Jazz At Lincoln Center Salutes World’s Top High School Big Bands with Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Virtual Festival 2020

New York, New York – (May 21, 2020) Due to ongoing concerns surrounding the pandemic, closures have upended Jazz at Lincoln Center‘s 25th Anniversary Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition & Festival — and the opportunity that more than 400 high school students earned this year to perform at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall in New York City.

Today, during the banner 25th anniversary of Essentially Ellington, the nation’s premier jazz education program, Jazz at Lincoln Center announces plans to celebrate these high school students through virtual Essentially Ellington events which will be free and open to the public.

While physically distant, these high school students can utilize the technology that enables them to perform together and socially connect.

From June 8-12, Essentially Ellington events streamed on, Jazz at Lincoln Center’s social media platforms and via Zoom will serve as public recognition of the students who have earned their place in what has been called the “Super Bowl of High School Jazz Competitions.”

The first-ever virtual Essentially Ellington Festival affords Jazz at Lincoln Center the opportunity to feature bands from around the world. As Essentially Ellington has grown in 25 years, student bands in more than 55 countries have benefitted from the program. In recognition of the program’s reach, and Duke Ellington’s worldwide influence, Jazz at Lincoln Center has invited five international bands to participate in the virtual festival. These outstanding youth jazz bands represent the thousands of young people throughout the world that study, rehearse, and perform music from Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Essentially Ellington library.

Keeping the integrity of the Essentially Ellington program, these virtual events will include the traditional cheer tunnel honoring each band; a virtual jam session on which students will play with members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra; and one of the most eagerly anticipated events, a Q&A session with Managing and Artistic Director Wynton Marsalis.

New festival events include a special edition of “Skain’s Domain,” an intimate Zoom conversation with Wynton Marsalis; 25th anniversary retrospective videos; newly recorded musical performances from the homes of notable Essentially Ellington alumni, and more.

In addition to celebrating the top high school jazz bands in the U.S. and guest bands from around the world, Jazz at Lincoln Center will recognize 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 is bestowed upon Leo Steinriede of Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. Leo’s composition, “The Rhetorical Situation,” performed by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, will premiere on June 10. For his winning composition, Leo will receive a $1,000 cash prize, and a public composition and arranging lesson with GRAMMY award-winning musician and longtime Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra member, Ted Nash.

See the full schedule of Essentially Ellington virtual events below, and visit for complete information and to join the mailing list.

“This year we are even more committed to recognizing our high school student musicians. We applaud the dedication, spirit and commitment of the students, band directors, parents and schools,” said Wynton Marsalis, Managing and Artistic Director, Jazz at Lincoln Center. “Essentially Ellington has always served as a celebration of our young people’s achievements, and an encouragement to embrace a future of creativity, productivity and innovation in the spirit of Duke Ellington. It has become a life changing program for a worldwide community of jazz players, teachers, lovers and participants, all baptized in the fire and fundamentals of swing. Congratulations to you all!”

“We may be isolated from one another in this time, but together, we are connecting and expanding our extended family through the deeply human and liberating feeling of jazz,” he continued. “Your talent, optimism, and energy continue to inspire and elevate what we do (and wish to do) at Jazz at Lincoln Center.”

The following bands were selected from a competitive pool of 106 that submitted recordings of three tunes from Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Essentially Ellington Library:

  • Agoura High School (Agoura Hills, CA), directed by Chad Bloom
  • Beloit Memorial High School (Beloit, WI), directed by Chris Behrens
  • Byron Center High School (Byron Center, MI), directed by Marc Townley
  • Carroll Senior High School (Southlake, TX), directed by David Lown
  • Celia Cruz Bronx High School of Music (Bronx, NY), directed by Penelope Smetters-Jacono
  • Denver School of the Arts (Denver, CO), directed by Dave Hammond
  • Dillard Center for the Arts (Fort Lauderdale, FL), directed by Christopher Dorsey
  • Garfield High School (Seattle, WA), directed by Jared Sessink
  • Memphis Central High School (Memphis, TN), directed by Ollie Liddell
  • Mountlake Terrace High School (Mountlake Terrace, WA), directed by Darin Faul
  • Mount Si High School (Snoqualmie, WA), directed by William Leather
  • New World School of the Arts (Miami, FL), directed by Jim Gasior
  • Plano West Senior High School (Plano, TX), directed by Preston Pierce
  • Rio Americano High School (Sacramento, CA), directed by Josh Murray
  • Roosevelt High School (Seattle, WA), directed by Scott Brown
  • Seattle JazzED Ellington Ensemble (Seattle, WA), directed by Kelly Clingan
  • Tarpon Springs High School (Tarpon Springs, FL), directed by Christopher M. De León
  • Triangle Youth Jazz Ensemble (Raleigh, NC), directed by Dr. Gregg Gelb

The following bands from around the world will also participate in the Essentially Ellington virtual festival:

  • Blackburn High School Senior Jazz Orchestra (Melbourne, Australia), directed by Andrew O’Connell
  • La Jazz Band del Amadeo Roldán de la Habana (Havana, Cuba), directed by Enrique Rodriguez
  • Sant Andreu Jazz Band (Barcelona, Spain), directed by Joan Chamorro
  • Tomisato High School (Tokyo, Japan), directed by Masaki Shinohara
  • Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra (Edinburgh, Scotland), directed by Tommy Smith


Monday, June 8
9:00 p.m. ET
Skain’s Domain with EE Alumni special guests

A group of esteemed Essentially Ellington alumnus will join Wynton Marsalis for a special edition of Skain’s Domain — a weekly, interactive Q&A and story sharing session with Wynton Marsalis. Live on Zoom and Facebook Live, the musicians will broadcast an intimate conversation about Essentially Ellington and beyond. After their conversation will be a Q&A, and Zoom viewers from around the world can ask whatever questions they have for Wynton and the Essential Ellington alumni. The to-be-announced special guests will span Essentially Ellington’s entire history, representing 25 years of music education and artistic achievement!

Tuesday, June 9
2:00 p.m. ET
25 Solos, 25 Years

During every Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Festival & Competition, standout soloists receive an Outstanding Soloist award. In this special video premiere, to commemorate the milestone anniversary, we’ll revisit some of the greatest student solos from throughout the program’s 25-year history.

9:00 p.m. ET
At Home with Essentially Ellington Alumni

Enjoy newly recorded musical performances from the homes of notable Essentially Ellington alumnus. Modeled after Jazz at Lincoln Center’s virtual Gala, the Worldwide Concert for our Culture, this video will compile footage submitted by a diverse range of artists into a professionally produced virtual concert, complete with the musicians offering an inside scoop on their Essentially Ellington experiences.

Wednesday, June 10
2:00 p.m. ET
Student Composition Masterclass with Ted Nash

Experience a virtual composition masterclass between the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s master saxophonist and composer Ted Nash, and this year’s winner of the Student Composition and Arranging Contest, Leo Steinriede. Viewers will hear the world premiere of Leo’s winning piece, The Rhetorical Situation, and Ted Nash will review the composition and highlight important takeaways from that he recently shared with Leo in a private composition lesson. Ted will then use the piece as the basis for a broader composition masterclass relevant to all interested students and composers.

Thursday, June 11
12:00 p.m. ET
Q&A with Wynton and EE Alumna Alexa Tarantino

Modeled after the traditional Essentially Ellington Luncheon, Wynton Marsalis and saxophonist, composer, educator, and Essentially Ellington alumna Alexa Tarantino will engage in a live discussion on Zoom. They’ll talk about the Essentially Ellington program, its impact on Alexa and other students around the country, and a vision for the future of Essentially Ellington. After the conversation, select viewers will have the opportunity to engage in a short Q&A with Wynton and Alexa, giving direct access to these extraordinarily thoughtful and ambitious educators.

3:15 p.m. ET
Cheer Tunnel

The famous cheer tunnel! Every Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition & Festival kicks off with Jazz at Lincoln Center staff, volunteers, and musicians cheering on each finalist band as they make their way through our halls and into Rose Theater for the first time. This year, we’re taking the celebration online. Be a part of the festivities and cheer on your fellow finalist bands!

3:30 p.m. ET
Q&A with Wynton Marsalis

After the cheer tunnel, the next event for students is always a Q&A with Wynton Marsalis. This year’s Essentially Ellington is no different. Join finalist bands from around the country, as students pick Wynton’s brain. This session will be open for public viewing live on Facebook, while the finalist students will directly participate and interact with Wynton on Zoom.

5:00 p.m. ET
Virtual Jam Session
Another tradition we’ve made sure to maintain is the Jam Session. Select students from each finalist band will perform alongside the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra rhythm section, whose members recorded from home via Zoom. The JLCO rhythm section’s playing will serve as a soulful and swinging foundation for students to play and solo with the band. Hear what some of the finest high school musicians sound like with this world-class rhythm section!

Friday, June 12
Festival Performances

Part I 2:00 p.m. ET
Part II 6:00 p.m. ET
It’s time to hear the bands in action! After each director introduces their band and song selections, the audience, judges, and fellow students get to enjoy the culmination of all of the band’s hard work preparing for the festival. After each performance, Todd Stoll will conduct live interviews with band directors and select students. Every finalist band is deeply dedicated and full of first-class musicians, and now is when the world gets to hear what they can do!

8:30 p.m. ET
Judges Announcement
The judges will provide closing remarks, reflect on what they heard throughout the performances!

9:00 p.m. ET
Awards Ceremony
Wynton Marsalis will share his closing remarks and announce the names of each individual student and band section to receive an award, accompanied by images of the award winners. The awards announced in this ceremony — including Outstanding Soloist and Outstanding Section — represent extraordinary individual and group achievements.

Essentially Ellington is the nation’s premier jazz education program which has helped foster the talent and appreciation for jazz music to over 890,000 young musicians throughout its history. The annual festival marks the culmination of the annual Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Program, which includes non- competitive 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. This important work is made possible by contributions of individuals and institutions who support the mission. Please support Jazz at Lincoln Center in this challenging time to ensure the organization is able to continue to entertain, enrich and expand a global community for jazz through online learning and social media platforms.

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

The Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Festival is media-accessible via Jazz at Lincoln Center social media on Facebook:, Twitter: @EssEllington, Instagram: @jazzdotorg.

Jazz at Lincoln Center thanks all of the supporters of Essentially Ellington who give us the tools to remain flexible and to continue to serve our mission.

We are eternally grateful for our $25,000 donors and their generosity: Jody and John Arnhold, Peggy and Gordon Davis, Jeanette Davis-Loeb, Jennie and Richard DeScherer, The Emiko Terasaki Foundation, Gail and Alfred Engelberg, Sandra and Eric Krasnoff, Eleanor and Howard Morgan, Fiona and Eric Rudin, Susan Rudin and Barry Schwartz.

Founding leadership support for Essentially Ellington is provided by The Jack and Susan Rudin Educational and Scholarship Fund and Gail and Alfred Engelberg.

Major support is provided by Helen and Robert Appel, Augustine Foundation, Charles Evans Hughes Memorial Fund, Con Edison, Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation, Entergy and The Hearst Foundations.

Additional information may be found at | Facebook: | Twitter: @jazzdotorg | Instagram: @jazzdotorg | YouTube: | Livestream:


Press Inquiries:

Zooey Tidal Jones
Director, Public Relations and External Communications
Jazz at Lincoln Center

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