The Berkeley High School Jazz Ensemble started off their concert season with a spirited performance on Thursday Oct. 26, 2023 at the Florence Schwimley Little Theater. Their opening number “Blues for Kazu” by Brandon Moore quickly set the precedent for a high quality performance. It established a vibrant, joyful atmosphere that was displayed throughout the set list. The song featured trumpet and bass with a standout solo from trumpet player Mason Pancoast. This was followed with “Trinacria” by John LaBarbera and then “Oleo” by Sonny Rollins which were both well performed and showcased many strong solos.
For the last few months, members of the BHS Jazz Ensemble have been practicing inside and outside of school to learn the eight song set list that was performed.
“Being in a band like this, it just pushes me to be my best self and just put the best performance out there every time,” said trumpet player and BHS senior Marcel Jenson.
The band’s dedication to their music was displayed in their next song “Una Vez Mas” composed by Dafnis Prieto, which was particularly complex and difficult to learn. Its lively Latin rhythm and exceptional piano and trumpet solos made this song one of the most memorable of the set.
After a short intermission, four combos made up of five to seven students performed one or two songs each. All but one of the combos are completely student run, and practice outside of class.
The outlier is a special group run by Irene Sazer that was made to showcase less conventional jazz instruments. It is composed of a flute, violin, cello, guitar and percussion. The combo played two songs at the Wednesday Oct. 25 performance and both featured very strong solos from varying members. In the second of the two songs, “Chan Chan” by the Kora Jazz Trio, violinist and BHS junior Tanvi Kumar momentarily put down her violin in favor of her voice. Her melodic singing added a new layer to the music and was truly one of the highlights of the night. The song served as a break from the more traditional jazz music that was played up until this point.
“I’m just thankful for being in this program because there’s just so many good people,” said Fletcher Piper, BHS senior and guitarist, “You learn so many things from just being around like all your friends.”
The ensemble started the second half of their set with “Nica’s Dream” composed by Horace Silver. This song was fast and energetic, featuring an animated saxophone solo from BHS junior Kalu Caldas. They followed this up with a slower song, “Waltz of the Penguins” by Tom Kubis.
In “Evil Ways” by Sonny Henry, an upbeat cuban song, Kumar sang for the second time. Her vocals yet again added a focal point to the music and were a welcomed addition to the piece.
The final song “Veneración” by Miguel Matamoros was a worthy piece to end the performance. It was deeper and slower than the two songs before and had a great saxophone solo, gaining the ensemble a well deserved standing ovation by the audience.
“I love Jazz, and making music and practicing together every day, and I love the community in general. There’s a lack of diversity, both gender-wise and racially, within Jazz that we’re always working to improve upon, but in general the community is really, really great,” said flute player and BHS junior Amber Safir.
The overall BHS Jazz community, even outside the ensemble, is filled with a lot of talented and hardworking musicians. Going to their concerts is a great way to immerse yourself in the genre and appreciate jazz in a new light.