Festival History

Standing applauding and watching (from left to right) are Berklee administrators: Phil Wilson (trombone), John LaPorta (woodwinds and head of the Instrumental Performance), Bob Share (Head Administrator), Joe Viola (chair of the Woodwind Dept.), and at the podium Dr. Richard Bobbitt (Dean).

In spring of 1969, former Berklee president Lee Eliot Berk founded the first annual high school jazz festival known as the New England High School Stage Band Festival. A Berklee planning team worked with the Massachusetts Association of Jazz Educators (NAJE) organized by Berk and John LaPorta to produce the annual festival. The first festival attracted 21 bands from New England and New York. Rush-Henrietta Central High School Band, directed by Thomas Ghidiu, was the winning ensemble.

Over the festival’s years of greatest growth, from 1971 to 1992, Norman Silver, former Berklee Director of Telecommunications, served as festival director. During that time, literally thousands of talented high school students have participated in the festival, benefiting from the performance evaluations, clinics and workshops, teaching demonstrations, and prize and scholarship award opportunities. In recent years, the festival has grown attracting close to 200 ensembles including small jazz and vocal ensembles. The 2015 festival alone had more than 200 ensembles and over 3,000 student musicians participating, making it the country’s largest high school jazz festival.

Schools participating in the founding festival in 1969

Bridgeport High School

Falmouth High School
Winthrop High School

First festival's program

Central High School, Weymouth
Danvers High School
Dracut High School
Grafton High School
Holbrook High School
Needham High School
Peabody High School
Tewksbury Memorial High School
Waltham High School
Wellesley High School
Westborough High School
Westwood High School
Xaverian Brothers Stage Band, Westwood

New Hampshire
Pinkerton Academy, Derry

New York
Chenango Valley High School
Rush-Henrietta Central High School

Rhode Island
Barrington High School
Cranston High School

          January 26, 2019