Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 25
 
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
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Princeton High School Studio Band Fills New Performing Arts Center

Linda Arntzenius

Band director Joe Downey introduced Princeton High School's award-winning Studio Band to a full house in the Trego-Biancosino Auditorium last Saturday, June 16.

The gala gathering brought former band members onstage to mark three decades of excellence in jazz programming for the Princeton Regional School district.

After a welcome by Mr. Downey and co-director Joe Bongiovi, the program began with the three-piece set that won the band first place in the highly competitive Berklee College of Music High School Jazz Festival in Boston in March. "Whiplash," "Of Another Time," and "Cherokee," showcased the band's famous sight-reading abilities — they are unbeaten in the State of New Jersey and were state champions again this year — as well as ensemble and solo performers.

Relative newcomer Mr. Bongiovi shared pride in the accomplishments of the band together with PHS Principal Gary Snyder, parents, teachers, and grandparents attending the event. The Princeton Regional Board of Education was represented by JoAnn Cunningham, Jeffrey Spear, and Joshua Leinsdorf.

This summer, Mr. Bongiovi will direct the PJO Jazz Week at the high school, featuring master classes and performances. A composer and arranger, he is the founding director of the Philadelphia Jazz Orchestra, an all-star student group which performs internationally and is set to tour Italy this summer as well as performing at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

Band members chose to add an impromptu rendition of "Bunch of Blues," which Mr. Downey offered as a tribute to Harvey Highland, the high school's assistant principal.

With Lenny Prilutskiy at the piano and a solo from the stellar Sam Smith — the band's lead trumpet player, who received a solo award and a special adjudicator's award at Berklee — the performance featured some bravura playing from the young musicians. Mr. Prilutskiy, whose pianist brother was among the past members to join the band Saturday, turned in a cool performance before the trumpet section let loose, followed by a solo from Owen Schochet on alto sax.

Mr. Downey then introduced a favorite of his own, "Time After Time," with Ben Krejci at the piano.

"They are amazing," he said. "We just played for an hour non-stop and could go on for another three or four."

For many players, Saturday's concert was bittersweet. This year, 18 members were graduating seniors, including singer Zana Crowley. Ms. Crowley was the third of three jazz vocalist to sing with the band. "You are in for a treat," promised Mr. Downey as the first, Kelley Orcutt, walked onstage to present "Cry Me a River," with a 40's style edge. Then came Rachel Amico's swing style "Fly Me to the Moon," followed by Ms. Crowley's apposite title for the end of the school years "Teach Me Tonight."

The band's tradition of re-uniting with past members provides the opportunity for an encore, however. A slide presentation accompanied by recordings of jazz standards by Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra, prompted memories of the band's history.

Memories

Founding director Jack Horner was remembered for his dedication and rigor, as well as for coining the band's name and bringing trumpeter Maynard Ferguson to coach his students.

Much of the nostalgia centered on the band's late director Anthony Biancosino whose untimely death was mourned in the Princeton community in 2003. Dr. Biancosino also directed the wind ensemble at Princeton University. He held two doctorates in music performance and was awarded Down Beat Magazine's annual Achievement Award as an Outstanding Jazz Educator in 2002. At one point, the jazz program was so popular that he directed 27 bands for the district. In recognition of his accomplishments, the high school auditorium bears his name.

Photographs documented performance highs. Peppered with faces familiar to the audience, the images included John Popper of Blues Traveler jamming with the band; Cornell Fields, assistant band director; Karen Wunderman, founder of the parent support group; the band's monthly dances in the gym; and Mr. Downey, who was described as the band's Italian-American turned Irish-American bandleader, who stepped in to take the band to Berklee in 1982 when then band director Dr. B. was absent because of the death of one of his ten children.

A competitive solo Irish step-dancer, Mr. Downey, who began studying tap, ballet, and jazz at the age of five and played lead alto sax in the All-City High School Band, danced with a National Champion team from New York City until 2002.

At the end of the slide presentation, seats in the auditorium were dedicated to Mr. Downey, Mr. Fields, and three instrument teachers from Cranbury School: Scott Grimaldi, John McClernan, and Thomas Nichols.

Grand Finale

About 15 former band members joined in for the traditional Grande Finale. Many of them performed solo. The number was "Route 66" and returnees included alto saxophonist Jasmine Ben-Reuven of the class of 1992; Dave Hahn of the class 1992, now a professional guitarist; as well as more recent school alumnae: pianist Yuri Prilutskiy and saxophonists Richa Gawande and Avery Hookey.

The concert closed with a performance of "When You Wish Upon a Star" featuring trumpet soloist Matt Chapin. Mr. Downey dedicated this last item to the band's graduating seniors, whom, he said, had not been extraordinary at the start of the year but had transformed themselves into his "miracle team."

Members of the 2006-07 PHS Studio Band were: Florent Arnoux, Robert Borchert, Birgitt Boschitsch, Gregory Brav, Matthew Chapin, Emily Chrai, Maxwell Currier, Christopher Dunnett, Max Erlich, Rohit Gawande, Matthew Gerard, Steven Hellstern, David Hu, Geoffrey Irving, Lonnie Jordan, David Kirkenir, Joseph Kirkenir, Dylan Kotliar, Benjamin Krejci, Theodore Lebeaux, Brandon Lee, Tong-Kyu Lee, Samuel Lewin, Miheer Mhatre, Peter Miller, Yoel Park, Alexander Perry, Joseph Pomerantz, Leonid Prilutskiy, Nicholas Prior, Brendan Salazar, Owen Schochet, Louis Segalini, Amanda Shaffer, Eric Smith, Sam Smith, Robert Venanzi, Royce Waltrip, David Wei, Chelsea Wittman, Andrea Worby, and Arthur Zisk. Jazz vocalists were: Zana Crowley, Kelley Orcutt, and Rachel Amico.

The event was supported by McCaffreys, Cranbury Inn, Sam's Club, Whole Foods, Alchemist & Barrister, Robert J. Gleason Photography, Shoprite, Lindt, Liz Lien, Paula Jankolew, Cindy Hill, Annie Jordan, Ks and Diana Wong and the PHS Band Parents.

For more information, call (609) 655-3303, or e-mail PHSStudioBand@gmail.com.

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