The Osceola County School for the Arts Jazz Band took home top honors for the second year in a row at the 28th Annual Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition & Festival Saturday night, presented by Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City. By placing first at the most prestigious high school jazz band competition in the country, the group of amazing young Osceola County jazz artists can hold on to the claim that they are the best high school jazz band in the country!

OCSA’s Jazz Band A dominated once again as an ensemble, but many of its individual players and jazz band sections stood out as well, winning numerous individual awards, including:

Outstanding  Lead Trumpet Nathaniel Williford
Outstanding Trumpet: Xavier Anderson, Daniel Portuondo
Honorable Mention Alto Saxophone Solomon Geleta
Outstanding Percussionist: Isaiah Bravo
Outstanding Rhythm Section
Outstanding Latin Percussion

“This is the first time in nine years that any school has had back-to-back wins at Essentially Ellington. The competition was more competitive than ever this year, but the kids played their heart out and brought home the win, OCSA Jazz Band A Director Jason Anderson said after his band took first place in New York.”

Renowned Trumpet player Wynton Marsalis presented awards to each of the 15 finalist high school jazz bands. Osceola County School for the Arts took home the first-place trophy and an award of $5,0000. Susan E. Wagner High School accepted second place and an award of $2,500. New World School of the Arts accepted third place with an award of $1,000. The remaining bands were each awarded $500. All monetary awards are to be used for improving the jazz education programs of each respective high school.

“Winning the Essentially Ellington competition for the second year in a row is an extraordinary accomplishment for the students, the school, and the community. This victory demonstrates not only the exceptional talent of the students but their dedication and commitment to their individual craft, as well as their work as a team. This win will provide the students with several opportunities that will help them advance their music careers. They will gain more exposure that may lead to scholarships and future collaborations. The students have dedicated so much time to refining their techniques and musicianship. Many of them start their music journey at a young age and work tirelessly to perfect their skills. They have practiced for countless hours, putting in time both individually and as a team, to create the music that brought them to this achievement. I am thrilled to see the doors that this victory will open and the opportunities that will be afforded to these students. We are all so very proud of the students and their director Jason Anderson,” Dr. Chris Burns, Fine and Performing Arts Resource Specialist with the School District of Osceola County said after the OCSA Jazz Band A back to back win.

The three-day festival provided students with a Q&A with Wynton Marsalis, section-specific masterclasses, jam sessions with Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra members, pre-performance rehearsals, and more. The weekend culminated in Saturday night concerts on the iconic Jazz at Lincoln Center stage where each top-placing band performed with their choice Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra member as a featured soloist. The night also featured the world-renowned Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra led by Wynton Marsalis – whose members served as mentors for the finalist bands throughout the weekend – performing repertoire to be featured as part of next year’s Essentially Ellington program.

“It is emotional for me to hear our young people play during Essentially Ellington. Just to see some of them playing by memory, understanding how difficult it is for them to face their nerves, the things they have to do to not let the ensemble down and the difficulty of what is being played… To think that competing against people is important—you realize as you get older that that is not what’s important,” said Wynton Marsalis, Managing and Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center. “The things we take away from these experiences have nothing to do with competition. It has everything to do with coming together with people.”

The top-placing bands were chosen by a panel of judges comprising distinguished jazz musicians and historians, Managing and Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center Wynton Marsalis, jazz arranger and composer Francisco Torres, top jazz drummer Jeff Hamilton, Essentially Ellington alumni and Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra bass player, Carlos Henriquez, and saxophonist, composer and Essentially Ellington alum Alexa Tarantino.

The Essentially Ellington band program includes access to free sheet music, instruction by legendary musicians, regional festivals, educational resources, and the chance of a lifetime to play on the stage of Frederick P. Rose Hall in New York City. At the start of the school year, the Essentially Ellington program provided transcribed and published previously unavailable sheet music that bands could submit to apply for the event; traditionally this music was by Duke Ellington and over the years expanded to include Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillespie, and more. This year, for the first time ever, the musical options include four songs by Afro-Cuban-New York jazz and salsa pioneer Machito.

Source: Essentially Ellington
Photo Source: Nathaniel Williford