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Beloit Memorial Jazz Orchestra members win top honors at Essentially Ellington

BELOIT — The Beloit Memorial Jazz Orchestra brought home several awards after competing at the Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Festival in New York City last week, including top soloist, Outstanding Pep Section, several individual outstanding awards and two honorable mentions.

The event was at Jazz at the Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall in New York City last Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Senior Kai Wong earned the Ella Fitzgerald Award for top soloist on the piano. Wong also earned Outstanding Piano and an honorable mention for tenor saxophone. Wong said words couldn’t describe how it felt to be called up for the top soloist award.

“Sharing this award and memory with so many incredible musicians is such an honor. Three days after competition, it still feels completely unreal and has me thinking hard about what I want to do with my future,” Wong said.

Outstanding Pep Section went to Sarah Ramsden (clarinet), Annette Cortez (tenor saxophone), Abigail Grenawalt (trumpet) and Kylie White (trombone).

Ramsden also earned Outstanding Baritone Sax. Tony Severson earned Outstanding Bass. Jonathan Garrett earned Outstanding Drums. Honorable mentions also went to Miles Wisdom on the piano and Cortez on the tenor saxophone.

Superintendent Willie Garrison shared pride over the students’ accomplishments.

“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,” Garrison said.

The 28th annual Essentially Ellington Jazz Festival was the 11th time the orchestra participated, and the 11th time out of the last 15 years.

Band Director Chris Behrens has been at the helm for all 11 of Memorial’s appearances at Essentially Ellington.

“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,” Behrens said. “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 to play on the Frederick P. Rose Hall stage 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 the music was by Duke Ellington and over the years, it expanded to include Benny Boodman, Dizzy Gillespie and others. For the first time this year, the options included four songs by Afro-Cuban-New York jazz and salsa musician Machito.

Students also had a question-and-answer session with jazz musician Wynton Marsalis, section-specific masterclasses, jam sessions with Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra members and pre-performance rehearsals. There were Saturday night concerts on the stage, where each top-placing band performed with a Jazz at Lincoln Center on stage as a featured soloist. The night also featured a performance by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra led by Marsalis.


Source: Beloit Daily News