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Originally published May 16, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 16, 2005 at 3:00 PM

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Local school bands swing, nearly sweep competition

Seattle-area high-school jazz bands cheered wildly yesterday in Avery Fisher Hall as they nearly swept the prestigious Essentially Ellington...

Seattle Times jazz critic

NEW YORK — Seattle-area high-school jazz bands cheered wildly yesterday in Avery Fisher Hall as they nearly swept the prestigious Essentially Ellington Competition, snagging three out of four top honors.

Though Seattle was knocked out of first place — after owning it for three years — Roosevelt High placed second, Mountlake Terrace High placed third and Shorewood High earned the only honorable mention.

"This was the most amazing thing ever," said Amy Beth Lindvall of Shorewood High, brushing away her tears. "We thought we had a chance."

First place went to New World School of the Arts from Miami.

Essentially Ellington is the Cadillac of jazz competitions. This year, the Seattle area sent four finalists, including Garfield High, winner of the competition the past two years. Just 15 schools are chosen nationwide to compete in the event.

It was the second time that three bands from the Seattle area have won top awards at the event, and the first time two suburban bands have done so well.

Past local winners


2005: Roosevelt, 2nd; Mountlake Terrace, 3rd; Shorewood, honorable mention

2004: Garfield, 1st

2003: Garfield, 1st

2002: Roosevelt, 1st; Garfield, 2nd; Mountlake Terrace, honorable mention

2001: Roosevelt, 2nd

2000: Roosevelt, 3rd; Garfield, honorable mention

1999: Garfield, honorable mention

"This is beyond my wildest expectations," said Mountlake Terrace band director Darin Faul, who appeared genuinely shocked as Roosevelt band director Scott Brown gave him a bear hug.

Seattle-area groups picked up 16 other awards, too.

Roosevelt won soloist honors for tenor saxophone (Logan Strosahl), trumpet (Andrew McGovern), lead trumpet (Andrew Miller) and bass (Emma Schacter), as well as recognition for its reed and rhythm sections. The contest created an award for lead trumpet this year in recognition of Miller's performance.

Garfield took solo honors in tenor saxophone (Andrew Mulherkar), baritone saxophone (James Whiting), piano (Kate Hamaji) and trombone (Sam Schlosser).

Shorewood won honors for alto saxophone (Sam Reid), drums (Karl Fagerstrom) and for its brass section.

Mountlake Terrace was recognized for vocals (Katie Jacobson), piano (Kevin Proudfoot) and its trumpets.

It was a banner year for Seattle and its suburbs, but also for Essentially Ellington. It was the first time the competition was held in Frederick P. Rose Hall, the new home of Jazz at Lincoln Center, the nonprofit jazz organization and concert presenter that sponsors the event. It was also the festival's 10th anniversary. The competition has been open to bands from west of the Mississippi only since 1999.

This year's finalists were the first high-school jazz bands ever to play in Rose Hall, a sumptuous concert room with a warm sound and two tiers of burnished wood balcony boxes wrapped around its oval perimeter. The hall, which opened in October, is part of the new Jazz at Lincoln Center complex on the fifth and sixth floors of the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle, across the street from the southwest corner of Central Park

The complex also includes the smaller Allen Room, which has a spectacular, slanted-glass wall, and Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, a year-round jazz spot. The smaller rooms look out over the leafy treetops of Central Park and the Manhattan skyline.

"It's great to have a place just built for jazz," said Gabe DeMiero, saxophonist with Mountlake Terrace, standing in the Allen Room during a student jam session Friday night, one of many events the students experienced during the weekend.

The competition took place over two days, with seven bands playing Saturday and eight yesterday. The packed house rocked both days, as kids and parents cheered their own — and one another's — bands and soloists.

The groups performed compositions by Duke Ellington, choosing from scores provided free by Jazz at Lincoln Center, including the chugging train song, "Happy Go-Lucky Local" (better known as its R&B stepchild, "Night Train"), the exotic "Isfahan," and the romantic vocal ballad "I Didn't Know About You."

Wynton Marsalis, the artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, dressed in a natty suit and spats, announced the top three bands yesterday afternoon, and played vigorously with each of the three winning bands. The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra also performed at the show.

"It was difficult to choose three bands," Marsalis acknowledged, "and sometimes it was only four or five points that made the difference."

Bands were judged on soulfulness, interpretation, technique, sound/intonation and solos. The four judges were Marsalis, composer and jazz scholar Gunther Schuller, big-band arranger and bandleader David Berger, and jazz educator and bandleader Dr. David Baker.

"I loved all the bands, but these other judges, well, they were very hard on you," Marsalis quipped, noting "you won't be cheering so hard after I announce the winners."

Garfield Director Clarence Acox, whose band played superbly, said he suspected early on that Mountlake Terrace might place high.

He also observed, "In a competition this tight, any little thing can get you eliminated."

Many alumni of former Essentially Ellington competitions attended as fans, including Anne Drummond, who is now a successful jazz musician. This was proof that Essentially Ellington's 10-year effort has begun to fulfill its promise, which was to promote quality jazz and to send young musicians out in the world with a solid foundation.

More proof came on Saturday night at Dizzy's, as the Juilliard Jazz Band swung the daylights out of the little club. Several musicians in that band were familiar faces from Essentially Ellington's past.

Paul de Barros: 206-464-3247 or pdebarros@seattletimes.com

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