At a time of day when most people are still stuck in rush hour traffic, musicians at Newton South are reading Duke Ellington charts and prepping for regional competitions.
All that practice and hard work will pay off this Saturday, March 10 as the Newton South Jazz Ensemble will travel to Berklee College of Music for its 44th Annual High School Jazz Festival.
The Newton South group, which is made up of students grades 9-12, will compete for $175,000 in scholarships for Berklee's five-week summer performance program. More than 3,000 students from 13 states and Canada will participate.
"It's a great deadline for us," says Newton South Jazz Ensemble Director Lisa Linde. "It gets people focused and it's an opportunity to put ourselves on the line."
The Newton South Jazz Ensemble meets once a week on Monday nights and twice a week during school hours, including a 7:40 a.m. rehearsal on Tuesday. Despite the early hour, many students are tapping along as their peers take a solo and are enthusiastic to jump to a new tune.
Another group, the Newton South Lab Jazz Ensemble, will also be attending the Berklee festival this weekend, Linde says.
Linde explains that the Berklee event is one of the most popular and well-known high school music festivals in the country, and one that both she and the students really enjoy.
Not only do the students get to perform, Linde says, they also have an opportunity to see stellar high school talent as well as professional musicians.
But the Berklee festival is not the only competition the Newton South Jazz Ensemble has on their plate this month; the group competed on Tuesday at a Massachusetts Association of Jazz Education (MAJE) regional competition and may move on to a larger MAJE event later this month.
"It's a busy time of year for us," Linde says.
This year, Linde says the group has worked on a number of big band-style pieces including several ballads, which are often difficult to play with the long, sustained notes and phrases.
And while there is no particular "showcase" piece for the group, the ensemble has a solid repertoire of 5-6 tunes that feature a number of seniors. The goal, Linde says, is to not play the same three pieces at each competition.
As for nerves leading up to the competition, Linde's 14 years of teaching experience at Newton South seem to have her calm and ready to go.
The students on the other hand, feel a bit different.
"The day of [the competition] it's a blast," Linde says. "The kids get nervous, I think, because they're not used to getting on the stage. But for me, it's fun."
The Berklee High School Jazz Festival is free and open to the public this Saturday, March 10, and will take place at the Hynes Convention Center, 900 Boylston St., Boston. The event runs from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and scholarship winners will be announced at 6 p.m. The complete performance schedule is available at berkleejazz.org.