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Roosevelt High School has won third place in the prestigious national Essentially Ellington jazz-band competition in New York City.

First place went to The Tucson Jazz Institute from Tucson, Ariz.; second place went to the Jazz House Kids in Montclair, N.J.

Three Seattle-area high-school jazz bands — Garfield and Roosevelt, in Seattle, and Edmonds-Woodway, in Edmonds — were chosen as finalists for the 2013 Essentially Ellington competition.

Since 1999, when the competition opened to bands west of the Mississippi, Seattle-area bands have often dominated, taking first place seven times (Garfield four, Roosevelt three) and sending at least two — and a couple of times, four — finalists to New York. However, 2013 marked the first time Garfield had made the finals since 2010, when it took first place for the fourth time. Edmonds-Woodway has made the finals four times.

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The competition was Friday through Sunday at Frederick P. Rose Hall, in New York. The first-place winner will receive a cash prize of $5,000. Second-place winners receive $2,500 and third place $1,000.

Jazz at Lincoln Center, which sponsors the event, sends arrangements of Duke Ellington tunes in advance, free of charge. This year, arrangements went out to 2,500 high schools in the United States and Canada and to American schools abroad. Ninety-six bands sent in recorded samples, and 15 finalists were chosen.

Finalist bands received a free day of professional workshops, rehearsals, lessons and master classes at their schools from a professional musician sent by Jazz at Lincoln Center.

The 2012-13 Essentially Ellington repertoire included Duke Ellington’s “Blood Count,” “Bonga,” “Echoes of Harlem,” “Lightnin’,” “Royal Garden Blues” and “Second Line.”

At the competition, each of the finalists plays three songs. But for young musicians, Essentially Ellington is more than just a day of competition.

Players spend four days in New York, where they are mentored by professional jazz musicians, many of them from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, directed by Wynton Marsalis, who hosts the festival.

Band directors often take students to jazz clubs or to see other Manhattan sites, such as Ground Zero, the Empire State Building or the “Top of the Rock” at Rockefeller Center.

Roosevelt band leader Scott Brown — who will celebrate his 30th year at the school next year — has taken his kids to Ellington more than any other school since the festival opened to West Coasters. Roosevelt also has been in the top three winners more often than any other school.

Reflecting on the kids’ winning ways, he said the competition is about so much more than winning.

“It is about aspiring to do something at the highest level, and how a group of students can achieve something together,” Brown said. “You are establishing values. Of team work, of personal expression, having your own voice, but being willing also to listen to what others have to say.

“Most of these kids are not going to go on to be professional musicians. But whatever career path they choose, this is going to be good for them.”

The discipline needed to practice and the ability to focus and perform in a competitive situation are good life lessons, too, Brown said. “There is something to be learned in finding your center and being composed, and finding the way to do your best. The competition inspires us.

“They develop a strong sense of self, and the ability to respond under pressure and be in front of people with poise.”

Clarence Acox, director of jazz bands at Garfield High, said the student body’s leaders very often come out of its music programs. Playing and performing in the band is a formative experience.

“It makes better people,” Acox said. “You learn so much about being involved in groups like this, about fellowship, cooperation and dedication. Coming together for a common cause.”

Like Brown, he said this year’s competition was the stiffest he can remember. “It is the highest level I have ever seen at the festival,” Acox said.

Since the first festival in 1996, Essentially Ellington has reached more than 450,000 students in more than 4,000 high schools across all 50 states and Canada and at American schools abroad.

Since its inception, 252 finalist bands have traveled to New York City to participate in the annual competition and festival.

Garfield and Roosevelt also won honors for outstanding saxophone and trumpet sections; Roosevelt was recognized for an outstanding trombone section and Edmonds-Woodway for an outstanding clarinet section.

Among the winners of outstanding soloist awards were these Seattle-area students: piano, Jack Swiggett of Garfield and Daniel Arthur of Roosevelt; drums, Luke Woodle of Roosevelt; clarinet, Kyle Brooks of Edmonds-Woodway; alto saxophone, Anna Dolde of Roosevelt; doubler, Isak Washburn-Gaines of Garfield (clarinet and tenor); and for trumpet, John Otten, Noah Halpern and Jeffrey Gustaveson, all of Roosevelt.

Honorable mentions went to Ariel Loud of Garfield for the alto sax and Connor Hargus of Garfield for the trombone.

Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736 or

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