Jazzing Up New York
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On Feb. 15, the Jazz Band discovered they were one of 15 finalists in the Essentially Ellington jazz competition and will perform at Lincoln Center in New York City from May 11-13 amongst some of the most famous jazz musicians in the world.
“We got the music in August and we have been working on it since,” senior Annalee Hixon said. “We went to a recording studio and recorded our pieces and then sent them off.” The 22 members of jazz band recorded three songs at a recording studio. Many of the members were recording music at a studio for the first time.
“We went to a studio called Crystal Clear in Dallas, which is a very sought-after jazz studio,” senior Austin Zhang said. “The experience itself is nerve racking because sometimes on the day of you can’t reach that high note for whatever reason. We had to pack thousands of hours of work into one recording.”
The recording of the three tunes, Bojangles, Blood Count and Cotton Tail, were then sent to the judges of the Essentially Ellington competition. The judges looked for rhythm sessions, soloists and much more when choosing the finalists.
“It is basically the biggest high school jazz band competition in the nation,” Hixson said. “Around 100 bands audition, and 15 get selected to play at Lincoln Center in New York.”
The lucky 15 bands that get selected as finalists in the Essentially Ellington competition will have the privilege of playing at the Frederick P. Rose Hall in Lincoln Center.
“Essentially Ellington is basically the Super Bowl of Jazz Band competitions,” junior Gene Choi said.
This innovative high school jazz band competition celebrates the life work of famous composer Duke Ellington in order to preserve his music and old jazz music in general.
“Every year, Jazz at Lincoln Center releases new Duke Ellington music that has never been put on paper before,” Zhang said. “The goal is to keep his music and legacy alive because it is part of America’s history.”
Several members of the jazz band were surprised when they got the news.
“It was such a surreal feeling when we found out we won,” senior Brandon Ta said. “At first, we didn’t register what happened. It is huge for us because we kind of thought we wouldn’t get it, so it was amazing knowing all the hard work that went into the competition paid off and that we get to go to New York.”
The excitement of the jazz band members could hardly be contained as their director, Preston Pierce, told them they would be performing at one of the most significant jazz venues in the world in just a few short months.
“One of our assistant band directors was secretly filming our reaction to learning we made the top 15 bands,” Zhang said. “The minute we found out, we were screaming and yelling. I think I even jumped on my friend’s back.”
The excitement continued to build as they recognized the importance of performing at such a big venue.
“Lincoln Center is probably the biggest stage for jazz band, so it will be very nerve racking,” Hixson said. “We will have to be perfect, but I believe that we can do it.”
The jazz band will put their “Dukes” up at the performance, as they will be playing in front of notable judges and jazz musicians. In past years, judges have included Pulitzer Prize nominee and composer David Baker, trumpet player Terell Stafford and many more.
“A lot of the judges that will be at the New York performance are musicians that I have idolized for years,” Zhang said. “I have friends who, after performing at Lincoln Center, got full rides to Juilliard or even record deals. On one hand, it is a really exciting opportunity to show what talent you have as a band and a soloist, but on the other hand it is really terrifying.”
However, the trip to New York for the jazz band competition finalists has a cost. They must raise a lot of money to make everything possible with flight, hotel room, and food costs. Donating to the band is possible and accessible on the Jazz Band facebook page.
“In order for us to go on this trip, we have to raise around $25,000,” Zhang said. “We started a GoFundMe account to help us reach our goal. In just a couple days we have raised over $2,000, so if we are able to keep that up, in a month we should have it, but that’s idealistic.”
After making the cut for the Essentially Ellington competition, playing in New York at one of the biggest jazz venues in the world and even being covered by Fox News, the musicians of the jazz band ultimately hope that more people will pay attention to jazz music.
“Jazz is a genre of music that doesn’t get a lot of recognition,” Ta said. “I hope that with national competitions such as Essentially Ellington, it brings more attention to jazz music.”