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News Release: Beloit Memorial High School Jazz Orchestra Garners Several Awards at Essentially Ellington

The Beloit Memorial Jazz Orchestra, under the direction of Chris Behrens, Director Bands, took home several awards and recognitions at the prestigious 28th Annual Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition and Festival.

The three-day festival provided students with a Q&A with Wynton Marsalis, section-specific masterclasses, jam sessions with Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra members, pre-performance rehearsals, and more. The weekend culminated in Saturday night concerts on the iconic Jazz at Lincoln Center stage, where each top-placing band performed with their choice Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra member as a featured soloist.

The night also featured the world-renowned Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra led by Wynton Marsalis – whose members served as mentors for the finalist bands throughout the weekend – performing a repertoire to be featured as part of next year’s Essentially Ellington program.

“I am filled with pride, joy, and love for these wonderful and talented students who came to New York this week and played their hearts out,” said Behrens. “More importantly, they were part of an event that celebrates the coming together of people, in this case for jazz and the music of Duke Ellington. It’s an incredible experience to be a part of and one we will never take for granted or forget.”

The Essentially Ellington band program includes access to free sheet music, instruction by legendary musicians, regional festivals, educational resources, and the chance of a lifetime to play on the stage of Frederick P. Rose Hall in New York City. At the start of the school year, the Essentially Ellington program provided transcribed and published previously unavailable sheet music that bands could submit to apply for the event; traditionally, this music was by Duke Ellington and, over the years, expanded to include Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillespie, and more. This year, for the first time, the musical options include four songs by Afro-Cuban-New York jazz and salsa pioneer Machito.

“Our students showcased their talent on a national platform and came home with several awards,” said Superintendent Dr. Willie E. Garrison II. “When talent meets hard work, nothing is impossible. Our district recognizes what an honor it was for Chris Behrens and our jazz orchestra students to be selected to compete at Essentially Ellington. We are proud of our students and the national recognition they bring to our district and music program. We thank everyone who supported our students in this journey.”

Kai Wong, Beloit Memorial High School senior and jazz orchestra pianist, and saxophonist, received several awards this year, including the Ella Fitzgerald Award for Top Soloist, “Words cannot describe how it felt when Wynton Marsalis called me up for the top soloist award at the competition. Sharing this award and memory with so many incredible musicians is such an honor. Three days after the competition, it still feels completely unreal and has me thinking hard about what I want to do with my future.”

“I want to thank and acknowledge Mr. Behrens and my parents for pushing me and putting up with me practicing at not-so-ideal hours. Also, shout out to my bandmates who worked incredibly hard this year and motivated me to put in the hours on piano and tenor sax. Joining this program freshmen year was the best decision I’ve ever made,” said Wong.

Beloit Memorial Jazz Orchestra members receiving awards included:

Ella Fitzgerald Award (top soloist), Kai Wong, Piano

Outstanding Pep Section, Sarah Ramsden, Clarinet; Annette Cortez, Tenor Saxophone; Abigail Grenawalt, Trumpet; and Kylie White, Trombone

Outstanding Baritone Sax, Sarah Ramsden

Outstanding Bass, Tony Severson

Outstanding Drums, Jonathan Garrett

Outstanding Piano, Kai Wong

Honorable Mention Piano, Miles Wisdom

Honorable Mention Tenor Sax, Annette Cortez and Kai Wong