El Cerrito High School has a proud history of musical excellence and award-winning ensembles. The program offers students the opportunity to develop their skills through a variety of musical experiences that include performances, clinics, festivals, and travel opportunities. Over the past seven years the program has seen a growth of over 250% and currently serves over 170 students. The program is comprised of three levels of band classes that include the Wind Ensemble, Symphonic Band, and Concert Band as well as two jazz bands, the Jazz Ensemble and Jazz Workshop. In addition to our classes the program also offers several extra-curricular ensemble opportunities that include the Gaucho Band and Jazz Combos.
Over the past seventy years ECHS Bands have been the recipients of multiple awards and have performed in venues throughout California and abroad. Since its creation in 1959 by then long-time band director John Overholtzer (Director of Bands, 1950-62), the Wind Ensemble has established itself as the premiere performing ensemble at El Cerrito High School and gained positive recognition throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. The band has performed in venues throughout the North America including Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Vancouver. Throughout its history the group has received top ratings at festivals in several local and state competitions. Recently, the Wind Ensemble was selected among California’s top high school bands to perform at the CMEA (California Music Educators Association) State Band and Orchestra Festival at the Mondavi Center on the campus of UC Davis in 2014, 2015, and 2017. In 2015, the Wind Ensemble held its first performance at Carnegie Hall in New York City as a part of the New York Wind Band Festival.
In 1965, longtime Bay Area educator and trumpeter Marv Nelson (Director of Bands, 1962-67) established the jazz program at ECHS with the creation of the Concert Jazz Band class (renamed in the early 1970s). In its over fifty year history, the Jazz Ensemble has gained recognition throughout California and has performed in venues throughout the United States and aboard including performances in New York, Los Angeles, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Italy. The band has earned top ratings and first place at numerous jazz festivals across the west coast and has been selected as finalist for Monterey’s Next Generation Jazz Festival in 2015 and 2017. In 2014 the Jazz Ensemble performed as the featured jazz group at the California All-State Music Education Conference in Fresno, CA. Other notable performances include the Monterey Jazz Festival (1991), North Sea Jazz Festival (2014), Montruex Jazz Festival (2014), and Umbria Jazz Festival, and has held annual performances at Yoshi’s Jazz Club in Oakland since 2002.