Sucking on their reeds, buzzing their mouthpieces and tuning up.
By this time next week, Jazz 1 band members from Edmonds-Woodway and Mountlake Terrace high schools will be at Lincoln Center in New York City preparing to perform at the prestigious Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition and Festival.
“Are we excited?” said Mountlake Terrace music teacher Darin Faul. “We’re out of our minds.”
Considered the top high school instrumental jazz contest in the nation, Essentially Ellington (directed by renowned jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis) has invited just 15 bands out of 100 that auditioned from around the country.
A full 20 percent of the kids competing this year are from Washington state — the Edmonds School District bands and Mount Si High from Snoqualmie. Washington bands have been top contenders for years. In 2008, five of the 15 bands were from the Seattle area — Mountlake Terrace, Shorewood, South Whidbey, Garfield and Roosevelt. At that point, Marsalis openly acknowledged the Washington state factor in the contest.
Edmonds-Woodway music teacher Jake Bergevin and his students will mark the school’s fifth trip to Manhattan. It’s the seventh time Terrace has been invited. In 2011, Faul’s band was awarded third place.
Participation in the Essentially Ellington contest is something these schools try to attain each year. But it’s been awhile. The seniors in the Mountlake Terrace and Edmonds-Woodway bands were in middle school the last time the schools attended.
“The hope remains alive each year,” Faul said.
Originally open only to schools in the New York metropolitan area, Essentially Ellington expanded in 1998 to include the 26 states east of the Mississippi. In 1999, the centennial of Ellington’s birth, the competition opened up to all 50 states. The festival is aimed at encouraging young musicians to play music by Duke Ellington and other big band and jazz composers.
Each band plays the same charts. Terrace performs in the May 13 morning session, and Edmonds-Woodway “puts up its Dukes” in the May 13 afternoon session. The contest performances, as well as the final concert featuring the three top-placing bands, will be webcast live.
Bergevin praised his band members for their team-oriented approach and their ability to travel well together.
“All my bands are my favorites, but this is a strong one, for sure,” Bergevin said. “We have a really good rhythm section this year.”
Bergevin also noted the talents of senior trombonist and soloist Jack Hillman, as well as freshman bass trombonist and singer Unathi Machyo.
Upcoming performances by the Edmonds-Woodway Jazz 1 band include a gig at Jazz Alley on the evening of May 17 in Seattle; then at 4:30 p.m. May 20 at the Edmonds Jazz Connection Festival at the Edmonds Center for the Arts; and at the Edmonds Arts Festival on Father’s Day in June.
People can hear the Terrace Jazz 1 band at 1:30 p.m. May 20 at the Edmonds Jazz Connection festival, and then on the evening of May 31 at Jazz Alley.
Faul noted three senior students who have made this year’s band special. Flutist Kaylee McGovern and first trumpet Nathan Reeber have provided leadership skills, both musically and socially, Faul said. And then there’s trombonist Andrew Sumabat, who has dreamed of Essentially Ellington for years, even to the point of threatening to form a separate community band when Terrace wasn’t invited last year.
“So it was that much sweeter for me and Andrew that we got in this year,” Faul said. “Our investment in our school band paid off.”
The jazz band contest at Lincoln Center in New York City will be streamed live May 11-13. The contest session that includes Mountlake Terrace starts at about 7 a.m. Pacific time, May 13. Edmonds-Woodway will perform a few hours later, about 10 a.m. Pacific time, May 13. Go to academy.jazz.org/ee for a link to the webcast.