Director Steve Orlofsky, top left, stands with members of Jam Bake, kneeling, from left, Tess Williamson and Elana Williamson; standing from beside Orlofsky, Courtney Bianco, Erika Hipsky, Ed Conte, LeeAnn Varnum, Quinn Stabler, and Duncan Howell. PHOTO COURTESY OF DAVE HIPSKY
Jam Bake Takes Third at Berklee
“When they announced the honorable mention, we thought ‘aw, there goes our chance at placing,’” said Erika Hipsky of the GSA jazz combo Jam Bake, “but when they announced our name, we were kind of like, did this just happen?”
Indeed it did. On Saturday, Jam Bake wowed the judges and took third in its class in the Berklee High School Jazz Festival, the largest of its kind in the United States, with more than 200 ensembles competing.
“We were all going for the experience of being at Berklee, and then when they called our name, we [realized] we belong here,” said Tess Williamson.
Jam Bake is composed of Courtney Bianco ’19, alto sax; Edward Conte ’19, drums; Hipsky ’20, alto sax and flute; Duncan Howell ’20, trombone; Quinn Stabler ’20, bass; LeeAnn Varnum ’19, soprano and tenor sax; Elana Williamson ’19, vibes and piano; and Tess Williamson ’19, piano and vocals.
“The camaraderie and support that the members of Jam Bake show for each other is phenomenal,” said Steve Orlofsky, the combo’s director at George Stevens Academy. “They really pull for each other, and they are a joy to work with. Their whole demeanor is amazing, and it showed in the performance.”
“It’s an exhilarating moment as a music educator,” said Orlofsky, “anytime you can play with some of the best high school ensembles in the country and do better than all but one or two of them.”
Jam Bake earned 274 of a possible 300 points from the three judges. Ron Reid, one of those judges, called the three-song set “a brilliantly varied program and a pleasure to watch. … The camaraderie you shared with your background lines and feel changes was imaginative and endearing.”
This is the sixth time a GSA jazz combo has risen to the challenge and placed in the top four at the festival, which they did in 2004, 2005, 2010, 2011 and 2017, quite a feat considering the competition. The schools that finished ahead of GSA this year are an arts magnet school in Connecticut and a music school in Puerto Rico, both of which set aside hours every day for their ensembles to practice.
“And then there’s little old GSA,” said Orlofsky, who meets with Jam Bake for three 65-minute periods a week.
Jam Bake listened to some of their competitors, including the school from Puerto Rico that placed second. “None of us thought we could compare to them,” said Hipsky. But “we were only like eight points [behind],” said Conte.
The group also attended the performance of an ensemble from South Portland High School to see what the competition is like in another division, and that group and some of their family members came to support GSA.
“All the Maine schools were supportive of one another,” said Tess Williamson, “but in a month, we’re gonna be rivals,” she said, referring to the District 6 High School Instrumental Jazz Festival to be hosted by George Stevens Academy on Feb. 27.
To listen to Jam Bake's performance (and some introductory information and announcements), visit the festival's competition results page and scroll down to Class S4.