Over the years, starting with Seattle’s Garfield High School and Roosevelt High School, Washington state has sent a steady stream of ensembles to the prestigious Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition and Festival — 12, to be exact. This year, make that 13. 

For the first time, Bothell High School has made the finals, along with old hands Roosevelt and Mount Si, from Snoqualmie. 

“It’s been a long time coming,” said band director Phil Dean, who has applied to the festival every year since he started teaching at Bothell High School 14 years ago. “We’re pretty excited!” 

Dean speculated that the crucial difference in 2022 might be that the band is composed of 80% seniors. 

“They made it through the COVID years and I think that gave them an extra little boost to make sure they did it right,” said Dean. 

Essentially Ellington 2022 is also special for another reason. It’s the first time the festival will be held in person since 2019, when Roosevelt High School won first place for the fourth time. The festival was held virtually in 2020 and 2021, but bands did not compete. 


Roosevelt band director Scott Brown said his kids were especially “psyched,” as no one in the current band has ever been to Essentially Ellington: “It’s all completely new for them.” 

This year, the event goes back to its usual format, with 15 finalists competing for first, second and third place, honorable mention and various soloist and ensemble awards. Eighty-nine schools applied. The finalists will compete May 5-7 at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York.

Since 1999, when Essentially Ellington opened to high schools west of the Mississippi, schools from Washington state have dominated the event, snagging 59 slots over 23 years and sending five finalists in 2008 and 2020. Garfield High School and Roosevelt High School have won first place four times each.