By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Region – Jazz students from Marlborough High School (MHS) and Algonquin Regional High School (ARHS) added an impressive credit to their resumes when they performed May 4 at the Hatch Shell on the Boston Esplanade.
The invitation was extended after an ensemble from each school earned a Gold Medal rating at both the district and state big band festivals presented by the Massachusetts Association for Jazz Education (MAJE). Joining them was the MHS Small Jazz Combo who received a Gold Medal rating at the MAJE state combo/choir festival.
According to Steve Conant, MAJE president, “The Gold Medal is a standard attached to a very challenging rubric.”
This was achieved for the fifth time within six years by MHS Jazz Ensemble, the third consecutive year by MHS Small Jazz Combo, and the second consecutive year by ARHS Jazz I Ensemble.
MHS and ARHS were among 11 schools given 20 minutes to set up and perform at the Hatch Shell. Due to potentially inclement weather, schools such as MHS with both a Gold Medalist ensemble and combo needed to include each presentation within that time.
Gary Piazza, MHS band leader, credits the student-run combo's drive to rehearse independently and perfect their skills. Each of them also plays with the ensemble.
“It speaks highly of these students to find a time when they'se all available to practice,” he noted. “For them to get positive feedback at the state festival validates all their hard work.”
At the state combo/chorus festival, Outstanding Musicianship awards were presented to Alex Aquila, Sarah Hanahan and Alex Sutton.
The combo opened MHS's set at the Hatch Shell.
“They made adjustments so that they could play five-and-a-half minutes of “Tokyo Blues,”” Piazza explained. “Then our big band rushed up onstage to continue our 20-minute program.”
Piazza observed the ensemble's enthusiasm as they performed the jazz classic “Anthropology,” the ballad “Body and Soul,” and “Tangerine” from the 1942 film “The Fleet's In.”
“It's a thrill for me to watch their expressions and for them to fully appreciate how they got there,” he said. “That experience of performing at the Hatch Shell in some cases may be an experience of a lifetime.”
Awarded Outstanding Musicianship at the state big band festival were Alex Aquila, Connor Bailey and Sarah Hanahan.
Piazza emphasized the importance of giving students an opportunity to learn jazz.
“Jazz is such a high level of critical thinking skills,” he said. “It's important to keep this challenging musical style alive in the public school system and in the public in general.”
Eric Vincent, ARHS Jazz I Ensemble director, knew that his students looked forward to returning to the Hatch Shell. This year, he directed their performance of the bebop tune “In Full Swing,” the ballad “”Round Midnight” and the driving-funk chart “Freedom Jazz Dance.”
“All three tunes showcased different styles and techniques,” he said. “The kids like “Freedom Jazz Dance” a lot and it was probably the crowd favorite.”
Vincent stressed to the students that the district and state festivals aren's a competition.
“I tell them that the goal isn's to win medals,” he said. “But if you put in the time and effort, then you'sl be recognized for achieving a high level.”
Recognized for Outstanding Musicianship at the state festival were Connor Jenks, Brian Keefe and Hyun Shin.
The experience of performing at the Hatch Shell is unique for young musicians, Vincent noted.
“It's a Boston landmark and a notable venue,” he said. “The Boston Symphony Orchestra plays there and people see it on TV. Not too many high school kids get the honor to play at the Hatch Shell.”