The Idyllwild Arts Academy jazz combo took first place for the second consecutive year at the prestigious Berklee College of Music High School Jazz Festival, now in its 44th year. Last year in its inaugural outing at the festival and in its first out-of-state performance, the Idyllwild Arts combo made history by upending schools that had often won in previous years.
This year, as in last, Idyllwild Arts won first place in the prestigious arts school category and its guitarist, Oregon resident Lake Jiroudek, won for Superior Musicianship in the combo division.
This year’s winning combo was a quartet. In 2011, the school sent a sextet. Jiroudek is the only member from both combos. This year the pianist was Luca Jacaruso, from New Jersey; on bass, from Hemet, was Mary Duffy; and from Russia, on drums, was Maxim Kazakov.
The quartet played to a standing-room-only audience that had come to hear musicians from the school that had placed first last year. “This year, the attendance at our performance was all driven by reputation from last year,” said Paul Carman, who, along with Marshall Hawkins, accompanied the group to Boston.
Neither the packed house nor the judges’ presence intimidated the group, according to Carman, who added, “They grew from the challenge, playing the best they had ever played.” And once again the Idyllwild Arts combo took the gold. “Marshall and I continually stress we’re not going there to win,” said Carman. “We’re going there to play really good music in venues away from our school. And that’s what they did. They went out and played.”
Carman recounted that Mary Duffy, who attended Hemet High School before coming to Idyllwild Arts for her senior year, has played in local ensembles since she was very young, including the Mt. San Jacinto Symphony. “She is extremely talented and plays at a high level,” he noted. “She carried them [the combo] all the way to the finish line,” said Hawkins proudly.
Following the procedure used last year, the combo rehearsed three tunes, timing them to allow improvisation within the 18 minutes allotted by festival rules. “Other groups rehearse their solos and lock them in,” Carman said. “But that’s not jazz. That’s why we built in time for improvisation to give each of them a chance to stretch out.”
“This is Paul’s combo,” stressed Hawkins. “I just assign these students to the combo. I’m very proud of what they’ve accomplished.”
In April, the students will compete in the Reno Jazz Festival. And just as they did last year in Reno, they will change out one of the three tunes played at Berklee: “Moments Notice” by John Coltrane, “Monks Mood” by Thelonious Monk, or “Straight Up and Down” by Chick Corea, to keep it fresh and in the moment. “It gives us three weeks to learn a new tune,” said Carman. “In the real world it’s one rehearsal and then the gig.
“One of the things we worked on this year was teaching Lake leadership skills,” Carman said. “That was a lot of what Lake learned.” When asked about his role at Berklee, Carman said, “I set them up and from then on it was Lake’s band.”
Lake is a senior, Mary is also a senior but will return next year for a post-graduate year and both Luca and Max are sophomores.