On Sunday night Wynton Marsalis proudly announced the high school jazz bands that took the highest honors at the prestigious 18th Annual Essentially Ellington Competition & Festival (EE).
After a packed three days of mentoring, jam sessions, and workshops, EE culminated with tonight’s final concert, where the top-placing bands each performed with a Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (JLCO) member. The second half of the final concert featured the world renowned JLCO with Wynton Marsalis – whose members served as mentors for the finalist bands throughout the weekend - performing a repertoire of tunes made famous by Duke Ellington.
Each band was chosen by a panel of judges composed of distinguished jazz musicians and historians: Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Artistic and Managing Director Wynton Marsalis; composer, conductor, and Ellington authority David Berger; composer and arranger Rich DeRosa; educator and Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra member Victor Goines; and bassist extraordinaire and educator Ron Carter.
Two of the three judges, Victor Goines and Wynton Marsalis, hail from New Orleans --- yet for another year, Crescent City schools have not made it to the finals. As Victor Goines (a proud graduate of St. Augustine High) said, "New Orleans has got to do something about this."
At the awards ceremony, Wynton Marsalis presented awards to each of the 15 finalist high school jazz bands. Doug Tidaback, director of Tucson Jazz Institute, accepted the 1st place trophy and an award of $5,000. Julius Tolentino, director of Jazz House Kids, accepted the 2nd place trophy and an award of $2,500. Scott Brown, director of Roosevelt High School, accepted the 3rd place trophy and an award of $1,000. Dillard Center for the Arts, directed by Christopher Dorsey, received honorable mention and an award of $750. The remaining eleven bands were each awarded certificates of merit and cash awards of $500. All monetary awards are to be used for improving the jazz education programs of each respective high school.
More important than any of the prizes was the experience of these hundreds of high school jazz artists as they shared, performed and learned throughout the festival. The atmosphere was simply electric --- and the young adults truly left it all on the stage, performance after performance. Brought the Jelly Roll to tears.