By Will Broaddus
---- — People come from all over the world to study at Berklee College of Music in Boston, and starting this Saturday, some of the best students at Berklee will come to Salem to play free concerts at Derby Square.
That is a natural progression, according to Henley Douglas Jr. of the Salem Jazz and Soul Festival, which sponsors the four concerts in the summer series.
“Berklee being one of the most important music schools in the world, it made sense to connect with them and use their resources to help spread the word of our festival,” Douglas said. “In addition to putting on a festival for free, the main mission of Salem Jazz and Soul Festival is to give funds we raise to Salem schools for their music program, and a few of them have gone to Berklee. It’s a natural outreach for us.”
The Bob Marley Ensemble, which will perform this weekend, is a special kind of tribute band.
The 15-member group of Berklee students is a project of Matt Jenson, assistant professor of piano at Berklee, who teaches a semester-long course on the life and music of Bob Marley, the Jamaican musician who popularized reggae in the 1970s.
“They’re amazing,” Douglas said. “The band is the largest ensemble we’ve had at the series. It’s something to hear young musicians taking the music of Bob Marley and putting their own twist to it, in addition to remaining true to the original vibe of the music.”
A New Hampshire native, Jenson not only teaches students how to play the complex rhythms of reggae, but also introduces them to Marley’s social and spiritual message.
“It’s these young people who’ve put their own stamp on the arrangements, which to me is what the whole pursuit of music is about,” Douglas said.
The Berklee Summer Series concerts are held on the second Saturday of each month during summer. This weekend’s performance will start at 5:30 p.m. and go until 7:30 p.m., but the remaining concerts are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m.
The Bob Marley Ensemble will be followed on June 8 by Mad Satta, an eight-piece band that is developing a new blend of soul and rhythm and blues that includes elements of hip-hop, rock and jazz. It was founded in 2010 by vocalist Joanna Teters and bassist Ben Carr in 2010, and has appeared professionally at The Bitter End, 92YTribeca and The Bowery Elettric, all in New York.
On July 13 Albino Mbie will play his unique brand of jazz, which is heavily influenced by the musical traditions of his native Mozambique. Mbie, who built his first guitar at age 16 from scraps of metal, wood and wire, possesses a musical gift that earned him a full scholarship to Berklee.
Closing out the series on Aug. 10, singer and songwriter Nick Hakim — who will release a record this year — will play music influenced by Jimi Hendrix, Curtis Mayfield, the Impressions and the Beatles.
The Salem Jazz and Soul Festival’s main festival, which will be held this year on Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 17 and 18, always features one act drawn from the previous summer’s Berklee Summer Series.
“Berklee has so many great bands and musicians,” said Douglas, a professional musician who plays in The Boston Horns.
Douglas works with Thaddeus Hogarth, a Berklee faculty member, to identify student performers who are ready to perform for Salem Jazz and Soul Festival crowds.
IF YOU GO ... What: Berklee Summer Series, featuring Bob Marley Ensemble When: Saturday, May 11, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Where: Derby Square, Salem Cost: Free Information: www.salemjazzsoul.com