Months of practice and preparation paid off as Mountlake Terrace High School’s Jazz Ensemble 1 (Jazz 1) took center stage at the 23rd annual Essentially Ellington Competition & Festival on Friday, May 11. MTHS attended as one of 15 high school jazz band finalists and one of three Washington schools selected to perform.
Eight of these bands took on Rose Theater in Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC) for the first day of competitions Friday. Antoinette Henry, senior associate for the Student and Family Programs for Essentially Ellington, opened the contest by explaining its purpose as a tribute to composer Duke Ellington and a way to teach the history and language of jazz to high schoolers. She introduced the five judges for the event and commended the high schools for reaching this “high level of achievement” as finalists.
The Triangle Youth Jazz Ensemble performed first in the competition. Mountlake Terrace was next as the first of three Washington state bands to perform.
Band director Darin Faul expressed his thanks upon taking control of the microphone. Because he felt so nervous last year at Essentially Ellington, he explained, Faul forgot to give thanks to the jazz band’s supporters. Among those mentioned were families, entourage, viewers, school staff, mentors, sponsors and the Essentially Ellington staff.
He also learned from another of last year’s mistakes and this year remembered to name the soloists in the upcoming pieces.
Jazz 1 got their national performance started with “Harlem Airshaft,” a piece by composer Duke Ellington. No other band at Essentially Ellington performed this piece.
Faul danced around onstage as junior Henry Smith-Hunt belted his solo on trombone. Senior Rio Neri followed up with a hearty piano solo.
Faul flashed smiles throughout the song and maintained the positive vibe when sophomore Solomon Plourd took a solo on trumpet. He then gave the saxophones the spotlight when junior Reece Newhouse stood for his solo and sophomore Caden Hargrave followed suit.
Rio showed off his multi-instrumental talent by switching from piano to clarinet, setting the stage for the talented trombone duo, Smith-Hunt and senior Ethan Pyke.
As the song came closer to an end, Faul kept up the high energy. He gave junior Ben Leonard a pat on the back as he walked up to the microphone for his saxophone solo. Faul continued the excitement by shouting out a quick “Yeah!” in support of Leonard.
Plourd returned for a second solo but with a mute for his trumpet this time around. Rio also came back for seconds with another clarinet solo.
Jazz 1 changed tracks and performed “Teri,” by composer Gerald Wilson, a ballad that contrasted with the thrill of “Harlem Airshaft.” Like the first song, Jazz 1 was the only group to perform “Teri” at Essentially Ellington.
“Teri” featured Gian on guitar throughout its entirety. In previous rehearsals, mentors and Faul wanted Jazz 1 to interpret “Teri” as a dark song with positivity; Gian’s feature contrasted the rest of the band’s parts by shining through the darkness they produced.
Toward the end of the piece, the band came to an all-stop to let Gian steal the stage with his guitar. Jazz 1 rejoined Gian to finish off “Teri” and received a standing ovation from the audience.
To end their Essentially Ellington performance, Jazz 1 played “Harlem Congo,” which was a piece added to the Essentially Ellington repertoire this year. Jazz 1 made their interpretation of the song stand out from other bands through delivering an animated performance full of spirit.
“Harlem Congo” highlighted the different instruments in the jazz band. Junior Ben Leonard, junior Reiden Chea, sophomore Caden Hargrave and junior Jackson Marrott stood for a brief saxophone solo shortly into the song.
Once the trumpet section finished playing, sophomore Ian Rood took to the front of the stage for a trumpet solo. Trombonists Smith-Hunt and Pyke and saxophonists Leonard and Marrott filled in Rood’s break with a soli. Rood then re-entered to finish his solo, which segued immediately into Gian’s guitar solo that gradually picked up speed and cheers from the audience.
Sophomores Raymond Smith and Owen Moreland moved from the standby area and to centerstage, joining Rio and Chea for a clarinet soli. They ended and returned to their seats with Smith patting Rio on the back. Afterward, sophomore Josh Setala flaunted an explosive drum solo, attracting eyes and shouts from the band members and audience.
Jazz 1 united to give a grand ending to “Harlem Congo” and stood to receive a standing ovation from the audience, bringing their Essentially Ellington performance to a close.
MTHS finished the weekend with a few honors. Click here to read more.
–By Annika Prom, MTHS Hawkeye