BY JENNIFER SOLIS
---- — WEST NEWBURY — Music is in the air this month as Pentucket’s Middle and High School performing artists take center stage to offer three free performances for the public.
On Friday, May 17, special guest performer Ben Kono joins Pentucket’s award-winning Jazz Combo at the spring session of Café Jazz.
Held in the high school cafeteria at 7 p.m., the evening also features the high school Blues Ensemble and Big Band and the Middle School Jazz Band, playing tunes by Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Thad Jones, Sonny Rollins and Johnny Griffin. Pentucket senior Emma Jones will offer a special encore performance of Nina Simone’s “Four Women” — the song she performed at the recent “Civil to Civil” event at the high school last month.
A world-class musician, Kono has established himself as one of the most sought-after woodwind players on Broadway and throughout the New York City Jazz scene. He has performed in venues from Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall to Birdland and Le Poisson Rouge and works with a wide variety of talent, such as Hugh Jackman and Liza Minnelli.
“I met Ben over a decade ago when he began playing in my New York City jazz orchestra Sound Assembly,” said Pentucket’s director of jazz, David Schumacher. When looking for a progressive tune to include in the musical set the Jazz Combo performed during the Berklee College High School Jazz Festival this winter, Schumacher chose the song “Rice,” a favorite of his from Kono’s debut album.
The combo took top honors at the Berklee festival this year and Schumacher’s students enjoyed the tune so much he decided to bring Kono to the district as a special treat to top off a very successful year for the Pentucket jazz program.
“It will be a thrill for our students to share the stage with Ben performing ‘Rice’ and several other tunes from their set.” Earlier in the afternoon, Kono plans to conduct jazz clinics for all jazz students at the high school.
A highlight of Pentucket’s cultural season, Café Jazz transforms the high school cafeteria into a sizzling jazz joint. Admission and refreshments are free, with donations to the music program in the broken drum at the back of the house gratefully accepted.
The following week, under the direction of Pentucket’s Paul Dumas, the Middle and High School Percussion and Mallet Ensembles present their spring concert in the high school auditorium on Wednesday, May 22, at 7 p.m.
Kicking off the program is “Hoo-Daiko,” a piece inspired by traditional Japanese taiko drumming.
The Pentucket Indoor Winter Percussion Ensemble performs their show “STRIKE,” featuring music from the Broadway musical “Newsies.” New to the music department this year, this ensemble features students in grades 7-12 performing a piece with multiple movements. After competing in February, March and April, the newly formed ensemble took fifth place in the New England Scholastic Band Associate circuit this year.
The concert closes with “Big Country,” written by world-renowned banjo performer and jazz musician Bela Fleck. This feel-good piece features Pentucket seniors Peter Davis and Edward Gaudet on marimba and Dumas promises “its Americana-inspired melody is sure to get stuck in your head.”
Any donations made in the broken drum at the door during the concert will be matched by the non-profit Pentucket Arts Foundation as part of its “Zach Match” — a fund that helps support the district’s percussion program. The fund was established to honor the contributions of Zach Field, who founded the program.
Pentucket’s annual music trifecta began last Wednesday when the Middle School Jazz and Concert Bands teamed up with the High School Concert Band for a show. Under the guidance of musical director Bobby Rathbone, the evening opened with the jazz band performing selections from works by Bobby Timmons and Herbie Hancock. Composers Pierre LaPlante, Jared Spears and John Edmondson were featured in a piece called “Scenes of Small Town America on a Sunday Morning,” in which the Concert Band took the audience on a musical tour of small towns across the nation.
The evening concluded with an exploration of the world of nature and industry in “Nature vs. the Machine.” An arrangement featuring works by classical composer Aaron Copland and contemporary composers Samuel Hazo, Brian Balmages, John Mackey and Steven Bryant, the piece “allows us to experience the grandeur and wonder of the nature all around us” while also projecting “the metric heart beat of technology as its influence grows in our lives,” said Rathbone.