23 high school jazz bands. One virtual festival

23 high school jazz bands. One virtual festival

Jazz at Lincoln Center presents its first-ever virtual Essentially Ellington festival, bringing together 23 high school bands from around the world

More than 400 high school students were slotted to perform at the 25th annual Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition & Festival this May. Now, with the Lincoln Center campus closed, the program has shifted from the institution’s Frederick P. Rose Hall to the digital stage, where the students will be celebrated virtually.

The program will be streamed from June 8-12 for free on the Jazz at Lincoln Center website, Facebook page and on Zoom. The annual affair typically draws high school jazz bands from around the country to New York City for the multi-day event, named after famed musician Duke Ellington.

“This year we are even more committed to recognizing our high school student musicians,” Wynton Marsalis, Jazz at Lincoln Center’s managing and artistic director, said. “Essentially Ellington has always served as a celebration of our young people’s achievements, and an encouragement to embrace a future of creativity, productivity and innovation in the spirit of Duke Ellington. It has become a life-changing program for a worldwide community of jazz players, teachers, lovers and participants, all baptized in the fire and fundamentals of swing.”

The virtual celebration will bring together 18 bands from around the United States. Bringing the grand total of participants up to 23, a cohort of five international jazz groups will join in on the celebration for the first time in the program’s history.

What can audiences expect from the three-day event? In addition to a digital take on the festival’s traditional cheer tunnel, which honors each band as they arrive, the program will include virtual jam sessions with members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, a Q&A session with Marsalis, retrospective videos, newly recorded musical performances from Essentially Ellington alumni, masterclasses, festival performances and more.

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At the close of the festival, awards for outstanding soloists and jazz band sections will be announced to celebrate “extraordinary individual and group achievements.

“We may be isolated from one another in this time, but together,” Marsalis said, “we are connecting and expanding our extended family through the deeply human and liberating feeling of jazz.”

ALL ARTS was on hand to capture last year’s 24th annual Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition & Festival. Watch scenes from event and learn more about the history of the festival on our website and streaming app.

Top Image: Scenes from the 2019 Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Competition & Festival. Photo: Ayano Hisa for Jazz at Lincoln Center.