Members of the Roosevelt High School Jazz Band picked up seven awards on Saturday for their solo and sectional work at the prestigious 26th annual Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band. Due to the pandemic, the groups participated virtually, as they did last year, from Wednesday to Saturday. The event was produced in New York by Jazz at Lincoln Center.
“It’s just crazy how it all comes together,” said Roosevelt Group Director Scott Brown after the awards ceremony. “For everything to come out like they did, it was just a miracle.”
Members of the Roosevelt group who received Outstanding Soloist Awards were Nathan Mesler (vibraphone), Eli Sullivan (alto saxophone) and Nick Mesler (trombone). Honorable mentions for solo work went to Owen Gwinn (tenor saxophone) and Javier Gonzalez (trumpet). The exceptional section prizes went to Roosevelt trombones and trumpets.
Essentially, Ellington celebrates the music of Duke Ellington and other classical jazz composers and has been open to bands west of the Mississippi since 1999. Since then, Roosevelt has made the final 21 of 23 years and has won competition four. times.
In 2021, groups were criticized but not ranked, so there was no winner. Audio tracks of Roosevelt playing two Ellington tracks – the swinger “Old King Dooji” and “Pyramid,” a Latin-accented tune co-written by trombonist Juan Tizol – were broadcast live on Saturday, while still photographs of the group appeared on the screen. Their performance of “Old King Dooji” was the audition recording the digitally reconstituted group earlier this year, when the pandemic prohibited students from performing together in the same room. “Pyramid” was recorded live.
The Roosevelt group was the only Seattle ensemble on this year’s list of 15 finalists, which was unusual. In the past, Seattle has sent at least two groups – and sometimes five. Garfield High School – which like Roosevelt has won top honors at Essentially Ellington four times – did not apply this year. You can hear the Roosevelt Jazz Band perform at the 2021 Essentially Ellington festival below or by heading here, from 33 minutes away.