GHS Jazz Ensemble Virtual Performance: How did they do that?

The award-winning Greenwich High School Jazz Ensemble recently released its third virtual performance, “But Not For Me,” a Gershwin tune, showcasing the breadth and depth of this ensemble’s musical talent.

To watch the performance on YouTube leaves one wondering, How did they do that?

Seeing 23 student musicians perform so perfectly in sync despite each playing in their kitchens or living rooms at home defies logic.

GHS Associate Band Director Jason Polise explained how they pulled it off.

In a phone interview, Mr. Polise said the process involves each student recording a video at home to become part of a much bigger production.

“The kids put a lot of work into it, and it’s really easy to have one sound and look terrible. That’s why a lot of groups don’t do it. We swung for the fence on this.”

Jason Polise, GHS Associate Band Director

“It was a weird time with Covid last year, and we weren’t able to rehearse,” he recalled. “It came to a dead stop.”

Polise said last year’s seniors got robbed of their ability to perform.

Still Polise, who also teaches electronic music, said he and the students wanted to find a way to keep the band together.

“I have a full recording studio at my house and I’ve been producing and playing professional audio for years,” he said. “The recording end was native to me, but I’ never done something like this with kids using their phones.”

Still, Polise said some students were incredulous.

“It’s been a lesson in adversity. Most schools are not playing at all,” he said. “The first video we did, it was (earlier in) Covid, we couldn’t rehearse, and they thought it was a crazy idea. A few didn’t have a good attitude. But once they saw the final product, and we did the second one, a couple kids of those kids stayed up all night making sure their part was perfect.”

The way it worked was the students were provided a professional guide track so they could rehearse at home while modeling a professional sound.

“In their ears they’re always playing with a professional band,” he said. “Basically we rehearsed the heck out of that song.”

All the students used iPhones or whatever they had for a phone, and video themselves for Mr. Polise’s feedback on volume, lighting or camera angles. Students would send Polise their recordings straight from their phones.

“Once we did some tweaking, they all did a really good job playing,” he recalled.

Mr. Polise, for his part, would line up 23 separate pieces of audio and mix using software in his studio.

The first result was Groove Merchant.

This year, to create a winter theme for the song “But Not For Me,” Mr. Polise put the singer, Rebecca Scala, a GHS senior, inside a snow globe.

He said Rebecca is a talented trumpeter, but she can also sing.

“She’s been a trumpeter her whole music career, but I heard her singing and one thing led to another, and Covid hit and I said it would be cool to have her sing.”

Mr. Polise, who also teaches electronic music, said there was good news on that front as well.

He said that the district supported the students by providing over 200 keyboards to use at home, in addition to providing them online software.

“I go online and they’re learning more than ever. There are certain things they can do now in terms of learning piano and music production that they couldn’t in the past,” he said. “You can make cool sounding tracks.”

“In a faculty meeting I showed the teachers what we were doing and they were mind blown,” he said. “The technology online is super possible.”

Polise said that last year, at the start of the pandemic students didn’t have keyboards at home. Assignments were posted and teachers never saw the students. We didn’t have the keyboard at home.”

“This year we’re all live, and they all have the keyboard. Kids seem really happy,” he said. “I think it’s a bright thing for them.”

The Jazz Ensemble performs unique jazz renditions and timeless classics, and has hosted the Essentially Ellington Regional High School Jazz Festival for 34 years.

Although the festival was canceled last year due to the pandemic, Mr. Polise and Director of Bands Michael Breaux, who both oversee the Jazz Band, are working to plan this year’s event, which will take place on Saturday, March 20, 2021. It will be an all-virtual day of performances and masterclasses for students.