The Tucson Jazz Institute was selected the winner of the 22nd annual Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition & Festival held May 11-13 in New York City. It was the third time in the past five years that the Southern Arizona music school has taken top honors, having previously prevailed in 2013 and 2014.
Essentially Ellington is a free yearlong program involving 4,500 high school jazz bands from throughout North America that aims to elevate musicianship, broaden perspectives, and inspire performance. Participating schools submitted recordings of three tunes chosen from the Jazz at Lincoln Center’s library. Fifteen finalists are selected through a rigorous screening process and receive an in-school workshop led by a professional musician before coming to New York City to perform before a panel of judges headed by Wynton Marsalis. The three-day Festival concludes with the three top-rated bands performing with the JLC Orchestra in Frederick P. Rose Hall.
Taking second place was the Denver School of the Arts. The Dillard Center for the Arts from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida took third place, and Newark Academy from Livingston, New Jersey received an honorable mention. The other 11 finalists represented high schools from Byron Center, Michigan; Champaign, Illinois: Edmonds, Snoqualmie, and Mountlake Terrace, Washington; Foxborough and Lexington, Massachusetts; Kissimmee, Florida; Plano, Texas; Sun Prairie, Wisconsin; and Raleigh, North Carolina.
The Tucson Jazz Institute Ellington Band is led by Doug Tidaback, who was the lead trombonist with the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra for 10 years and has taught at numerous colleges and universities. The band has been featured on the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon, was named the Number One Community High School Band (2013-2014), and has performed at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and several festivals in Europe.
The winner of the Essentially Ellington Student Composition/ Arranging Contest was Ethan Moffitt from Verdugo Academy in Glendale, California.
Lew Shaw started writing about music as the publicist for the famous Berkshire Music Barn in the 1960s. He joined the West Coast Rag almost thirty years ago and has been a guiding light to this paper through the two name changes since then as we became The Syncopated Times. 47 of his profiles are collected in Jazz Beat: Notes on Classic Jazz. Volume two, containing profiles from 2013-2016 will be available on Amazon soon. He taps his extensive network of connections and friends throughout the traditional jazz world to bring us his Jazz Jottings column every month.