Berklee Shows Off Its Students

As if to celebrate the departure of Irene only hours before, at 6 p.m. last Monday evening music began to echo off the walls of the upper courtyard of the Charles Hotel. No, the Regattabar hadn’t forgotten to close a window. Rather, the Caili O’Doherty Trio, a group of three young jazz musicians from the Berklee College of Music just down the Charles River, entertained both those familiar with the Cambridge jazz scene and unknowing hotel guests with a free two-hour concert in the best weather New England can muster.

The Regattabar is known for attracting some of the most renowned talent in the jazz world, and this young trio is no exception. Caili S. O’Doherty may be a 19-year-old junior at Berklee, but her credentials are already dazzling. Composition and performance awards from DownBeat magazine, a full scholarship to Berklee, and a list of past teachers including some of the biggest names in contemporary jazz—such as Greg Osby and Danilo Perez—suggest that O’Doherty is nothing short of a prodigious talent on the piano. Her trio—including drummer Roberto Giaquinto, originally from Italy, and bassist Shin Sakaino, originally from Japan—sound synchronized and unmistakably professional, a testament to the breadth of their talent and the rigor of their higher education. In presenting performers of this caliber to the broader public, Berklee is attempting to publicize their name and highlight the quality of their programs.

As part of a series of summer concerts known as “Courtyard Series: Berklee at the Regattabar,” this concert represents Berklee’s outreach efforts to the Boston community and beyond, with the philosophy that there’s no better way to advertise Berklee than through the musical talent of its own students. “Many people have been coming back every week, several of them prospective students,” says Ben S. Roberts, producer of the Regattabar series. He describes the origin of the idea three years back, when Michael Borgida, a Berklee student turned staff member, decided it would be great publicity to host concerts throughout the Boston area, including near the Prudential Center, at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), and, of course, at Cambridge’s primary jazz venue, the Regattabar. “The bands have been great, and they’re only getting better,” Borgida says.

Monday’s concert was the last to take place at the Regattabar this summer, but its success suggests that this tradition of free concerts will be back for many summers to come. As the trio progressed through a set of standards, hard bop gems, and some of O’Doherty’s own compositions, the upper courtyard’s many tables filled until listeners lined the planters framing the space. Jeong Kwon, an Arlington resident who passes through the area on her way home from work, knew about the concert series from a concert she had attended last year. “It’s such a great area to have a concert,” she said. The Regattabar pulled out all the stops in making its attendees comfortable by setting up a wine and burger bar both casual and classy in equal measure. Just as the flyers for the series advertised, the event was a perfect mix of “summer music, summer drinks, [and] summer fun.”

The concert became especially fun when the Trio played some of O’Doherty’s original compositions, one of which was the rock-inspired “Stumptown,” featuring a modal, bass-heavy vamp that allowed the musicians to open up far more than in the jazz standards that comprised the majority of the set. In interview, O’Doherty expressed what she tries to bring to her pieces. “I really like incorporating different types of music into my compositions,” she said. “I try to write music that has a simpler form that’s easier to catch on to, something like a verse-chorus.” Such a simpler form in “Stumptown” permitted O’Doherty’s piano solo to develop according to a distinct logic of its own, as short, fragmented phrases gave way to longer, meandering lines. The resulting solo was one of the most exciting parts of the evening, an exquisite example of O’Doherty’s improvisational and compositional prowess.

As the concert came to a close, the Charles Hotel’s upper courtyard fell silent, not to come alive again until 2012. However, the Regattabar concerts are part of the “Berklee Summer in the City,” a much wider series of concerts spread all throughout the Cambridge and Boston areas. There are still many free outdoor concerts scheduled elsewhere, including at the Harvard Longwood Campus, at the corner of Newbury and Exeter Streets, and at the ICA. As Berklee continues to publicize its program, it also provides a unique opportunity for the Boston public to enjoy the sounds of some of its finest musical talent.

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