Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

our man in paris

Essentially Ellington: The Journey Continues

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On May 8, I boarded a flight to New York City for the first time. I was on my way to the 2013 Essentially Ellington Festival, one of the most unique music festivals for high school students in the world. Created in 1995 by the fantastic people at Jazz at Lincoln Center, the festival celebrates the music of one of the most prolific composers the world has ever seen, Duke Ellington.

This year the festival set up the first annual Gerhard W Vosshall student composition/arranging competition, and I am incredibly honoured that my composition, “Remember to Forget,” was chosen as the winner.

I submitted my entry in January, and just four months later I found myself being flown to New York City to not only experience the awe-inspiring atmosphere of the festival and the amazing city that hosts it, but also to have my piece recorded by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, under the direction of Wynton Marsalis—a sentence I’ve said out loud several times now, but still don’t quite believe.

I spent the entire flight feverishly looking over my score and jotting down many prompts for rehearsal notes in my pocket-sized notebook, just in case I was posed with the instruction: “Talk about your piece.” I figured I’d better over-prepare.

When I arrived in New York with my equally excited father and sister, we discovered that our hotel was located within walking distance of both Times Square and Central Park—two of the most beautiful places I’ve ever stood. Needless to say the rest of our day was spent wandering around this stunning concrete jungle.

The next morning was, for me at least, the big day. I donned my best suit, and headed to Jazz at Lincoln Center. As I entered the building’s rehearsal/recording space, I was handed a brand new copy of my score, an exact match for the one on Wynton Marsalis’ stand at the front of the band. I reached for my notebook just as Wynton entered the room. Moments later, I found myself standing beside one of my jazz heroes, in front of one of the most incredible bands in the world, ready to hear a piece that I had written in my bedroom just a few months before. The next 45 minutes were spent talking about, rehearsing and recording the piece, an experience which I can say was one of the most extraordinary of my life.

In my mind, surreal is really the only word that even remotely describes the experiences I had on this trip. I was able to learn so much by simply watching the rehearsal process of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. The lesson I had with Ellington authority David Berger was invaluable, mostly because I was reminded by one of the world’s best to “keep it simple.” The bands at the festival were outstanding. The groups we checked out in the city were incredible. (Bonus: I ran into current Winnipegger Quincy Davis and former Winnipegger Luke Sellick at the clubs!) The final concert and awards ceremony—which my mother and band teacher were both able to attend—was a blast.

All in all, it was an amazing trip, and I am currently using every synonym for excitement to describe how I’m feeling about moving to New York this fall.

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