The Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition, a flagship initiative of Jazz at Lincoln Center, draws many dozens of aspiring musicians to New York every spring, for an event both inspiring and entertaining. I caught a portion of the competition last year, when the winner was Garfield High, a perennial favorite from Seattle, Wa.
This year’s throwdown is scheduled for May 12 to 14 at Frederick P. Rose Hall. Jazz at Lincoln Center just announced the finalists, and one twist is Garfield’s conspicuous absence, for the first time since 2001. (If this is beginning to sound like college football rankings, you have some idea of the intensity with which these bands and boosters approach their task.) Anyway, here are the 15 bands advancing to the finals:
- Agoura High School, Agoura Hills, CA
- William H. Hall High School, West Hartford, CT
- Dillard Center for the Arts, Fort Lauderdale, FL
- New World School of the Arts, Miami, FL
- Valley High School, West Des Moines, IA
- Downers Grove South High School, Downers Grove, IL
- East St. Louis High School, East St. Louis, IL
- St. Charles North High School, St Charles, IL
- Foxboro High School, Foxboro, MA
- Wellesley High School, Wellesley, MA
- River East Collegiate, Winnipeg, MB
- Temple High School, Temple, TX
- Mountlake Terrace High School, Mountlake Terrace, WA
- Roosevelt High School, Seattle, WA
- Sun Prairie High School, Sun Prairie, WI
If you happened to catch last year’s event, you know that Dillard and Foxboro both brought some game, placing second and third. The latter was no big surprise -- at that point Foxboro had been an Essentially Ellington finalist a whopping 12 times, winning it all in 1997 -- but the former was regarded as a coup. The DCA Jazz Ensemble (pictured below) had never made it to the finals before 2010, and it was up against some formidable talent, including Seattle’s other high school juggernaut, Roosevelt, which is among the contenders again this year.
Incidentally, I was at EE last year while researching a Seattle jazz story, which touched on the high school rivalry between Roosevelt and Garfield. Two musicians featured in that piece are now studying at Juilliard: Roosevelt trombonist Andy Clausen and Garfield trumpeter Riley Mulherkar, who’s pictured with Wynton at the top of this post.
This week I got an email from Clausen, who noted that the Café Racer Sessions marked their one-year anniversary in January, and that an affiliated record label, Table & Chairs, is now getting off the ground. A release party has been scheduled for March 12 at the Q Café in Queen Anne; if you’re anywhere near Seattle then, take note.