The student news site of Mountlake Terrace High School in Mountlake Terrace, Washington.

The Hawkeye

The student news site of Mountlake Terrace High School in Mountlake Terrace, Washington.

The Hawkeye

The student news site of Mountlake Terrace High School in Mountlake Terrace, Washington.

The Hawkeye

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Essentially Unprecedented


Prior to a rehearsal on Feb. 21, band director Darin Faul announced to the Jazz Ensemble 1 members that they had been selected to perform in New York City for the annual Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition and Festival. Hearing the news put the students into complete shock.

“When I first heard the news, I thought it was a joke,” senior trumpet player Shawn Semana said. After the initial shock, sheer excitement was showing throughout the band room, however.

Every year, high school jazz musicians from around North America are selected to travel to New York to attend workshops, jam sessions, performances and more during the three-day competition and festival. Throughout March and April, clinicians will travel to the 15 selected schools for a full day of workshops and rehearsals courtesy of Jazz at Lincoln Center (JaLC). On May 4, the events begin with band rehearsals and a clinic put on by Wynton Marsalis. After performances on Saturday, the top three competitors are chosen and will move on to the final concert on Sunday night. In the final concert, the three competing bands perform on the stage that night along with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis.

“This is a huge deal for us,” Faul said.

Jazz 1 is no stranger to the Essentially Ellington competition, though, and has attended in 2000, 2002 (honorable mention), 2005 (third place), 2008 and 2011 (third place).

Getting in to the competition this year was more difficult than in previous years. Due to high numbers of auditions for the competition, Jazz at Lincoln Center has to limit the number of bands performing in two consecutive years to just five. The jazz band along with 14 other hand-selected bands will attend this event the first week of May. Among the selected local bands for this festival are a repeat competitor, Roosevelt H.S., and a rookie, Ballard H.S.

Some 1715 schools from around the world received the Essentially Ellington music and 111 schools from North America sent in recordings to enter the competition. Just 15 schools and one community band were selected to be a part of the Competition and Festival, and of those 15, just five were allowed to come back in succession with last year.

Despite the jazz band being comprised of three freshmen and several members who were in Jazz Ensemble 2 last year, members think they will do better this year than they have in previous years. Following the graduation of many seniors, not many people expected success in this year’s jazz band. This could have been a “rebuilding year,” a time to teach newer students the necessary fundamentals instead of focusing on the competitive side of jazz.

“It’s unfair to tell the students that this year is our throwaway year, some of them won’t be coming back next year. Every year is a building year for us. Every year we’re working hard,” Faul said. “I don’t believe in rebuilding years.”

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This year’s jazz band has become a close group, which has helped contribute to its success.

“We all like each other, everyone’s nicer towards one another than in previous years,” alto saxophonist Kandin Neri said.

“Our sense of teamwork is what’s going to make New York a successful time for us,” Semana said.

It wasn’t smooth sailing right from the start though. There was a lot to live up to after the success of last year’s jazz band.

“One of our problems earlier this year was confidence. Some members of the band felt like they were in the shadow of last year’s band,” Faul said. “But after successful performances, the kids are gaining confidence and getting better because of it.”

The jazz band is going to have an upcoming showcase during PASS before their next performance at Hot Java Cool Jazz on March 30 at 7:00 p.m. at the Paramount Theatre. Tickets for Hot Java Cool Jazz are on sale for $20.

“We love performing for the school. Come to concerts, not only to enjoy our music, but to see your friends performing in front of you. It’s a great experience to listen,” Faul said.

If you want to listen to the band but can’t make it to New York, you’re in luck. On Jazz at Lincoln Center’s website, there will be a live webcast of the performances, so you can listen to the MTHS jazz band along with other top jazz bands from around the country. The recordings will stay on the website for up to a week where they will be available for downloading.

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