Band Wraps Up Notable Year


Luke Richards, Mirada Staff

This past month, the AM Jazz Ensemble flew out to New York City to participate in the 24th Essentially Ellington contest. This contest is one of the most prestigious jazz festivals in the world for high school bands.

The Essentially Ellington program is the crowning achievement for high school musicians. The jazz competition has been active for 24 years, and is part of the Jazz at Lincoln Center program. It was originally created to be a celebration of Duke Ellington’s music, but has since been expanded to include other famous jazz conductors and musicians as well.

At the beginning of each year, Lincoln Center sends out original charts of Duke Ellington’s music and some other resources to thousands of high schools across the United States. The student ensemble chooses the music they want to perform, practices it, and then sends the finished product in to the judges.

The last time AM made it into this competition was 2014, and they have been working to get in again ever since.

This year, AMs primary goal was to make it into the Ellington competition. They recorded their set for the festival, and sent it in earlier last school year.

Their set is made up of 3 songs. “Things to Come”, which features Jake Nalangan, Arthur Eriksson, Jackson Irvine, Connor Ettinger, and Carson Grimes. The second song they performed was “Blues to Be There”, which had solos from Nalangan on piano, Toby Keys on piano and clarinet, and Grady Flamm on trumpet. They finished off their set with “Tutti for Cootie”, which featured Keys on piano and Flamm on trumpet.

In total, they played 4 times in New York during their trip. The main concert was on Friday, May 10th.

The director for the AM Ensemble is Mr. Murray, one of the two band directors at Rio. Rio has been to Ellington 9 times with the AM ensemble in past years.

The students in AM won multiple awards during the competition. The brass players received the Outstanding Brass Section award, and Grady Flamm, a junior, won the Outstanding Trumpet award, and Connor Ettinger received commendation as an honorable mention alto sax.

Additionally, many students in AM play multiple different instruments. Toby Keys, a senior, plays piano as his main instrument. In the competition, he played clarinet on “Blues to Be There”. Because of his incredible performance, he was awarded the Outstanding Clarinet award.

For many students, this competition has been their motivation for many years. “All four years that I’ve been here, people have been saying, ‘You need to make this festival!’,” says Ettinger. “We finally did it our senior year, and it was totally worth it. It was everything we expected and more.”

The jazz festival also includes 3 days of intensive clinics with the world renowned Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis.

This year has been a fantastic year for the band program as a whole. Earlier in the year, the PM Jazz Ensemble traveled to Savannah, Georgia for the Swing Central Competition.

The AM Ensemble was also awarded the “Best High School Large Jazz Ensemble” award by DownBeat Magazine, one of the most popular jazz magazines in the world.