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 (including community bands) compete in New York City. However, for the 25th anniversary of the competition in 2020, it was announced on “Acceptd”, the official application site, that the region system has been eliminated, and a total of eighteen bands will be selected. The disbanding of the regional system is stated as a one-year-only event, while the increase in the numbers of bands selected remains ambiguous with regards to its permanence.


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. These include Count Basie, Benny Carter, Dizzy Gillespie, and Mary Lou Williams.[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.


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.[5][6] 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."[7]



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















New Jersey[edit]

New York[edit]

North Carolina[edit]

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




Rhode Island[edit]






West Virginia[edit]



  • Community Band Winner

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "About". Jazz Academy. Retrieved 3 November 2018.
  2. ^ "Essentially Ellington Regional Festivals". Archived from the original on 2007-10-07. Retrieved 2007-04-24.
  3. ^ "Winners of Essentially Ellington 2008 played with Wynton and JLCO". Retrieved 2009-05-11.
  4. ^ "EE Jazz Festival Finalist Resources". Archived from the original on 2007-10-07. Retrieved 2007-04-23.
  5. ^ "Jazz in Seattle-area schools: How it grew" (PDF). Retrieved 2009-03-03.
  6. ^ "Seattle area again well represented in Essentially Ellington jazz contest". Retrieved 2019-03-22.
  7. ^ de Barros, Paul (2008-05-17). "Seattle's Roosevelt, Garfield top two at Essentially Ellington festival". Retrieved 2008-09-06.

External links[edit]