Essentially Ellington Celebrates 15th Anniversary May 8-10

Classic Arts Features   Essentially Ellington Celebrates 15th Anniversary May 8-10
The annual high school jazz band competition Essentially Ellington, which this year celebrates its 15th anniversary, comes to Jazz at Lincoln Center May 8-10.


Jazz at Lincoln Center's mission is to engage listeners, performers, and educators of every age with a continuum of experiences that reflect the virtuosity, creativity, and inclusive spirit of jazz. In keeping with this mission, the annual high school jazz band competition Essentially Ellington (EE), which this year celebrates its 15th anniversary, continues to inspire, move, and educate. The Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Program is unique among educational resources for high school jazz bands in the U.S., Canada, and American schools abroad. Jazz at Lincoln Center created Essentially Ellington in 1995 to make Ellington's music accessible to as many high school musicians as possible and to support the development of their schools' music programs.

This year, EE is holding a national search with an objective of reconnecting with its community and adding new program initiatives. Students, band directors, parents, and fans are encouraged to share their experiences and favorite stories via an online survey (at Responses will be compiled and presented during the Essentially Ellington Jazz Band Competition & Festival, held May 8 _10. You can join in the festivities at the final concert on May 10 at Avery Fisher Hall, with tickets starting at $20.

Jazz at Lincoln Center will introduce several new EE program initiatives this year:

_㢠The winner of the EE Community Band category will play in exhibition at the annual Competition & Festival. Students will also be invited to attend all Festival activities including instrument workshops, the jam session, and the Competition performances.

_㢠A short story component has been added to the EE annual writing contest: this year, Jazz at Lincoln Center encouraged students to enter the EE writing contest in one of two categories: a nonfiction essay or a fictional short story.

_㢠A fifth regional festival at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Louisiana takes place April 24, 2010.

_㢠Jazz at Lincoln Center is supporting the promotion of screening events featuring the acclaimed documentary CHOPS, which follows a finalist band through their EE experience. Visit for more information.

Erika Floreska, Jazz at Lincoln Center Director of Education, says that Essentially Ellington alumni have followed a diverse path of interests and careers, from music and education to business, writing, and marketing. "Many alumni have indicated that their experience playing this music helped shape their decisions and pursuits," says Floreska. "We also know directors, parents, and fans who have expressed their connection to the program, and we're hoping to gather stories to learn more about the broader impact Essentially Ellington has had over the past 15 years in all these communities."

In the 15-year history of the Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Program, Jazz at Lincoln Center has published 86 titles of previously unpublished music and distributed 90,000 scores to over 1,450 high schools in the U.S., Canada, and American schools in Australia, Bolivia, France, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, and Taiwan. An estimated 300,000 students have played these scores and the music has reached countless members of their communities.

Each year Jazz at Lincoln Center transcribes, publishes, and distributes previously unavailable Duke Ellington Orchestra charts along with recordings and additional educational materials to high school bands in the U.S., Canada, and American schools abroad. These charts are original transcriptions by David Berger of recordings by the Duke Ellington Orchestra, not simplified arrangements.

Jazz at Lincoln Center began including non-Ellington repertoire in the charts distributed to schools in 2008. While the music of Duke Ellington continues to be central to Essentially Ellington, the program now explores other seminal big band arrangers and composers, as well: one each year. Last year saw Benny "The King" Carter as the added jazz icon to be studied. In 2009 _10, Essentially Ellington will feature the music of Mary Lou Williams in conjunction with the centennial celebration of her birth, including arrangements that she wrote for the Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman orchestras.

In an Essentially Ellington alumni survey response, Sara Gazarek from Seattle sums up the overall experience of this unique, educational program: "If it wasn't for Essentially Ellington and my experience with the Grammy High School vocal jazz group, I don't think I would have gone on to pursue jazz as my career. I met a lot of amazing musicians that I still keep in touch with and play with today, and the two Ella Fitzgerald awards I received the two years I participated gave my r_sum_ a boost that it needed coming out of high school. [Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra member] Victor Goines really took me under his wing and that really motivated me to keep up with my career goals and go for it. EE was one of the best experiences of my life." Gazarek has since performed professionally at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola.

Jazz at Lincoln Center Artistic Director Wynton Marsalis says it's extremely gratifying to see the results of the seeds sowed 15 years ago with the founding of EE. "The improvement in the quality of the bands down through the years, the enthusiasm and dedication of students, families, band directors, judges, and alumni testify to the timeless American values that define this competition and festival," says Marsalis. "I'm looking forward to hearing this year's finalists; it is my favorite time of year."

Find out what drives these young musicians to learn and play the intricate charts of Duke Ellington and other jazz greats next month as the Essentially Ellington Jazz Band Competition & Festival comes to town May 8 _10, 2010. The final concert with the top three placing bands and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis takes place at Avery Fisher Hall on May 10. For more information, visit

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