Jazz students take home third win at Berklee festival

Jazz students take home third win at Berklee festival

The North Smithfield High School Jazz Band performs at the 50th annual Berklee High School Jazz Festival. A large screen behind the band offers a closer view of jazz students Lucas, Mariotti, Shawn Ready, Michael Ethier and Elizabeth Dagesse.

NORTH SMITHFIELD – The North Smithfield High School Jazz Band took home a first place win at the 50th annual Berklee High School Jazz Festival on Feb. 10, marking the school’s third time placing first at the event, which is the largest of its kind.

The festival included 215 performing ensembles from 165 schools, hailing from 15 states as well as Puerto Rico. Every New England state was represented.

Band Director Metro Narcisi said the North Smithfield students’ impressive performance was the result of months of hard work.

“The level of musicianship is literally some of the best bands you can find,” he said of the festival.

Founded in 1969 by former Berklee president Lee Eliot Berk, the jazz festival started with 21 bands from New England and New York, and has grown into a high profile, prestigious competition, attracting thousands of high school students each year. The free event was held this year at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston and featured several jazz workshops, while showcasing the talent of some 3,000 participating students.

North Smithfield first started competing in the event around 2008, and has had an impressive record from the start, often placing in the top 10. Town students won first place in 2013 and 2014 under former band Director Fritz Benz, who left North Smithfield in 2016 to take a job in South Kingstown.

This year marked Narcisi’s second time bringing a North Smithfield group to the event, and in 2017, they placed second in their division.

“There’s been a recent history of success,” Narcisi said.

This year’s jazz band received the second highest score in the entire festival out of 100 bands, and the highest score in NSHS history.

And while the students’ achievement speaks well of the high school music program’s ongoing success, the director also has an impressive history of results at Berklee. In his previous job at West Warwick High School, bands performing under Narcisi came in first twice, and second seven times.

“In Rhode Island, there’s a handful of schools that have done it,” he said of North Smithfield’s third first place showing.

The competition is broken down by school size, with 16 bands from across the country in each division. Narcisi noted that the divisions with the smaller schools are often more competitive, because they include specialty schools where students can go to high school as music majors.

“Think ‘Fame,’” Narcisi said of the talent level, comparing the competition to the 1980 film where young men and women audition for coveted spots at the New York High School of Performing Arts.

The NSHS Jazz Band was placed in division L5, competing against bands from schools including Cape Elizabeth High School in Maine, the second place winner, and Cromwell High School in Connecticut, which placed third. The finals were streamed live online with 21 North Smithfield students performing works of music by The Count Basie Orchestra and Duke Ellington.

The jazz group was the only Rhode Island ensemble to win in 2018, and while most competitions are won by two or three points, the band director said North Smithfield’s win was more of a “blowout,” with the students finishing 11 points ahead of second place.

And the band wasn’t the only group from North Smithfield to impress judges. The Jazz Choir came in third at the competition this year, placing for their first time. The school’s elite six-member AP Jazz Combo competed at the event for their first time and received an honorable mention. Sophomore Zach Malian received the Judge’s Choice award for outstanding soloist for his work on drums, while lead trumpet player, senior Ben Allendorf, won the same prize for outstanding musicianship. Senior Evan Freiberger also received the Judge’s Choice award, winning for outstanding performer.

Allendorf noted that students look forward to the event, which takes place roughly midway through the school year.

“The legacy of North Smithfield is doing well at Berklee,” said Allendorf. “I don’t think any of us expected to win, but we worked really hard and secured that victory.”

Saxophonist Lucas Mariotti, a senior, said that for him, the highlight of the festival was practicing, and ultimately sharing the win, with his fellow student musicians.

“I think the best part about Berklee is being able to play with the people that we play with,” Mariotti said. “Every day after school we get together and just jam, and it’s a great time.”

Fellow saxophonist Michael Ethier noted that the event is the culmination of a lot of hard work.

“It’s an accomplishment we’ve been aiming for the entire year,” Ethier said.

Bassist Ben Morris, who performed with the AP Jazz Combo, noted that while the performance was a big achievement, the musicians hope to continue their success.

“It’s an elite group and we’re just trying to push ahead and jam out. We’re obviously working very hard after Berklee,” Morris said. “It’s not like we just stop.”

The North Smithfield High School Jazz Band, with Director Metro Narcisi, took home a first place win at the 50th annual Berklee High School Jazz Festival.


It's hard to believe that the next article is about the band director's contract not being renewed. I have had the pleasure of meeting him. Best of luck to you, Mr. Narcisi!