[JPL] Teens jazzed about Ellington

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Tue Mar 20 18:04:58 EDT 2007


March 20, 2007

Teens jazzed about Ellington

Honeoye Falls-Lima ensemble prepares for national competition in N.Y.C.

Nicole Lee
Staff writer
HONEOYE FALLS ‹ After months of listening to and rehearsing the music of
jazz great Duke Ellington, John Roberts, in a half-smiling and half-reverent
tone, knows this for sure: "Ellington, he is God."

>From Roberts' vantage point, Ellington, an accomplished pianist, composer
and big band arranger is arguably as important to jazz as Beethoven was to
classical music or Einstein to science.

The 17-year-old Honeoye Falls senior hopes to do justice to Ellington's
music as the soloist in "Boy Meets Horn," one of three pieces the high
school jazz ensemble is practicing for the 12th annual Essentially Ellington
Competition & Festival, May 4-6 in New York City.

Honeoye Falls-Lima High School is among 15 finalists in the competition, and
one of two high schools in New York state selected for the final round out
of 88 bands nationwide.

Roberts is the only remaining member who was with the ensemble when it
reached the finals in 2004. He knows how tough it is to win, and is proud
the group met its goal of making it to the final round with new members.
Roberts believes he and the ensemble will work hard to play well, but, this
time, he plans to enjoy the festival as a music lover, too.

"It's going to be a different experience this time around," he said. "I'm
really, really happy to do it."

Drummer Kevin McNamara, 17, of Honeoye Falls, played a big role in helping
the students believe they were good enough to compete. In addition to their
regular Tuesday and Thursday rehearsals, McNamara, a junior, motivated the
ensemble to practice on some Fridays as well.

"(Kevin) was the one of the ones that got people fired up about it," said
Mark Borden, the school's director of instrumental music.

This will be the fourth visit to the finals for Borden, who has directed the
ensemble since its first appearance in the competition in 1996.

It's possible to teach the chord changes, rhythm and other structural
elements of a song, Borden said, but explaining to a musician how to swing
is a skill best attained from constantly and intently listening to jazz
music. This is why Ellington was a masterful composer, Borden explained. He
didn't just write parts for a certain instrument; often, he wrote with a
specific instrumentalist in mind.

"The sheer volume of (Ellington's) works and the variety of his compositions
is unbelievable," Borden said. "Our goal right now is to prepare the best
music the best we can."

Judges in the Essentially Ellington competition primarily look for
soulfulness, song interpretation, basic musicianship and technique, the
strength of a soloist and the ensemble's improvisation when critiquing the
contestants, said Joanna Massey, education manager of Jazz at Lincoln

"The central philosophy is that high school students have an immense amount
to learn through Ellington's music, (and it's) a chance for them to study
some of the most important American music of the 20th century," Massey said.
"We're really excited about having Honeoye Falls here again."

During the competition, which also includes music workshops and impromptu
jam sessions, participants will get a chance to talk with Wynton Marsalis,
the multiple award-winning artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center and
creator of Essentially Ellington. Marsalis will also be a guest soloist with
the high schools that make it to the competition's final three.

NLEE at DemocratandChronicle.com

Honeoye Falls-Lima High School won second place in 1996 and an Honorable
Mention in 1997 during the Essentially Ellington festival and competition.
The Eastman Youth Jazz Orchestra won first place in the Conglomerate Band
Workshop from 2004-06.

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