[Dixielandjazz] High School Ellington

Stephen Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Wed May 21 11:05:19 PDT 2003

Love em, hate em, Marsalis and the LCJO do a lot of good for jazz.

Steve Barbone

May 21, 2003
Ellington and Marsalis, Inspiring and Aspiring

      The main goal of Jazz at Lincoln Center's annual Essentially
Ellington competition is reminiscent of Johnny Appleseed: if you give
enough Ellington scores to enough high school bands, a new context for
jazz will arise.

But it has other positive effects, too. One of them is that the
competition is Wynton Marsalis's baby, and it happens in his house.
Accordingly, the group
he leads, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, sets what has become an
inescapable standard for modern-day jazz orchestras. Mr. Marsalis was on
the panel of judges this year, along with the bassist Rufus Reid, the
saxophonist Loren Schoenberg, and the composer and arranger David
Berger. And one suspects Mr. Marsalis voted according to his own tastes,
because the winning band this year was the Garfield High School Jazz
Ensemble, from Seattle, Wash., which played in what you might call a
Lincoln Center style.

That is to say it used a lot of dynamics, letting you hear individual
members of the band through openings of musical space. It tried to swing
deeply, and
didn't let the section work of reeds and brass, however smooth,
overshadow the engine room of the band, the rhythm section.

By the time of the Essentially Ellington concert on Monday night at
Avery Fisher Hall, the top three finishers were decided, narrowed down
from 15
semifinalists that had competed over two days. So the performances on
Monday night weren't strictly competitive. The bands played two-song
performances, showing representative strengths and weaknesses; Mr.
Marsalis joined each band for one song as a soloist. (The Lincoln Center
Jazz Orchestra finished the evening with its own set of Ellington

The Los Angeles County High School for the Arts Orchestra (third place),
in "Harlem Airshaft," had two impressive dueling saxophonists, Stephen
Dionisio and Michael Padgett. But mostly the band wanted you to remember
its brass section, silky as leopard skin for Ellington's piquant
harmonies and just a little overbearing; still, its pianist, Tobin
Chodos, rose above it with a decent bounce.

The New World School of the Arts High School Jazz Ensemble (second
place), from Miami, played a piece of Ellington-Billy Strayhorn exotica
with a rumba rhythm, "The Eighth Veil," giving solo space to an
excellent trombonist, Rodrigo Gallardo.

Then came Garfield, with "C Jam Blues," hungry and wide open. William
Squires, the band's pianist, introduced it with stride rhythms, and he
gave himself over to it, with a clean, hard touch. Several soloists
later, it was clear that this was a band whose members stomped their
feet, chuckled through their instruments, reached for intricate bebop
language and shoved it into interesting places. While never sacrificing
the groove, they were making themselves feel good, doing what they
wanted to a certain degree, and clearly their band director, Clarence
Acox, gave them license to do so.

How many of these great high school soloists will become well known in
jazz? Not many so far, to judge from the competition's first seven
years. It takes
time, and few people from any background become well known at anything.
But of those former 17-year-olds, Carlos Henriquez is now the bass
for the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.

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