High notes

Sidney Corbett ’78 remembers the day he won the BMI Competition like it was just yesterday: it was a sunny day in May 1986 and he was on top of the world.

Corbett was awarded the prestigious honor at a ceremony in New York City, where he was showered with accolades and praise by musicians and composers whom he idolized.

However, his shining moment was not only the pride in being honored with the same award given to several of the most prestigious composers of all time, but rather kicking back scotches and sharing lively conversation about Broadway with renowned composer Milton Babbitt.

Corbett, whose guitar piece “Arien IV” garnered him the award, looks back on the event with pride, nostalgia and a humorous tinge.

“I remember walking up Central Park West and thinking how great life is,” he said.

Corbett is now a renowned composer himself, with several awards as well as constant radio play of his works.

He lives in Berlin, where he originally moved to study with composer György Ligeti.

Even living halfway across the world, Corbett, like many other former Harvard-Westlake jazz musicians, traces his roots back to working with his former band-mates and Jerry Margolis, his former jazz instructor.

The jazz program at Harvard-Westlake has trained and tuned 17 professional musicians, as well as nine film studio orchestra players.

Former members of the Jazz Explorers have trained and performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, have signed their own record deals and have composed original scores for Disney studio.

Several have played in festivals all around the world, Margolis said.

Max Haymer ’03 represented the United States at the Montreux International Jazz Festival.
Haymer, who has been playing the piano for almost his entire life, attributes much of his success to his jazz classes.

“They taught me how to play solo, as well as with an ensemble,” he said. “It was about really becoming a true artist.”

Guitarist Brian Green ’02 used to play rock music, but eventually settled on jazz.  He was influenced by the jazz players at high school. 

His love for jazz finds its basis in its flow and ability to improvise.

“It’s a really free feeling and keeps you on your toes,” Green said.

He was selected to be part of the Grammy National Band where he performed with other top musicians in the country.

He also got to play with several well known musicians and attend the Grammys.

He attributes some of the balance in his life to the school. He believes that it let him dedicate himself to jazz while keeping up a good GPA.

To Corbett though, the time he spent on the first floor of Chalmers was important to his development as a musician.

“Jerry Margolis is one of the greatest musicians I have ever met, ” Corbett said.