Some of the country’s best high school bands are gathering in New York this weekend for the annual Essentially Ellington high school jazz band competition. Students will perform at Lincoln Center and be judged by some of jazz’s greats. Katherine Sullivan went to the festivities this morning.
SULLIVAN: Around 300 high school students are standing in the middle of Columbus Circle. The sun is glinting off tubas and trombones. Even though the performances haven’t started yet, students are shaking tambourines and jamming.
SULLIVAN: The “Essentially Ellington” competition is in it’s 22nd year, but this year it’s more public than it’s ever been. Jazz musician Wynton Marsalis is about to lead a long line of student musicians in a New Orleans style Second Line parade. Todd Stoll, is the director of education programs at Lincoln Center. This is the first time in 20 years the program has made a public display
STOLL: We’ll see how it goes. Wynton said yesterday it may be another 20 years before we do it again. (laughs) It’s gunna be 350 kids with horns and we’re all going to try to play together….and I have my pocket trumpet with me. (TRUMPET)
SULLIVAN: The point of the parade is to show the value of music in schools–something that Stoll says is under threat.
STOLL: In major cities across America, there are so few music classes for population that are already socio-economically disadvantaged, that it’s shocking. So this is just to raise awareness for all of it.
SULLIVAN: Soon, Wynton Marsalis arrives, and begins playing some classic swing songs. Over 300 saxophones, tubas, trombones, and drums respond in song. The parade moves around Columbus Circle before turning into Lincoln Center, where the competition will begin.
SULLIVAN: These students are no novices. They’re part of some of the best high school jazz bands in the country–with well resourced music programs. But not all schools are so lucky. The parade here today hopes to raise awareness about funding for arts programs in schools. Music and art are often the first programs to be cut when school budgets get tight. Stoll says the struggle to find a place for music in school budgets is not a new phenomenon.
STOLL: We’ve been on a downward trajectory for funding for the arts for 2 generations. Ya know, look, is this year any worse? It’s a little more sensational but it’s been a problem for a long time.
SULLIVAN: State Assemblymember Richard Gottfried remembers a time when arts funding wasn’t so tight.
SULLIVAN: While the jazz judging gets underway inside Lincoln Center, A group of students from Denver School of the Arts, a public magnet school in Colorado, are standing outside killing time. Jack Bendoor, a trombone player, and Aaliyah Trailer, a saxophone player, say there aren’t many other arts programs in Denver.
BENDOOR: Which is kind of a bummer, because arts are sick, and it’d be awesome to have more of them.
TRAILER: it’s our passion, it’s our life it’s what we love, so it being underfunded is, it’s tragic.
SULLIVAN: Tomorrow, they’ll perform at Lincoln Center in front of Wynton Marsalis, where they’ll get to demonstrate that passion.
Katherine Sullivan, Columbia radio news.