By Julie Huss
---- — DERRY — It was all about jazz for 108 of the state’s top student musicians who were handy with a saxophone, xylophone, or vocal beat.
Pinkerton Academy hosted New Hampshire’s Jazz All-State Festival last week, joining instrumental and choral students from high schools all over the state for a few days of intense rehearsal and learning from the experts.
This was the fifth year Pinkerton has hosted the festival.
Students were chosen to participate following a rigorous audition process last year.
Pinkerton Academy senior Matthew McGinnis was learning a lot as the festival got underway at Pinkerton’s Stockbridge Theatre.
The 18-year-old tenor was brushing up on his “scat” skills.
“It’s really cool,” McGinnis said. “It’s really great to see all the other students.”
As for scat — when a jazz singer makes up often nonsense syllables to sing along with a jazz instrumental riff — that can be tricky.
But McGinnis said he already learned a lot from his Pinkerton music classes.
“In music theory, we worked on scat and improvisation,” he said.
It’s not an easy thing, McGinnis said. It requires a lot of practice and skill to get the singing syllables in sync with what the band is playing at the same time.
“And I’ve never worked on this much jazz music before,” he said.
Students spent several days during the festival working with jazz educators from all over the country, including Eastman School of Music’s Dave Rivello, Joseph Schaefer of Berklee College of Music and Larry Lapin of the University of Miami.
Instructors spent rehearsal time with the jazz bands and choral groups, leading up to a concert Saturday for the community.
Londonderry High School senior Joseph Conti participated in the Honors Jazz Band group and said it was a valuable experience.
“There is also a lot of practicing,” the 18-year-old said.
But jazz has a calling like no other.
“I like the free style and how creative you can get,” Conti said.
He wants to eventually attend Keene State University to study music education.
Fellow Londonderry High jazz musician Matthew Marzolo played drums in the festival. From a percussion standpoint, the 17-year-old summed up his views on jazz.
“It’s like playing melody on the drums,” he said.
He also hopes to be a music major after high school.
Rivello told students there is a lot of different music in the world, but one thing should stand out — that’s how musicians garner respect for their craft from their peers and those who listen to the music.
“It’s all about the way you carry yourself, the professionalism,” Rivello said.