphonist Jason Marsalis. In 2011, the Marsalis family became the first-ever group recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Jazz Masters award.
“It’s amazing to see that Berklee has been leading jazz education with our annual High School Jazz Festival for five decades,” said Darla Hanley, Dean of Professional Education at Berklee. “In addition to celebrating fifty years of the festival, we are also very pleased to honor Ellis Marsalis, one of America’s fathers of New Orleans Jazz, with a Berklee honorary doctoral degree after a day of watching the future of jazz in our high school ensembles.”
The festival will include high school ensembles from 13 states (including all of New England), the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Throughout the day, all ensembles will be adjudicated by a panel of Berklee’s top faculty and receive a written critique of their performances. Top-ranked ensembles will be awarded partial scholarships to Berklee’s Five Week Summer Performance Program, and individual students are invited to audition for tuition scholarships towards the full-time program or the Five Week Summer Performance Program.
In spring of 1969, former Berklee president Lee Eliot Berk founded the first annual high school jazz festival known as the New England High School Stage Band Festival. A Berklee planning team worked with the Massachusetts Association of Jazz Educators (NAJE) organized by Berk and John LaPorta to produce the annual festival. The first festival attracted 21 bands from New England and New York. Rush-Henrietta Central High School Band, directed by Thomas Ghidiu, was the winning ensemble.
Over the festival’s years of greatest growth, from 1971 to 1992, Norman Silver, former Berklee Director of Telecommunications, served as festival director. During that time, literally thousands of talented high school students have participated in the festival, benefiting from the performance evaluations, clinics and workshops, teaching demonstrations, and prize and scholarship award opportunities. In recent years, the festival has grown attracting close to 200 ensembles including small jazz and vocal ensembles. The 2015 festival alone had more than 200 ensembles and over 3,000 student musicians participating, making it the country’s largest high school jazz festival.