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.
From 1971– to 1992, the festival flourished under director Norman Silver, former Berklee Director of Telecommunications at Berklee. Other critical HSJF leaders include Rob Rose, former Berklee vice president for Special Programs; Festival committee chair, Larry Bethune, former Berklee vice president for Student Affairs; festival Committee Chair, Larry Monroe, former Berklee vice president of International Programs; festival high school band director coordinator, Steve Lipman, former Berklee assistant vice president of Student Affairs; and assistant Festival director, Rena Wade, former Berklee Director director of Auxiliary Services. Darla Hanley, dean of the Professional Education Division, joined the Festival leadership team in 2013 as co-Producer and Director director of Jazz jazz Education education and programs and became Producer in 2018.

The Festival planning committee has worked together for decades—facilitating the event and supporting each other and jazz education. It continues to be an impressive group of professionals who are dedicated to making the festival special. Central committee members over the years include Brad Berger, Cynthia Bethune, Elizabeth Dawe, Jennifer DeCicco, Tracy Gibbs, Maria Goldberg, Cathy Horn, Reggie Lofton, Jeff Mason, and Christina Quarles.

Since our first event, the HSJF has enjoyed annual increases in participation and offerings—moving from an event housed exclusively in at Berklee’s 1140 Boylston Street building to its current location at Hynes Convention Center. Over the years, the festival schedule has included clinics and workshops featuring Berklee faculty, staff, and students—along with Berklee City Music All-Stars and celebrity artists such as Terri Lyne Carrington, Peter Erskine, Tia Fuller, Greg Hopkins, Sean Jones, Abe Laboriel, Sr., Ellis Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, Delfeayo Marsalis, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, Snarky Puppy, and Phil Wilson, to mention a few examples. The festival grew to include expanded categories of large and small instrumental ensembles, vocal ensembles, and the most recently the Jazz Singer’s Showcase for solo vocalists, which began three years ago.

In 2014, the festival partnered with the Jazz Education Network (JEN) to create and offer the John LaPorta Jazz Educator of the Year Award. Named after LaPorta, a Berklee legacy faculty member, the award is presented nationally at the JEN conference and again at the HSJF in recognition of teaching excellence in jazz. Recipients include:

Daniel Gregerman,  Niles North High School, Illinois (2014)
Janis Stockhouse,  Bloomington High School North, Indiana (2015)
Jose Antonio Diaz, Diaz Music Institute and MacArthur Senior High School, Texas (2016)
Robert Klevan,  Monterey Jazz Festival, California (2017)
Diane Downs,  Louisville Leopards, Kentucky (2018)
Thomas Lizotte, Cape Elizabeth High School, Maine (2019)

In 2011, the Festival added a student jazz composition competition in the name of Herb Pomeroy, another Berklee legacy faculty member.  This award was created to elevate music writing and showcase talented high school students with this recognition. Winning compositions have been featured in the HSJF evening showcase concerts performed by some of Berklee’s finest jazz ensembles, including our Rainbow Band and Concert Jazz Orchestra.

In 2010, the Festival received a grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation for the development of a website and opportunity to create resources for jazz educators and students. Other festival support includes vendors such as Jazz Education Network (JEN), Jazz Times Magazine, Vandoren, Vic Firth Company, Zildjian, Steve Lipman Associates, Dudacus, Penella Saxophones, David French Music Co., and many others.

Over the years, thousands of high school students and music educators have benefited from the performance evaluations, clinics, workshops, and scholarship opportunities available to you today. The 2019 festival alone features has approximately 208 ensembles, 53 adjudicators, and several clinicians, and more than 3,000 student musicians participating, making it the country’s largest high school jazz festival.  We are making Festival history today… and look forward to what the future will bring.

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