A sextet of Idyllwild Arts Academy jazz students performed at the Berklee High School Jazz Festival in Boston. Here they are playing one of their four sets, (from left) Moe Dunaevsky (piano), Raymond Godfrey (bass), Caelen Perkins (drums), and saxophonists Mark Bebee, Franciso De La Garz and Mo Fienberg. Directed by Paul Carman, the ensemble won third place for small ensembles or classes in the S4 group.
Photo by Dave Green

On Thursday, Feb, 8, a select group of Idyllwild Arts Academy students flew east to Boston, Massachusetts. On Friday, they toured the town and the university scene near the Berklee College of Music, which happens to be on the opposite side of the Charles River from Harvard and MIT. Within a 15-minute walk, the students and adults from IAA could visit the New England Conservatory of Music.

“We connected with [IA] alumni and they took us around,” said jazz teacher Paul Carman, who organized the trip. “It’s amazing energy. Every other person on the street has an instrument strapped to their back.

However, the trip was not simply a visit and tour of East Coast colleges. It was much more important to the six students, who were about to perform in the 50th-annual Berklee High School Jazz Festival, one of the country’s largest high school jazz competitions.

More than 3,000 high school students, who comprise more than 215 bands and vocal ensembles, competed, according to the press release.

The Berklee festival has many different categories, most dependent on the size of the school. Idyllwild competed against 16 other schools in its category. The judges awarded it third place for small ensemble this year.

And Carman said proudly. “They did what I wanted. It was the best set they had ever done.”

While it is competition, Carman, professor of jazz studies and saxophone teacher at IA, stressed that the competition is less important than the experience of traveling and then performing under pressure.

“But it is very difficult to get the student into a space of not caring,” he said. “They are pretty competitive. Kids are raised that way.”

IAA jazz students have performed at the festival before. This year, the six students were saxophonists Mark Bebee, Mo Fienberg and Franciso De La Garz, Caelen Perkins (drums), Raymond Godfrey (bass) and Moe Dunaevsky (piano).

The jazz student body is 17 students and these festivals offer the students opportunities to play more difficult music. The IAA jazz faculty is composed of Carman and the renowned Marshall Hawkins. “Everybody takes his classes,” Carman said.

Carman developed a four-piece set for them to perform, which included pieces by Miles Davis, Wynton Marsalis and Carman. “We were able to squeeze in a Charlie Mingus piece at the end,” he said of their 18-minute allotted time.

Some groups play the same pieces at every festival. But Carman disdains this emphasis. In April, the group will perform at the Reno Jazz Festival and between their return from winter break and the April festival, Carman will have them learn to play four more pieces — all new music.

“At school, they are not going to experience playing under this pressure,” Carman said.