The “National Jazz Festival,” a new High School Jazz Competition, Debuts in Philadelphia

By Steven Bryant

The National Jazz Festival, an intensive musical competition that will be attended by schools from throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico, will take place on Saturday, February 15, at the Philadelphia Convention Center in Center City. Over 1200 high school and middle school musicians from 43 schools in 11 states will perform and compete in this one-day event, which also includes music instruction and other classes for aspiring musicians. All events are free and open to the public.

The National Jazz Festival was created by a number of instrumental and vocal jazz ensemble directors who made it their mission to educate and inspire high school jazz musicians throughout the county. It is a rebirth of a movement that grew organically from the attendees of the Berklee High School Jazz Festival, which began in 1968. Berklee President Lee Eliot Burke created the jazz festival to offer an opportunity for high school music students and their band directors to perform in a top-rate setting as well as interact with Berklee faculty and students; it was shuttered unexpectedly last year. 

According to it’s official statement, Berklee discontinued the festival because it redirected its funding priorities to increase assistance to its students. NJF Executive Committee member Addie O’Beirne says, “We felt it was important that music students have that opportunity to perform in a high-profile setting as well as be exposed to professional musicians.”

In addition to the student performances at the new festival, a number of noted ensembles will participate and perform. The U.S. Army “Jazz Ambassadors,” who will be NJF “Artists-In Residence” will also perform. In addition, the festival will feature performances by the 78th Army Band Liberty Vibes Latin Jazz Combo, an ensemble from the University of the Arts, the Kutztown University Big Band, and the West Chester University Big Band. 

For NJF Executive Committee Head Joe Bongiovi, the National Jazz Festival will hopefully become an annual nationwide event. As a Philadelphia native, Biongovi felt that his hometown would be the natural location for this event. “Philadelphia has a historic role in the development of the music, and its location makes it easy for scholastic bands from all over the East Coast to attend. We are optimistic that the festival will become the premier scholastic event in the country.”

The National Jazz Festival takes place on Saturday, February 15, at the Philadelphia Convention center. For more information contact Amanda Kewley 609-933-6564 or Addie O’Beirne 404-861-114. The NJF email is nationaljazzfest@gmail.com 

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