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Jazz ensembles boost morale with Essentially Ellington send off

By Nhung Lam, Hawkeye staff

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The MTHS jazz ensembles hosted a send off event for Jazz Ensemble 1 (Jazz 1) on Saturday, May 5th to the 23rd annual Essentially Ellington Competition & Festival (EE) on May 10-12. Jazz 1 will leave for their trip to New York on Tuesday, May 8.

The student-initiated and planned send off event was set up by juniors Henry Smith-Hunt, Ben Eyman and Zoe Presho, who are all involved in the band program.

“Originally it was supposed to be another swing dance like last year, but with short notice, we didn’t think there would be enough time to advertise,” Smith-Hunt said.

Smith-Hunt, Eyman, and Presho decided to “take things [they] loved about last year’s swing dance and put that into one smaller send off event,” Smith-Hunt said.

As one of 15 selected schools, MTHS’s Jazz 1 is a finalist for the 2018 Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition & Festival.

“I am confident about how we will do at Ellington. The purpose of the festival is more to present our best to all the bands across the country than to bring home a trophy, and since we’re putting all our effort into this, I’m sure that this performance will be our best. I am very excited to experience New York City for a second time and meet some great people,” sophomore Alec Raring said.

“We received submissions from many talented ensembles and it was a truly difficult decision” stated by Essentially Ellington on their official website.

Jazz 1 has been “working on music since November [and] have had three clinics with prominent jazz musicians Justin DiCioccio, Steve Fidyk and Reggie Thomas,” Raring said. They also had a few professional musicians such as Mark Taylor and Steve Korn come in twice a week to work with Jazz 1 sectionals. Jazz 1 holds sectional practices on a weekly basis and full band rehearsals outside of class time occasionally, sometimes with private lessons.

“Jazz 1 has been practicing at an unbelievable pace since finding out [that we] made it into Ellington this year,” Smith-Hunt said.

This will be Jazz 1’s eighth time returning to Essentially Ellington and this year will be the second year in a row, “which is quite remarkable,” said Smith-Hunt.

Festooned with lights and candles, the HUB area hosted the send off. Jazz 2 opened the send off with a warm up of some b-flat tunes followed by songs from the Basie Straight Ahead album featuring songs such as “It’s Oh, So Nice,” “Hay Burner,” “Straight Ahead” and “That Warm Feeling.” Jazz 2 closed their performance with the performance of “The Red Door.” Jazz 2 was missing their drummer so Faul filled in expressing that it was “[his] first time playing in public”.

Although there was no official swing dance in this year’s EE send off like in the previous year, several jazz students started swing dancing during the performance.

To make up for the lack of a formal swing dance, according to sophomore Autumn Sanders said the band program “will be organizing a swing dance before the end of the year; hopefully the instructors [are] available to help.”

The send-off was “more of a celebration of our band going to Ellington and swing dancing was encouraged… It acted as a last performance before Ellington,” Raring said. He believes the send off “definitely raised [Jazz 1’s] morale to see all the parents, alumni, friends and Jazz 2 students who came to support [them] at the send odd.”

After Jazz 2’s performances, a small Jazz 1 combo group performed. The combo group consisted of seniors Sophie Parsons, Gian Neri and Dimitrio Neri, along with sophomores Caden Hargrave and Solomon Plourd. Band director Darin Faul joined in for some songs playing the drums. The group consisted of a piano, trumpet, guitar, saxophone, bass and drums. The combo group performed “So What” by Miles Davis, “Take the A Train” by Duke Ellington, “On the Sunny Side of The Street” by Louis Armstrong, “Billie’s Bounce” by Charlie Parker and “Rhythm a Ning” by Thelonious Monk.

Jazz 1 then closed off the night with their performances of popular jazz songs. They performed “Harlem Air Shaft” by Duke Ellington, “Teri” by Gerald Wilson, “Harlem Congo” by Chick Webb and “Kinda Dukish/Rockin’ in Rhythm” by Duke Ellington.

There will be a livestream for the performances at Essentially Ellington on May 11 and 12. The top three performing bands at the event will perform again at the awards concert on May 12 at the Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis.

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Jazz ensembles boost morale with Essentially Ellington send off