The expectations have gone up for Braintree High School’s jazz band, which will venture back to the Berklee College of Music High School Jazz Festival in early March for the second time.
The school first appeared in the national competition in 2011, competing against 16 bands in the “large school” category for recognition while playing their hearts out for musicians from around the country.
Coming in 11th place, High School Jazz Band director David Buckley was proud of his group of fledgling musicians, but said this year the hope is to do even better.
“The program is pretty new at Braintree high school, so to get our feet wet and place 11th, I was pretty happy with that,” Buckley said. “I’m hoping this year to do much better. We had one student after the last competition who has graduated, so we’ve retained most of our talent and have a year’s more experience under our belt.”
The group of 17 students, ranging in grade level from freshman to senior, and playing a variety of jazz instruments, submitted an audition tape for the chance to enter the competition – the largest in the country for high school students.
Since receiving the go-ahead to perform, the group has been preparing three pieces, a Latin number called Jive Samba, a swing tune named Cotton Tail by Duke Ellington, and an R&B version of Amazing Grace.
“We’re trying to hit all the different jazz fields, the Latin, R&B, and old time swing,” Buckley said.
Typically the students come to practice two days a week; excitement is high and energy abounds, and the band members have been knocking down the doors to get in more practice time.
“I’ve been noticing when you put in more time you get better results, so I’m working them pretty hard these days,” he said. “They are definitely putting in extra time.”
The only ones feeling the pressure are the soloists, who will be judged on their solo performance.
They, too, have been stepping up to do their best, Buckley said, practicing for two hours at home before coming in to practice with the full band.
The entire group will take the Red Line to Hynes Convention Center on March 2, and will perform as well as take part in clinics and concerts by award-winning musicians and Berklee alumni.
Groups are not only trying to win a title, but are also competing for $175,000 in scholarships to Berklee’s five-week Summer Performance Program.
More than anything else, though, Braintree High students are there to have fun.
“They are looking forward to it,” Buckley said. “It’s a fun day.”
The event is free and open to the public. For a concert schedule, click here.