Berkeley High Jazz Ensemble strong

By Miko Sopler Daily Planet correspondent
Friday May 04, 2001

The Berkeley High Jazz Ensemble  


7 p.m.  

Ashkenaz Music and Cultural Center, 1319 San Pablo Av. $15, $10 seniors, students, free for children under 13 


The Fourth Street Jazz  

Festival ,May 20 

The Florence Schwimley Little Theater,  


Allston Way,  

May 25 at 7:30. 


Sometimes a great season can lead to inflated expectations for the next year, and then disappointment follows.  

The Berkeley High Jazz Ensemble won several prestigious competitions and earned a flood of rave reviews last year, but then nine seniors graduated from the band.  

It was a tough act to follow, but this year's squad is proving that a winning streak is possible when there is so much talent on the team. 

Of course, many people already know the names of some of the famously successful players who are alumni of this great band: Joshua Redman, Dave Ellis, Peter Apfelbaum and Kito Gamble.  

But the big-band sound is mostly about the collective sense of swing, the feeling of playing together so that the whole is much more than a sum of the parts.  

How does this band of youngsters maintain such a high level of musicality which many more experienced players can only dream of?  

Part of the magic is in the Ensemble's prestige, which drives the students to be worthy of their heritage.  

Another factor is the simple joy of playing high-quality jazz.  

Most of the band members practice several hours each day without needing to be lectured or cajoled: This is serious fun. 

The band was almost disbanded back in 1994 during a financial crisis at Berkeley Unified School District, when the decision was reluctantly made to cancel several facets of the district's music programs.  

Support from parents and the community saved the music programs, which continue to thrive and provide important opportunities for young talents to blossom. 

Some of the charts they play are classics, while others are more daring compositions which most high school bands would not attempt. And the tradition of improvisation is well established: The music isn't all in the charts.  

This jazz is a lively spontaneous creation, as it should be. 

The music stands and swings on its own merit: this is the real thing.  

It is only a secondary attraction that the players are all young virtuosos.  

Which of these kids  

will become shining stars of the jazz world?  

I would wager that several of these youngsters are bound for successful careers in music.  

Won't it be nice someday to be able to say “I heard that kid when she was still in high school and already a monster musician!” 

All proceeds from ticket sales will support the Jazz Ensemble's summer tour through Europe. 



Miko Sloper can be reached at miko@cheerful.com