The Jazzschool Monday and Thursday Night Studio Bands, under the direction of Keith Johnson, serve as some of the region's most important proving grounds for ambitious high school musicians. For the last four years, they've been selected as finalists at the Next Generation Festival (sponsored by the Monterey Jazz Festival), and the Monday Night Band achieved a three-peat" in 2011 with their third consecutive first-place finish.
Before heading to Monterey on April 1 for their fifth national-stage competition at this year's Next Generation Festival, the Studio Bands will be performing a major concert close to home on Sunday, March 25, with special guest soloist Terence Blanchard. The 7:00 pm performance will take place at the El Cerrito High School Theatre, 540 Ashbury Avenue, El Cerrito. Each band is playing its own set of five tunes, and Blanchard will be featured generously on both bands' programs.
The Thursday Night Studio Band will perform Shadow Dance" (Dave Holland), Chet's Call" (Pat Metheny, arr. Bob Curnow); 'Round Midnight" (Thelonious Monk, arr. Dave Wolpe); Diffusion" (Aaron Lington); and Message from Art" (John LaBarbera).
The Monday Night Studio Band will perform Off the Cuff" (Jim McNeely); Transit" (Darcy James Argue); I Remember Clifford" (Benny Golson); Days of Wine and Roses" (Henry Mancini, arr. Maria Schneider); and Minuano" (Pat Metheny, arr. Bob Curnow).
Dedicated to the study and performance of standard and contemporary big band literature, the advanced-level high school ensembles feature some of the Bay Area's top high school musicians. Performing frequently throughout the Bay Area, the Jazzschool Studio Bands also participate in national jazz festivals throughout the U.S. and abroad. With a steady parade of top local professionals and international jazz stars coming through town to work with the bands, such as saxophonist Chris Potter and pianist Taylor Eigsti in addition to Blanchard, the young musicians get exposed to jazz's most prodigious improvisers.
I try to get the students to focus on the musical side of things, what's beyond the page," says Johnson, 27, who grew up in El Cerrito, graduated from El Cerrito High, and is the Young Musicians Program Director at the Jazzschool. In jazz, it's so important to teach the kids to listen."
The reputation of the Studio Bands has spread via performances at esteemed jazz institutions including Yoshi's, the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival in Idaho, Switzerland's Montreux Jazz Festival, France's Vienne Jazz Festival, Italy's Umbria Jazz Festival, Canada's Victoria Jazz Festival, and the North Sea Jazz Festival in the Netherlands. The Jazzschool Monday Night Studio Band has also been the recipient of two Down Beat Magazine Student Music Awards for Outstanding Performance" (2010) and Best High School Large Ensemble" in the country (2011).
Tickets for the March 25 concert are $20 in advance, $25 at the door. They're available at www.jazzschool.org or by calling 510-845-5373.