Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition and Festival
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 (JALC) in New York City. The festival is aimed at encouraging young musicians to play music by Duke Ellington and other various jazz artists. All festival events are housed at JALC's Frederick P. Rose Hall. The current festival director is Wynton Marsalis, renowned jazz trumpeter and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center.
Every year, the festival offers a membership package to high school and secondary school band directors around North America and in American schools around the world. The essential components of the package consist of original Duke Ellington transcription charts, their corresponding recordings by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, and other materials. In 2007, 5,400 transcribed Duke Ellington scores were distributed along with other reference materials to American and Canadian schools worldwide.
Application and Audition
Each year, a maximum of eight Duke Ellington charts are transcribed and released to participating bands. After each competition, the eight charts are then added to the overall Essentially Ellington library. Bands who wish to compete must record three charts from the Essentially Ellington library. However, at least one of these charts must be a new transcription, although bands have the option to do as many as three new transcriptions for their three charts on the audition recording. To submit an application for competition in the actual festival, band directors may choose to record their band playing the music under a written criteria. The audition recordings are then sent to Lincoln Center, where a judging panel picks the top fifteen bands through a blind screening process. Bands are also given the option of sending tapes in for 'comments only'. This means that the recordings will not be scored, but will have adjudicator comments sent back to the director for band improvement.
For the 2008-2009 year, Jazz at Lincoln Center released three Benny Carter charts, along with three other Ellington compositions. This was the first time in festival history that the repertoire was opened up to works composed by someone outside of Ellington's orchestra. For the years following 2008-2009, the chart selection followed the same format: three Ellington charts and three charts from another composer:
- 2009: Benny Carter
- 2010: Mary Lou Williams
- 2011: Count Basie
- 2012: Dizzy Gillespie
- 2014: Gerald Wilson
- 2016: Fletcher Henderson
- 2017: Tadd Dameron
For the 2013 and 2015 competitions, Essentially Ellington returned to its original format of six Ellington charts. In 2013 a new selection process was introduced, under which the top 3 bands, from five national regions (including community bands) will compete in New York. Once the finalists are announced, clinicians are sent to each of the finalist schools to provide an in-depth jazz workshop and refine the bands for competition. The clinicians are usually members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.
Competition and Festival
In May, each finalist band goes to New York City to compete in the festival. Upon arrival at the center, every band is designated a festival mentor, who will act as a clinician and guide during the competition. Mentors are usually members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, but may not be the same as the in-school workshop clinicians. These mentors will help make final preparations with the bands before their performances.
On the first night of the festival, a jam session is held following a welcome banquet. A list of the songs to be played at the jam session is sent to schools beforehand to help participating students prepare. The song repertoire usually consists of ten popular jazz standards well-known to the jazz community. Students who wish to improve or show their improvisation skills are encouraged to attend. It is common during these jam sessions for members of JALC to perform with the students, though only one is actually designated as playing with them. Wynton Marsalis also participates, though randomly.
The competitive portion of the festival begins the next day, with the actual competition divided into three parts over a two-day period. Attendance to all three parts requires tickets. During each performance, an on-stage recording system records every band live. Later in the year, the recordings are posted on the festival website.
Following all student performances, the top three bands are announced at Rose Theater. Each of the final three bands play at the festival concert later that night, along with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. The concert is held at Avery Fisher Hall, home of the New York Philharmonic. During each of the final bands' performances, Marsalis will usually play as a guest artist with all three bands. However, this was not the case in 2006 as Jon Faddis took this honor due to an apparent mouth problem with Marsalis. After the performances, an awards ceremony names the top three placing bands, and an honorable mention is given to the fourth place band. Outstanding soloists and horn sections are also recognized during the ceremony.
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.
Student Essay Contest
Along with musical competition, the festival also offers an essay contest for jazz students. Students are asked to compose a 500-word essay that details their experience with jazz music. The winner of the competition is awarded a trip to New York to attend the festival and share their essay with finalist bands. The top three essay finalists are all awarded a variety of items, ranging from jazz recordings to musical scores.
The Essentially Ellington Competition was originally open only to high school bands east of the Mississippi, but in 1999 bands across the US and Canada were allowed to enter as well.
Several bands from the Seattle area have been repeat finalists, including Roosevelt High School, Garfield High School, Shorewood High School, Mount Si High School, Edmonds-Woodway High School and Mountlake Terrace High school. 
In 2008 five of the fifteen bands to compete were from the greater Seattle area. Acknowledging the Northwest's dominance at Ellington, Marsalis said, his tongue only half in cheek, "I'm challenging you all to do something about Seattle and Washington."
There has been one Canadian band from River East Collegiate (in Winnipeg, Manitoba) to merit an invitation to the festival four times since '03.
Roosevelt High School From Washington and Foxborough High School from Massachusetts have both been to the competition more than any other band, making it 17 times each.
In the past five years, Tucson Jazz Institute has dominated the competition, winning in 2013, 2014 and 2017, and finishing second and third in 2015 and 2016.
Here is a list of all bands, by state, that have competed.
Essentially Ellington Participants:
Grissom High School – Huntsville, AL 1999
Tucson Jazz Institute - Tucson, AZ 2010*, 2012*, 2013 (1st), 2014 (1st), 2015 (2nd), 2016 (3rd),2017(1st)
Agoura High School – Agoura Hills, CA 2004, 2005, 2006 (H.M.), 2007 (2nd), 2009, 2011, 2015
Agoura High School (Jazz A) – Agoura Hills, CA 2007, 2008
Albany High School – Albany, CA 2010
Calabasas High School – Calabasas, CA 2003, 2006, 2009
Esperanza High School - Anaheim, CA 2012
Los Angeles County High School for the Arts – Los Angeles, CA 2003 (3rd), 2006, 2009
Rio Americano High School – Sacramento, CA 2001, 2002, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2012 (H.M.), 2013, 2014
San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts - San Diego, CA 2016
SF Jazz All-Star High School Ensemble – San Francisco, CA 2002, 2003 (H.M.)
Denver School of the Arts – Denver, CO 1999, 2004,2017(2nd)
Connecticut Youth Jazz Workshop – Middletown, CT 2000, 2002
Greenwich High School – Greenwich, CT 1996, 2003, 2007
Guilford High School – Guilford, CT 1997, 1998 (H.M.), 1999, 2003
William H. Hall High School – West Harford, CT 1997 (3rd), 1998 (1st), 1999 (2nd), 2000 (1st), 2001 (H.M.), 2002, 2005, 2008, 2011
Alexander W. Dreyfoos School for the Arts – West Palm Beach, FL 1998
Community Arts Program - Coral Gables, FL 2013, 2014, 2015
Dillard Center for the Arts – Fort Lauderdale, FL 2010 (2nd), 2011 (1st), 2012 (1st), 2013 (H.M.), 2014 (3rd), 2015 (H.M.),2017(3rd)
Douglas Anderson School of the Arts – Jacksonville, FL 2004, 2006 (1st), 2008
Howard W. Blake High School – Tampa, FL 1999 (H.M.)
New World School of the Arts – Miami, FL 2000 (2nd), 2002 (3rd), 2003 (2nd), 2004 (H.M.), 2005 (1st), 2009 (H.M.), 2010, 2011 (H.M.), 2012 (3rd), 2013, 2015, 2016 (1st)
Osceola County High School for the Arts - Kissimmee, FL 2014
University High School (Orange City)- Orange City, FL 2016
The Lovett School – Atlanta, GA 2000, 2001 (3rd), 2004 (H.M.), 2010
Champaign Central High School – Champaign, IL 2005, 2008, 2012,2017
DeKalb High School– DeKalb, IL 2008, 2012
Downers Grove South High School – Downers Grove, IL 2011
East St. Louis High School – East St. Louis, IL 2011
Lake Zurich High School – Lake Zurich, IL 2006
Lyons Township High School – La Grange, IL 2015
Naperville North High School – Naperville, IL 2000
St. Charles High School – St. Charles, IL 1998, 2000
St. Charles East High School – St. Charles, IL 2003
St. Charles North High School – St. Charles, IL 2004, 2011
Thornton Township High School – Harvey, IL 2002
Youth Jazz Ensemble of DuPage – Wheaton, IL 2001 (H.M.), 2008*
Southport High School – Indianapolis, IN 1999
Whiteland Community High School - Whiteland, IN 2014
North Scott High School – Eldridge, IA 2009
Sioux City North High School – Sioux City, IA 2006
Valley High School – West Des Moines, IA 1999, 2011
Shawnee Mission East High School – Prairie Village, KS 2001, 2006
Arundel High School – Gambrills, MD 2001
Massachusetts (5, 29, 10)
King Philip Regional High School – Wrentham, MA 2002, 2007 (H.M.), 2010
Lexington High School – Lexington, MA 1998 (H.M.), 1999, 2003, 2006, 2013, 2014, 2015 (3rd), 2016,2017
Wellesley High School – Wellesley, MA 2005, 2006, 2009, 2011
Byron Center High School – Byron Center, MI 2016,2017
Interlochen Arts Academy – Interlochen, MI 1998, 2003
Lincoln Southeast High School – Lincoln, NE 1999
Jazz House Kids - Montclair, NJ 2013 (2nd), 2014 (2nd), 2016
Parsippany High School – Parsippany, NJ 1996
Newark Academy - Livingston, NJ 2012, 2015,2017 (H.M.)'
315 All-Stars – Greater Syracuse, NY 2001 (1st), 2002, 2003 (H.M.)
Adlai E. Stevenson High School – Bronx, NY 1996 (3rd)
Brentwood High School – Brentwood, NY 1996, 1997
Canandaigua Academy – Canandaigua, NY 1996
Eastman Youth Jazz Ensemble – Rochester, NY 2003, 2005*, 2006*
Honeoye Falls-Perinton Jazz Ensemble – Honeoye Falls, NY 1999
Kingston High School – Kingston, NY 2009
LaGuardia High School for Music, Art and the Performing Arts – New York, NY 1996 (1st), 1997 (2nd), 1998, 1999(1st), 2000 (H.M.), 2002, 2005, 2010
Miller Place High School – Miller Place, NY 1996
Penfield High School – Penfield, NY 1997, 1998, 1999
Rochester Area High School Jazz Ensemble – Honeoye Falls, NY 2000
West Genesee High School – Camillus, NY 1997
Williamsville East High School – East Amherst, NY 1999, 2007
Triangle Youth Jazz Ensemble – Raleigh, NC 2016 (2nd),2017
Columbus Youth Jazz Orchestra – Columbus, OH 2002
Lakota East High School - Liberty Township, OH 2012
Westerville South High School – Westerville, OH 2004
American Music Program Pacific Crest Jazz Orchestra - Portland, OR 2007*, 2008*, 2009*, 2011*, 2013, 2015 (1st)
Arts & Communications Magnet Academy – Beaverton, OR 2005
Pennsbury High School – Fairless Hills, PA 1997 (H.M.)
State College Area High School – State College, PA 1998, 1999, 2006, 2009
Upper Darby High School – Upper Darby, PA 1998
Barrington High School – Barrington, RI 1998, 2000
Hume-Fogg Academic High School – Nashville, TN 1998
Carroll Senior High School – Southlake, TX 2007, 2010, 2014
High School for the Performing and Visual Arts – Houston, TX 1999 (3rd)
Plano Senior High School – Plano, TX 2005, 2010
Plano West Senior High School – Plano,TX 2017
Stephen F. Austin High School – Austin, TX 2008
Temple High School – Temple, TX 2004, 2011
Crescent Super Band – American Fork, UT 2016
Chantilly High School – Chantilly, VA 1997, 1998
McLean High School – McLean, VA 1997
Ballard High School - Seattle, WA 2012
Battle Ground High School – Battle Ground, WA 2006 (2nd)
Edmonds-Woodway High School – Edmonds, WA 2003, 2007, 2010, 2013, 2017
Garfield High School – Seattle, WA 1999 (H.M.), 2000 (H.M.), 2002 (2nd), 2003 (1st), 2004 (1st), 2005, 2006 (3rd), 2007, 2008 (2nd), 2009 (1st), 2010 (1st), 2013, 2014 (H.M.), 2015, 2016
Kentlake High School – Kent, WA 2001
Kentridge High School – Kent, WA 1999
Mead High School – Spokane, WA 2004, 2007
Mount Si High School - Snoqualmie, WA 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017
Mountlake Terrace High School – Mountlake Terrace, WA 2000, 2002 (H.M.), 2005 (3rd), 2008, 2011 (3rd), 2012, 2017
Newport High School – Bellevue, WA 2001, 2006, 2009
Roosevelt High School – Seattle, WA 1999, 2000 (3rd), 2001 (2nd), 2002 (1st), 2004, 2005 (2nd), 2006, 2007 (1st), 2008 (1st), 2009 (2nd), 2010 (H.M.), 2011 (2nd), 2012 (2nd), 2013 (3rd), 2014, 2015, 2016
Shorewood High School – Shoreline, WA 2000, 2001, 2005 (H.M.), 2008 (H.M.)
South Whidbey High School – Langley, WA 2008
Fairmont Senior High School – Fairmont, WV 1997
Beloit Memorial High School – Beloit, WI 2009, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016
North High School (Eau Claire, Wisconsin) - Eau Claire, WI 2012
Eau Claire Memorial High School – Eau Claire, WI 1999, 2001, 2002, 2005, 2008, 2009 (3rd), 2010
Pulaski High School – Pulaski, WI 2001
Sun Prairie High School – Sun Prairie, WI 1998 (3rd), 2000, 2001, 2004 (3rd), 2008 (3rd), 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016,2017
Wauwatosa East High School – Wauwatosa, WI 2010
River East Collegiate – Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2011
*Community Band Winner
- "Essentially Ellington- About the Program". JALC.org. Retrieved 12 June 2013.
- "Winners of Essentially Ellington 2008 played with Wynton and JLCO". WyntonMarsalis.org. Retrieved 2009-05-11.
- "EE Jazz Festival Finalist Resources". JALC.org. Retrieved 2007-04-23.
- "Finalist Bands Live Recordings". JALC.org. Retrieved 2007-04-23.
- "Essentially Ellington Regional Festivals". JALC.org. Retrieved 2007-04-24.
- "Jazz in Seattle-area schools: How it grew" (PDF). seattletimes.com. Retrieved 2009-03-03.
- de Barros, Paul (2008-05-17). "Seattle's Roosevelt, Garfield top two at Essentially Ellington festival". seattletimes.nwsource.com. Retrieved 2008-09-06.