3 Seattle-area high school jazz bands named finalists at prestigious jazz competition

Feb 15, 2024, 6:24 AM | Updated: 9:32 am

essentially ellington jazz competition...

High school students competing in the Essentially Ellington jazz competition at Lincoln Center. (Photo courtesy of Essentially Elliot)

(Photo courtesy of Essentially Elliot)

Three high schools from the Seattle area have been named as finalists in this year’s Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition and Festival — a distinguished national high school jazz competition that has since stretched into U.S. territories and Canada.

Seattle’s Garfield and Roosevelt High Schools and Bothell High School were selected to compete against a dozen other bands from across the country. The same three schools were also selected in the previous year’s “Essentially Ellington” competition.

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The festival is held at Lincoln Center in New York City every year. It not only gives the top bands in the land a chance for a trophy — it also allows the young musicians opportunities to hone their skills in improvising, technique and other aspects of jazz musicality.

Garfield and Roosevelt High have won the competition four times. Bothell hasn’t won yet, but it has made it to the final 15 each of the past three years.

Organizers of this year’s Essentially Ellington festival said there were more than 100 high school bands that applied and that Western Washington is often represented by more than one band. For example, in 2008, one-third of all 15 finalists came from Western Washington. Roosevelt High took first prize, followed by Garfield High School in second place. Shorewood High School received an honorable mention. Also competing in 2008 were South Whidbey High School and Mountlake Terrace High School.

Garfield High’s jazz program is one of the most prestigious in the country, dating back to iconic alumni like Quincy Jones and Ernestine Anderson. Garfield last won the competition in 2010, while Roosevelt High last won in 2019. Roosevelt High’s jazz band has been a finalist for Essentially Ellington 24 times, more than any other competing jazz band.

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The festival and competition are held May 9-11 this year, with judges looking for musicianship, soloing abilities and how well the band swings.

Essentially Ellington is named after Duke Ellington, one of the best-known and most prolific pianists, composers and band leaders from the swing era. He died in 1974 at the age of 75.

You can read more of Lisa Brooks’ stories here. Follow Lisa on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email her here.

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3 Seattle-area high school jazz bands named finalists at prestigious jazz competition