Jazz band OCSA head to Ellington Festival

The group from the Osceola School for the Arts will return, for the first time since 2019, to New York’s Lincoln Center for Essentially Ellington, the nation’s premier jazz education event, May 5-7. They are one of 15 school age groups out of a pool of 89 schools from across the country selected to perform and compete at the festival.

In his first year as director of jazz studies and bandleader, Jason Anderson knew how good evil was from the start.

“When Jazz at Lincoln Center sent master bassist and educator Rodney Whitaker to work with the band. It was very encouraging to hear him just focus on the very high level aspects of the game. It really spoke to the level the kids are playing now,” Anderson said.

Every high school year is represented in the band, and previously the Jazz Band participated in the festival in consecutive years 2017-18.

Essentially Ellington is named for iconic Big Band leader Duke Ellington of the 1930s and 1940s. This is a free program for high school jazz bands that aims to elevate musicality, broaden the perspectives and to inspire performance. Renowned New Orleans jazz musician Wynton Marsalis is the General and Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center. The three-day festival allows students, teachers and musicians from across North America to participate in workshops, rehearsals and performances, culminating in an evening concert and awards ceremony featuring the three top ranked groups. The show ends with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.

Disney World donated $20,000 for the trip to New York. Some school district funds, as well as a travel grant from Jazz at Lincoln Center, cover most of the expenses to attend the festival. Band leader Anderson sees big things for the upcoming band.

“One thing we try to keep in mind is that our group is quite young which means we also have an excellent chance of being selected for the Essentially Ellington competition next year. My goal is to go there every year! So we would always be happy to have more support,” he said.

When asked what makes the band so good, Anderson said, “We definitely have some outstanding soloists in the band. Nathaniel Williford and Daniel Portuondo are our two fantastic solo trumpeters. Solomon Geleta is our main alto saxophonist and a strong band leader. Isaiah Bravo is our best drummer who brings so much energy to every song. Ella Kim is also a fantastic, up-and-coming freshman pianist. But I think the real strength of the band is all the backing musicians; students who don’t have solos but who sometimes do as much work as our soloists. It’s the individuals that make OCSA Jazz A so special and it’s the kids that make us a band.

For more information on the group’s financial support, visit https://bit.ly/3O9QKXq

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Henry R. Wright