BLUE HILL —George Stevens Academy’s combo Jam Bake placed third last Saturday at Berklee College of Music’s annual Berklee High School Jazz Festival in Boston. The festival is the largest of its kind in the United States, drawing more than 200 high school jazz ensembles.
“It’s an exhilarating moment as a music educator anytime you can play with some of the best high school ensembles in the country and do better than all but one or two of them,” said George Stevens Academy’s Music Director Steve Orlofsky of the performance of Jam Bake. “This is my 41st year [attending the festival] and I’ve seen so many successful moments, but this one was really special.”
Jam Bake is composed of Courtney Bianco, ’19, alto sax; Edward Conte, ’19, drums; Erika Hipsky, ’20, alto sax and flute; Duncan Howell, ’20, trombone; Quinn Stabler, ’20, bass; LeeAnn Varnum, ’19, soprano and tenor sax; Elana Williamson, ’19, vibes and piano; and Tess Williamson, ’19, piano and vocals.
“The camaraderie and support that the members of Jam Bake show for each other is phenomenal. They really pull for each other, and they are a joy to work with,” Orlofsky continued. “Their whole demeanor is amazing, and it showed in the performance.”
Jam Bake earned 274 of a possible 300 points from the three judges. Judge Ron Reid called the set of three songs “a brilliantly varied program and a pleasure to watch. … The camaraderie you shared with your background lines and feel changes was imaginative and endearing.”
This is the sixth time a GSA jazz combo has risen to the challenge and placed in the top four at the festival, which they did in 2004, 2005, 2010, 2011 and 2017. The schools that finished ahead of GSA are an arts magnet school in Connecticut and a music school in Puerto Rico, both of which set aside hours of every school day for their ensembles to practice.
“And then there’s little old GSA,” said Orlofsky, who meets with Jam Bake for three 65-minute periods a week.