Members of the Roosevelt High School Jazz Band snagged seven awards Saturday for solo and section work at the prestigious 26th annual Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Festival. Due to the pandemic, bands participated virtually, as they did last year, from Wednesday through Saturday. The event was produced in New York by Jazz at Lincoln Center.
“It’s just wild how it’s all come together,” said Roosevelt band director Scott Brown after the awards ceremony. “To get everything popping the way they did was just a miracle.”
Roosevelt band members 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). Outstanding section awards went to the Roosevelt trombones and trumpets.
Essentially Ellington celebrates the music of Duke Ellington and other classic jazz composers and has been open to bands west of the Mississippi since 1999. Since then, Roosevelt has made the finals 21 out of 23 years and has won the competition four times.
In 2021, bands were critiqued but not ranked, so there was no winner. The audio tracks of Roosevelt playing two pieces by Ellington — the swinger “Old King Dooji” and “Pyramid,” a Latin-tinged tune co-written by trombonist Juan Tizol — were streamed live Saturday, as still photographs of the band appeared on screen. Their performance of “Old King Dooji” was the audition recording the band pieced together digitally earlier this year, when the pandemic prohibited students from playing together in the same room. “Pyramid” was recorded live.
The Roosevelt band was the only Seattle ensemble on the list of this year’s 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 play at the 2021 Essentially Ellington festival below or by going here, starting at the 33-minute mark.