As we approach the final days before this year’s Berklee High School Jazz Festival, we at the BerkleeJazz.org staff would like to present a portrait of one of the many faces you will see at this year’s HSJF: Adjudicator Charlie Lewis.
A musician of the highest caliber, Charlie Lewis is also one of Berklee’s beloved faculty members. Known for a passionate love for the music he teaches, a great sense of humor, and a deep care for his students, it was an honor and a pleasure to interview Charlie Lewis about his job here at Berklee and his role in the High School Jazz Festival.
Q: In addition to teaching private lessons (trumpet), what else do you teach at Berklee?
A: I have a couple of Brass quintets a la the Empire Brass, and I also have a New Orleans ensemble which you played in, and that’s what I do here.
Q: You’re known within the trumpet department for teaching embouchure and breath support. Can you talk a little bit about the importance of that and how you teach it?
A: It’s the most important thing. If you can’t breathe, aren’t breathing properly, or your embouchure isn’t set up properly, you’re not going to be able to do much of anything, on the trumpet or anything else. So I’d say it’s pretty important [chuckles]. The next thing is obviously technique, but if your fundamentals aren’t in order, you’re going to have trouble.
Q: What are some of your favorite or most enjoyable moments here as a teacher?
A: Well, I’ve had some guys that I really ended up liking as people, as students…people like Rashawn Ross, Christian Scott, Igmar Thomas…they’ve come back, and I’ve seen them and they’ve been very successful; it’s been very rewarding to see these guys go out and just take over.
Q: How did you become involved with the High School Jazz Festival?
A: You know, I’m not sure exactly how that happened; the opportunity was offered to me and I accepted it. I’ve been taking my course guidance from Jeff Stout; we share an office together. He’s one of the elder statesmen around here, and he knows the ropes. He’s got me interested in all this stuff; that happened with five-week and the High School Jazz Festival. I think I’ve been doing this for a really long time, pretty shortly after I started to work here.
Q: Talk about experiencing the High School Jazz festival from the perspective of an adjudicator.
A: Well that’s a loaded question [laughs]. The most accurate way I can describe it is to say it’s crunch time, because there’s so many details that have to be put together for the whole thing to come off. I’ve been a head adjudicator for a few years and, not that it’s the hardest job in the world, but it needs to be done and you really have to know what’s jumping off or it could be a long afternoon — actually, it’s a long afternoon anyway, whether you know what’s going on or not [chuckles]! A lot happens, really fast. Crunch, that’s all I can think of.
Q: What are the most important qualities you look for in ensembles that you hear at the festival?
A: Tone, firstly. Pitch, time, facility, technique, and of course (I usually do larger groups) the blend, and how tight it is, dynamics, it goes on and on [laughs]!
Q: Any words of advice to directors and students in the final days of preparation?
A: Don’t get mentally ill about it [laughs]. I like to think about preparing for a performance over a long period of time, so if you’re preparing over a long period of time, the last few days aren’t going to change much of what you’ve done over the long haul. Just be prepared and be striving towards that goal.
Q: Anything else you would like to add?
A: I think Berklee really does a great service to kids and to musicians everywhere. They reach out so far in so many areas, it’s astounding to me, even after being here for a long time. I just see more and more what they have done; it’s very impressive and it’s fun to be a part of something like that.
Charlie Lewis performing with Gunther Schuller and the New England Conservatory Ragtime Band