Arts Listings

Apfelbaum Leads Berkeley High Jazz Band in March 6 Show At Yoshi’s By IRA STEINGROOT Special to the Planet

Tuesday February 28, 2006

Public school jazz education began in Berkeley in 1966 when Herb Wong, the principal at Washington Elementary, offered a jazz class to his music students. It wasn’t long before every school in the district had a jazz band. 

When Phil Hardymon, who had worked with Wong at the grade school level, became band director at Berkeley High in 1975, he parlayed all the work that had gone on in the lower grades into the top-rated high school jazz education program in the country.  

Berkeley High jazz bands and members regularly win state and national competitions and scholarships and have performed at the Monterey, Umbria, Montreux and North Sea jazz festivals—and why not when their alumni include such stellar artists as David Murray, Craig Handy, Josh Redman, Benny Green and Peter Apfelbaum? 

In fact, pianist Benny Green and saxophonists Craig Handy and Joshua Redman all paid their dues in Apfelbaum’s 17-piece Hieroglyphic Ensemble, which he founded in 1977 when he was 17. Last year, the Berkeley High Jazz Ensemble began talking to Peter about commissioning a piece from him and in the fall he began writing it. 

For the past week, he has been rehearsing with the band for a March 6 premiere of the composition at Yoshi’s. Even before that, some of Peter’s associates from his Hieroglyphic Ensemble, like percussionist Josh Jones, were working with and tutoring members of the Berkeley High group. What Herb Wong began has become a multi-generational community of teachers, alumni and students which gives the Berkeley jazz community a depth and resonance often lacking elsewhere. 

Peter said that the piece is still untitled, but it will be a 15-minute suite with five written sections, with solos performed within both the composed portions and the looser intervals between the written parts. Peter will sit in with the Ensemble when they perform the piece during both of their sets. 

All composers have to write something beautiful, but the jazz composer’s writing must also be a structure or catalyst which can generate inspired improvisation from the soloist-performer. The jazz composer has to trust that the players can creatively complete the creative act of composition in the creative act of performance. This involves a lot of trust from everyone and is one of the qualities that makes live jazz so exciting, a little like doing a trapeze act without a net. 

Part of that excitement comes from hearing young musicians pushing themselves to the limit playing cutting edge jazz. Eleven of the Ensemble players are seniors, most of whom have been in the band for four years and are now going on to further education at colleges and conservatories, many of them in New York City. Some have won national scholarships and fellowships making this a highly talented and cohesive group.  


The Berkeley High Jazz Ensemble featuring Peter Apfelbaum will present the premiere of a jazz suite by Apfelbaum at Yoshi’s, 510 Embarcadero West, Oakland, on Monday, March 6, at 8 and 10 p.m. Each set will feature a Berkeley High Jazz Combos as well. Tickets are $15. For more information, call Yoshi’s at 238-9200.