Kicking Off Salem’s Jazz Fest With Up-And-Coming Berklee Stars with the free Derby Square Series

By Chris Ricci

After nine years, the Salem Jazz and Soul Festival has become one of the more anticipated musical events in the North Shore area. Running the weekend of August 15th to the 16th, the Jazz and Soul Festival will feature a wide range of bands and activities for all ages. Though August seems like it’s a long way away, the wait will be virtually canceled out by another highly anticipated series: The Berklee Summer Series.

The Berklee Summer Series spans between June and August, and features one spectacular performance per month. The headlining names might seem unfamiliar, mostly because they’re fresh off of the Berklee campus and are at the advent of musical stardom.

In June, Derby Square will be graced by Marika Galea, an aspiring jazz bassist with an already remarkable reputation. Playing in a wide range of places including Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola Marika’s enthusiasm for jazz is only rivaled by her willingness to learn more about the musical world. Recently recognized for her role in the Cyrus Chestnut Trio, Marika Galea will be presenting her quartet to Derby Square, which includes Japanese musician Tomoaki Baba on saxophone, Israel-based guitarist Yoav Eshed, and South Korean drummer Jongkuk Kim.

Despite coming to Boston to strictly study piano, Beneil Miller’s musical attitude has lead to him becoming a noteworthy songwriter and vocalist. Hailing from the Cayman Islands, Beneil received the Cayman Islands’ Young Musician of the Year award and has already released his debut album. Featuring a wide range of sounds including jazz, R&B, and reggae, Beneil Miller will be bringing his unique musical blend to Derby Square in July.

Closing out the series in August is one of the most diverse musicians to ever walk through the doors at Berklee College of Music. Chuks Okpu’s style is as diverse as his influences, and the Nigerian based bass player isn’t afraid to explore even further. Inherently jazzy in nature, Chuks’ style ranges from Afro-beat and funk to Latin and gospel. Also a multi-instrumentalist, Chuks was the bassist for the band Jazz Cats at the age of 16, and toured South Africa and the United States. Chuks Okpu’s band includes Canadian drummer Patrick Simrad, Georgian-based piano player Giorgi Mikadze, Italy’s Cosimo Boni on trumpet, and United States saxophone player Gregory Groover Jr.

Of course, much like the festival it precedes, the Berklee Summer Series’ goal is to not only garner attention for a new wave of movers and shakers in the music industry, but also to raise awareness for music-education and causes in the North Shore area. Since 2007 Salem Jazz and Soul Festival has raised over $50,000, and has disbursed a large amount of scholarships and grants in the area that have gone to help students attend music camps, group homes, and after-school music programs. The monthly music series’ created by the organization has provided music for homeless families and grade schoolers, and has also spanned a wide range of workshops for children that uses music as an educational tool. Awarded the Gold Star Award in 2013, the Salem Jazz and Soul Festival shows no signs of stopping anytime soon, and there’s no better way to kick it off than the Berklee Summer Series.

Photos from the May Derby Square Show with the Berklee Yellowjackets