PENFIELD, N.Y. (WROC) — Every year, for the past 50 years, Penfield High School has hosted their annual jazz fundraiser show. The school district manages every year to wrangle some of the biggest names in jazz, ranging from Jane Monheit, Russel Malone, Clark Terry, Wycliffe Gordon, Benny Green, and Rochester’s own Jeff Tyzik.
To celebrate those 50 years, they brought in acclaimed and Grammy-award winning saxophonist Jeff Coffin, who is best known as the saxophonist with the Dave Matthews Band.
“The longevity is a hallmark of the event, and it’s a flagship event for the whole school district, and for the community,” said Bryan Bricco, PCSD’s K-12 Music Department chairperson.
Each one of these incredible musicians, who are held in the highest esteem by their peers, record and sell incredible music, and fill up venues across the world, comes to Penfield for about a week, offering masterclasses, culminating in a final performance with kids across the district.
Except this year, due the pandemic and restrictions in performance space, Penfield is postponing.
“I want to re-iterate for sure that this is postponement,” he said. “It’s not a stop, it’s a pause.”
In the meantime, Bricco says funding secure for the next year. After all, Bricco says that all of the fundraising for the show goes to continuing the program. With the successful 2020 fundraiser, no big events since last March, they’re in good shape for 2022’s big show.
Bricco says that the school is doing some more “creative” ways to get the music out there. Since concerts are not an option given the state of the pandemic, and New York’s own guidelines, they have turned to the usual battery of audio recordings, virtual shows, and using every tool in the technology toolbox.
“Just something to give back to the community,” he said.
For students, even through a mask, playing music, despite the challenges, is a breath of fresh air.
“”Just being able to play this music is superb. As you were saying we’ve been playing (together) for three years now,” said senior trombonist Drake Saysomvang, referring to his friend Smith. “It’s nice to have just a little bit of (it), much better than absolutely nothing.”
That theme of community runs strong in this program, but possibly the fundraiser’s biggest strength is how it helps the students. Bricco tracks down A-list talent who have a love of education. During their stay, the artists elicit so much from the students:
Inspiration, and bragging rights, to name a couple topics the students brought up.
“It was so crazy just seeing him play, and seeing the potential that someone could have on an instrument like that,” said Conor Smith, a senior saxophonist. “Listening to him play these sounds that I’ve never heard before in my life.”
“I think it was pretty cool honestly. I got to solo in front of him, he gave me a fist bump, that was really fun,” said Jackson Holleran, a junior drummer.
But that inspiration can last even beyond high school.
Dave Kluge graduated from Penfield High School in 2003. He studied bass at Penfield and beyond, and is now a teacher in the Rush Henrietta High School, and a locally celebrated bass player and composer/arranger.
He vividly remembered his Penfield jazz fundraiser with violinist Regina Carter.
“You really saw that buildup to the February concert, and who is going to be the guest artist that year,” Kluge said. “It really elevated everyone’s expectations of themselves, and the concert itself.”
Kluge was especially inspired by Carter, compared to the handful of other artists that he had seen come through the fundraiser. Kluge and Carter both play a stringed instrument, but solo violin is an uncommon instrument in the jazz universe.
Watching Carter work, interact with the students, and perform, inspired Kluge to try new things musically: he vividly recalls writing a piece of music for jazz rhythm section and a string quartet, something he had never attempted before.
He also says that seeing these artists interact everyone at Penfield, inspired him to become a teacher.
This even perpetuates the program. Bricco says that every year they get an uptick in enrollment of the same instrument that their guest played. So after seeing more saxophonists sign up, he’s targeting another instrument for 2022.
“We’re looking at a low brass player for next year,” he said. “Namely a trombonist.”