By Abina Nepal
An unusually small group and some unusually big talent characterized the Upper School’s annual Spring Jazz Concert last month, when four ensembles impressed a audience of about 80 family and faculty members with a performance that one parent said “brought a lot of joy” to the community.
Directed by Jazz Teacher Pandelis Karayorgis, the ensembles incorporated improvisation into pieces that spanned jazz repertoire ranging from South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim’s “African Marketplace” to Charles Mingus’ elegiac Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.
The four-person Ninth Grade Ensemble opened the May 9 performance in the Chorale Room, followed by the three larger groups—the Monday Jazz Ensemble, the Independent Study Ensemble, and finally the Tuesday Jazz Ensemble, which closed out the evening.
“You can’t believe that these kids are in high school when you hear them,” said audience member Julie Auclair P ’15 ’18 ’26, who has enjoyed seeing the students’ progress over the three years that Tynan Friend ’15 has been part of the jazz program.
“Whenever I come home from any Upper School concert—Chorale, Orchestra, Jazz—I’m always blown away [by] the students’ excellence,” she added. “These concerts are the highlight of [the parents’] year. To see our kids come together and play so beautifully is really something special.”
Arts Department Head John Norton, who was also in the audience, agreed: “The concert was amazing. You know, after watching these guys for so many years, it’s amazing to see how they’ve grown. They’re all really skilled players who just keep getting better and better.”
Such audience feedback accords with Mr. Karayorgis’ observation that this year’s players have been among the most skilled he has encountered.
“I would say that this year and the one before have been some of our best in all the years I’ve been at BB&N because we’ve had a peak concentration of very talented students,” he said.
The 30-odd students in the jazz program each year form a tight-knit community.
“There are perks to having such a small [jazz] community,” trumpeter Sihak Lee ’16 said. “I got to know every musician at BB&N very well, and I think we sound very good as a group now.”
The Ninth Grade Ensemble serves as an unusual example of this closeness. When just three musicians enrolled initially (as opposed to the six to nine players enrolled in the other ensembles), bassist Andre Vogel ’14 volunteered to join despite his age difference.
“The hero of the day, in my opinion, goes to Andre,” Mr. Norton said. “When you’re a senior, it’s atypical to play with freshman, and he didn’t hesitate to do that.”
Andre said his decision to join the group paid off in unexpected ways.
“I decided to play with the ninth graders because I knew they needed a bassist and I thought I would get more playing time with the smaller group,” Andre said. “It ended up being a really fun experience because, as a senior, I don’t usually interact with freshmen, and it was nice getting to know some people whom otherwise I would never have met.”
Andre and 10 of his peers from the jazz program graduate today, leaving Mr. Karayorgis to anticipate “somewhat smaller” groups next year.
“[Reduced group size] can be a good thing as our evening groups [this year] were a bit beyond their optimal size,” he said. “We will miss some of the more advanced musicians, but I hope that younger students will step in.”
He is confident, too, in his returning musicians.
“I am looking forward to another great year since we still have a lot of very talented and motivated students,” he said.