Jazz at Lincoln Center Announces Nation’s Top Big Bands to Compete in 25th Annual Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition & Festival

Jazz at Lincoln Center today announced the 18 finalists who will compete in its 25th Annual Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition & Festival–the nation’s premier jazz education event–on May 7-9, 2020. To commemorate the 25th anniversary of Essentially Ellington, Jazz at Lincoln Center has invited an unprecedented number of the country’s top high school jazz bands to compete for top honors in New York City.

For 25 years, the Essentially Ellington program has been the cornerstone of Jazz at Lincoln’s Center’s arts education programming. The program has helped to foster the talent and love of jazz music of over 890,000 young musicians throughout its history.

The bands were selected from a competitive pool of 106 bands that submitted recordings of three tunes from Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Essentially Ellington Library. From May 7 through 9, these talented young musicians from all over the nation will participate in workshops, jam sessions and sectionals before competing for top honors at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall, nicknamed the “House of Swing.” Following the competition events, a concert and awards ceremony will take place featuring this year’s top three bands alongside the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis.

Wynton Marsalis, Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Managing and Artistic Director, says, “Twenty-five years ago, Essentially Ellington was created to improve the quality of high school jazz programs across our nation. We felt that the deep archive of Duke Ellington would challenge and inspire our kids to higher levels of virtuosity, soul and consciousness. Since then, it has become a life changing program developing a worldwide community of band directors, alumni, students, administrators and parents — all are proud citizens of this music. For 25 years, our spirits have been lifted by every part of the Essentially Ellington community. There have been many very moving moments, and we have been uplifted by what our communities have shown us. To the students who are upholding the Essentially Ellington tradition in this banner year and in the years to come, take us where we need to go. We all look forward to interacting with you, to feeling your playing, and to being elevated by your spirit of participation.”

For the first time, Jazz at Lincoln Center is collaborating with MTV’s nonpartisan +1thevote campaign. To make voting easier, more social, and more fun, HeadCount will be onsite in the House of Swing May 7-9, 2020 during the Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition & Festival, registering first-time voters, verifying voter registrations, and empowering participants and the public to become more politically engaged in the 2020 election process.

The full list of 2020 Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Finalists includes:

  • Agoura High School (Agoura Hills, CA)
  • Beloit Memorial High School (Beloit, WI)
  • Byron Center High School (Byron Center, MI)
  • Carroll Senior High School (Southlake, TX)
  • Celia Cruz Bronx High School of Music (Bronx, NY)
  • Denver School of the Arts (Denver, CO)
  • Dillard Center for the Arts (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
  • Garfield High School (Seattle, WA)
  • Memphis Central High School (Memphis, TN)
  • Mountlake Terrace High School (Mountlake Terrace, WA)
  • Mount Si High School (Snoqualmie, WA)
  • New World School of the Arts (Miami, FL)
  • Plano West Senior High School (Plano, TX)
  • Rio Americano High School (Sacramento, CA)
  • Roosevelt High School (Seattle, WA)
  • Tarpon Springs High School (Tarpon Springs, FL)
  • Triangle Youth Jazz Ensemble (Raleigh, NC)
  • Seattle JazzED Ellington Ensemble (Seattle, WA)

In addition to the top 18 high school jazz bands, Jazz at Lincoln Center announced the winner of the 8th Annual Essentially Ellington Dr. J. Douglas White Student Composition and Arranging Contest. This year, out of 26 submissions, the prestigious honor goes to Leo Steinriede of Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. Leo will have his composition recorded by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and receive a $1,000 cash prize, a composition lesson with GRAMMY award-winning musician and longtime Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra member, Ted Nash, and will receive a free trip to New York City to observe and participate in the Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition & Festival.

The annual Competition & Festival marks the culmination of the annual Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Program, which includes non-regional festivals around the country, free transcriptions of original Duke Ellington recordings, additional teaching resources, free adjudication, and more. The Essentially Ellington program has reached over 6,600 schools and independent bands in 55 countries.

Festival events, including the final concert featuring the three top-placing bands and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, will be webcast live on

For more information, including background, history, photos, and audio recordings of the Essentially Ellington repertoire, visit:

The Essentially Ellington Competition & Festival is media-accessible via Jazz at Lincoln Center social media on Facebook:, Twitter: EssEllington, Instagram: jazzdotorg.

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