Mount Desert Island High School student musicians prepare to perform at the Berklee High School Jazz Festival in Boston last week. PHOTO COURTESY OF ANDREA HOWELL

Berklee judges impressed with MDI musicians



BOSTON — Mount Desert Island High School musicians came home from the 49th annual Berklee High School Jazz Festival after turning in strong performances that earned them compliments from judges and some awards.

MDIHS had a 16-piece big band, Big Group, a combo and a singer perform in their respective categories at Saturday’s festival, which attracted musicians from 135 schools.

“Both the combo and the big band judges were really blown away by our groups,” reported the high school’s music director, Michael Remy. “With the big band, they were shocked by the musical maturity of the ensemble.”

Big Group performed “Kogi” by Jacob Mann and arrangements by big band leader John Clayton of the Billy Strayhorn classic “Take the A Train” and his own tune, “Soupbone.” The band took fourth place in their class. Guitarist Ben Watson was honored with a Judge’s Choice Award.

Watson wasn’t the only member of the big band to get notice from the judges, according to Remy. One judge commented that alto saxophonist Megan Howell’s solo on the ballad arrangement of “A Train” brought to mind Duke Ellington altoist Johnny Hodges. That same judge, himself a trumpet player, complimented lead trumpeter Ben Hagle for his range and endurance.

The combo, Silent Oxen, performed “Double Faced,” composed by Armenian jazz pianist Tigran Hamsyan, which transitioned into Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy after All These Years.” The group closed with an up-tempo “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.”

“The judges were beyond excited by our song selection,” Remy said.

The members of the combo – Howell, Watson, Adam Christianson, Thistle Swann, Dawson Brunett and Avery LaValle – transcribed and arranged the music they performed. Judges, in awarding LaValle a Judge’s Choice Award for his bass playing, praised his lightning-quick fingerwork on “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.”

Swann, who sang with Silent Oxen, also performed in the Jazz Singer’s Showcase, turning in moving renditions of “A Foggy Day” and other tunes.

Audio recordings of the performances by the MDIHS musicians can be found online at http://festival.berkleejazz.org/competition-recordings/?event=2017hsjf.