“Wow… Spectacular… As good as any band at the Festival.”

Those were just some of the comments overheard at the Newport Jazz Festival all weekend following sets by high school and college students from across New England and around the world.

In addition to the URI Jazz Band led by Joe Parillo, two other acts, the Massachusetts Music Educators Association Jazz Ensemble and the Berklee Global Jazz Institute Workshop dazzled family, friends and fans each morning. Their hard work and dedication was evident – the students rose to the historic occasion that is the Newport Jazz Festival.

Student Musicians

We wondered how students prepared for an appearance on the Newport stage – a goal of many professional jazz musicians. So we asked Patrick Donaher, Manager of the Massachusetts Music Educators Association Jazz Ensemble.

“It’s funny you should ask,” remarked Donaher. “Darcy James Argue (the stage conductor) sent me the set list today and a link to the 1959 film, Jazz on a Summer’s Day (which chronicles the 1958 Festival). He asked the kids to watch it between now and Saturday when we rehearse.”

Donaher continued …“Seeing Louis Armstrong on that day with Chuck Berry and Monk, if that doesn’t quite bang it home for you, I don’t know what will. A lot of these kids have played the Ellington music through the Jazz at Lincoln Center Program and are aware of the legend of ‘Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue’ (see below). I’m really impressed with these kids and how much they know and how plugged into this music they are. I don’t think it’s lost on them.”

Several students have gone on to careers in music. “I know that of the seniors this year is going to be a double major including music at UMass Amherst, the guitarist is going to work with Darcy at Princeton, he’s probably going to gig in New York. Most go on to play in their college jazz band. A lot of them go on to teach music.”

Berklee Jazz Institute

 The Berklee Global Jazz Institute Workshop, hosted at Salve Regina University, offers aspiring young musicians a full-scholarship (tuition and housing), and a five-day intensive jazz program taught by world-renowned faculty and led by Artistic Director Danilo Pérez and Managing Director Marco Pignataro.

We met Pignataro, a saxophonist and Berklee College of Music faculty member, at the Festival after several ensembles completed their sets on Friday.

He explained how students at the Institute come from all over the world. “In additional to students from the United States, this year we have Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Chile and Argentina. And Australia, Israel, and South Africa.”

Pignataro described the origin of the program.

“Three years ago, George Wein, through the Newport Festivals Foundation, had this vision of the Festival becoming a place for younger artists to come and be trained by famous artists. He contacted the Global Jazz Institute where we have Danilo Perez, Joe Lovano and other renown faculty. This week we come to Newport and have the partnership with Salve Regina. We spend a week there for the young students to come work with our faculty. I think it’s a very beautiful vision for George Wein and it was encouraging that he would choose our program.”

“We are bringing our curriculum and our philosophy which is very specific, jazz a global art, a process of creativity; its global music to bring humanity, music and social causes together. We ask the students, ‘How is jazz relevant in the world?’ It’s an art form that is changing communities. We want out students to see that they have the power to change their communities.”

In a musical genre that has historically been dominated by men, female students comprised at least half of the students at the Institute. With the Festival reflecting an increased number of female performers this year (about a third of the artists), Pignataro “there were so many girls playing at such a high level, it brought so much energy. I hope we get to a point where we don’t need to talk about it anymore and just happens,” Pignataro noted.

Click here for more information about the Berklee Global Jazz Institute Workshop.

Ken Abrams

Lifestyle Editor Ken Abrams writes about music and more for What'sUpNewp, Providence Monthly, SO RI, and The Bay. He DJ's "The Kingston Coffeehouse" Tuesday nights, 6-9 PM on WRIU 90.3 FM.