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Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition and Festival

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The Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition & Festival is an annual high school jazz festival and competition that takes place every May at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City. The festival is aimed at encouraging young musicians to play music by Duke Ellington and other jazz musicians.


Every year Jazz at Lincoln Center transcribes arrangements of Ellington's music and sends them to participating high school band directors in the U.S. and Canada. During the year, band directors are sent a newsletter and given access to online educational materials to help with the arrangements. Students can email Jazz at Lincoln Center for help and send recordings of their band's finished performances to the Center for evaluation. These recordings can also count as applications to the Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition & Festival in New York City. Fifteen top bands are invited to the festival, which occurs every May at Frederick Rose Hall in Jazz at Lincoln Center. The festivals ends with an awards ceremony for the top three bands, then a concert by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra led by Wynton Marsalis. [1]

In 2013 a new selection process was introduced, under which the top three bands from five national regions compete in New York City. Another major change made that year was the opening up of the main competition to allow conglomerate bands (extra-curricular bands composed of students from more than one school, often sponsored by local performing arts organizations) to compete directly with the bands affiliated with schools, instead of one conglomerate band being chosen to appear outside the competition as a special guest in an exhibition performance, as was the case previously.

The 25th annual edition of the competition and festival was scheduled to feature classic Ellington charts re-released once again. It was also announced on “Acceptd”, the official application site, that, due to the 25th anniversary the region system has been eliminated, and a total of eighteen bands will be selected, three more than in years past. The disbanding of the regional system was a one-year-only event, while the increase in the numbers of bands selected remains ambiguous with regards to its permanence. However, due to concerns regarding the COVID-19 virus, Jazz At Lincoln Center announced that the “in person” aspects of the event were cancelled, with Wynton Marsalis presenting a Q&A session on the day of the festival, jam sessions, clinics, sectionals, concerts, and even the traditional cheer tunnel all being held virtually. No winners were announced, although honors to individual soloists and sections were given.

Also present for the first time in 2020 were five international youth jazz orchestras, from Japan, Scotland, Australia, Spain, and Cuba.

While the 2021 festival was originally scheduled to be an in-person event featuring music of pivotal arranger and pioneering electric guitarist Eddie Durham alongside the traditional Duke Ellington musical releases. However, the course of the COVID-19 pandemic meant that this arrangement simply wasn't feasible. The festival pushed back the release of new music until the 2021-2022 school year, and encouraged participating schools to submit one song from the entire Essentially Ellington library in either a synchronous or asynchronous fashion. Submission due dates were pushed back to March and the actual festival to early June.

The 2021 festival also introduced new rules regarding the submissions of conglomerate bands (extra-curricular bands composed of students from more than one school), a previously largely unregulated field. The festival provided and official definition of conglomerate bands, stating that they need to follow a specific course of study, as well as a scope and sequence, all in addition to weekly rehearsals and scheduled public performances. All-Star, All-State, and All-Region bands are barred from competition, as are bands created for the sole purpose of competing in Essentially Ellington.


When the program began in 1995, it was offered only to school bands in New York City. During the next few years, the program grew to include schools in all U.S. states and Canada. Over 4000 schools have received materials.[1]

Beginning in early 2006, JALC announced the debut of the festival's first regional. The regional festivals are non-competitive and offer high school jazz bands of different levels the opportunity to play Ellington's music while also receiving professional feedback.[2]

Starting in 2008, music by big band composers other than Ellington was used for the first time, three Count Basie selections. In succeeding years they have also released songs by: Benny Carter, Dizzy Gillespie, Mary Lou Williams, Gerald Wilson, Fletcher Henderson, and Benny Golson.[1][3]

For the 2013 and 2015 competitions, Essentially Ellington returned to its original format of six Ellington charts. After the finalists are announced, clinicians are sent to each of the finalist schools to provide a jazz workshop and prepare the bands for competition.[4] The clinicians are usually members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Notable alumni of the competition includes Grammy-nominated trombonist Nick Finzer who serves on the jazz faculty at UNT and founded The Outside The Music record label. [5]


Several high school bands from the Seattle area have participated including repeat finalists: Roosevelt; Garfield; Shorewood; Mount Si; Edmonds-Woodway; Mountlake Terrace; Newport and Ballard high schools.[6][7] In 2008, five of the fifteen bands to compete were from the greater Seattle area. Acknowledging the region's dominance at the competition, Marsalis, tongue only half in cheek, challenged the remaining schools/regions, "to do something about Seattle and Washington."[8]



  • Tucson Jazz Institute - Tucson, Arizona, 2010*, 2012*, 2013 (1st), 2014 (1st), 2015 (2nd), 2016 (3rd), 2017 (1st), 2018 (3rd), 2021













  • Byron Center High School – Byron Center, Michigan, 2016, 2017, 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024
  • Interlochen Center for the Arts – Interlochen, Michigan, 1998, 2003



New Jersey[edit]

New York[edit]

North Carolina[edit]

  • Triangle Youth Jazz Ensemble – Raleigh, North Carolina, 2016 (2nd), 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2022, 2023, 2024




Rhode Island[edit]






West Virginia[edit]



  • Community Band Winner

Composition Contest[edit]

In 2013, the Gerhard W. Vosshall Student Composition/Arranging Contest was added to the festival following a donation from the Vosshall family made in Gerhard's honor.[9] The contest was renamed the "Dr. J. Douglas White Student Composition and Arranging Contest" in 2016.[10] Each year, a winning composition is chosen from submissions sent from the US and Canada and is performed by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. The winning composer receives a cash prize, a trip to the competition in order to conduct their piece and a composition lesson. The lesson was originally with Ellington historian David Berger, but shifted to JLCO saxophonist Ted Nash in 2015.

Year Composer School City
2013 Devon Gillingham[9] Transcona Collegiate Institute Winnipeg, Manitoba
2014 Jeric Rocamora[11] Rio Americano High School Sacramento, California
2015 Matt Wong[12] San Francisco Independence High School San Francisco, California
2016 Joseph Block[10] Germantown Friends School Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
2017 Ethan Moffitt[13] Verdugo Academy Glendale, California
2018 Summer Camargo[14] Dillard Center for the Arts Fort Lauderdale, Florida
2019 Miles Lennox[15] Dillard Center for the Arts Fort Lauderdale, Florida
2020 Leo Steindawg[16] Lower Merion High School Ardmore, Pennsylvania
2021 Daiki Nakajima[17] Prospect High School Saratoga, California
2022 Skylar Tang[18] Crystal Springs Uplands School Hillsborough, California
2023 Henry Koban Payne[19] Lower Merion High School Ardmore, Pennsylvania
2024 Ori Moore[20] Durham Academy Chapel Hill, North Carolina

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "About". Jazz Academy. Retrieved 3 November 2018.
  2. ^ "Essentially Ellington Regional Festivals". JALC.org. Archived from the original on 2007-10-07. Retrieved 2007-04-24.
  3. ^ "Winners of Essentially Ellington 2008 played with Wynton and JLCO". WyntonMarsalis.org. Retrieved 2009-05-11.
  4. ^ "EE Jazz Festival Finalist Resources". JALC.org. Archived from the original on 2007-10-07. Retrieved 2007-04-23.
  5. ^ "Playin' Around With Playbook: Nick Finzer". Playbook. 2022-03-28. Retrieved 2022-05-25.
  6. ^ "Jazz in Seattle-area schools: How it grew" (PDF). seattletimes.com. Retrieved 2009-03-03.
  7. ^ "Seattle area again well represented in Essentially Ellington jazz contest". seattletimes.com. Retrieved 2019-03-22.
  8. ^ de Barros, Paul (2008-05-17). "Seattle's Roosevelt, Garfield top two at Essentially Ellington festival". seattletimes.nwsource.com. Retrieved 2008-09-06.
  9. ^ a b "Winners of the 18th Annual Essentially Ellington Competition 2013". Retrieved 23 February 2020.
  10. ^ a b "Jazz At Lincoln Center Announces Winners of The 21st Anniversary Essentially Ellington 2016". Retrieved 23 February 2020.
  11. ^ "Jazz at Lincoln Center Announces Winners of the 19th Annual Essentially Ellington Competition 2014". Retrieved 23 February 2020.
  12. ^ "Jazz At Lincoln Center Announces Winners of The 20th Anniversary Essentially Ellington 2015". Retrieved 23 February 2020.
  13. ^ "Jazz at Lincoln Center Announces winners of Essentially Ellington Competition 2017". Retrieved 23 February 2020.
  14. ^ "Jazz at Lincoln Center Announces winners of Essentially Ellington Competition 2018". Retrieved 23 February 2020.
  15. ^ "Jazz at Lincoln Center Announces winners of Essentially Ellington Competition 2019". Retrieved 23 February 2020.
  16. ^ "Essentially Ellington". Retrieved 23 February 2020.
  17. ^ "Jazz at Lincoln Center awards the Nation's Outstanding High School Jazz Soloists at 2021 Essentially Ellington virtual festival". Retrieved 27 May 2022.
  18. ^ "Jazz at Lincoln Center Announces Winners of 27th Annual Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition & Festival 2022". Retrieved 27 May 2022.
  19. ^ "15 Finalists to Compete in 28th Annual Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Festival 2023". Retrieved 15 February 2023.
  20. ^ "Top 15 high school jazz bands in the U.S. commemorate Duke Ellington's 125th birthday at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Annual Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition & Festival 2024". Retrieved 14 February 2024.

External links[edit]