“The Superbowl of Jazz Music”

Jazz ensemble is chosen for Ellington Festival


Sophia Roberts

Band junior and first jazz ensemble member Nathan Delgado plays the tenor saxophone at the Dreyfoos School of the Arts Foundation Broadway Bound Luncheon.

Band senior Ivan Serafin believes emotion is key to his music. He misses the “adrenaline” of performing with the first ensemble. So, after a year void of performances, getting chosen for one of the most prestigious jazz festivals in the country left him “stoked.”

The Dreyfoos Jazz Ensemble was one of 15 selected to participate in the 26th Essentially Ellington Competition and Festival. Grammy-winning jazz musician and festival creator Wynton Marsalis announced via Facebook Live on April 12 that for the first time since 1998, Dreyfoos would be attending the event that, according to jazz director Christopher De Leon, is often referred to as the “Superbowl of jazz music.”

“When you’re up there, you’re at what people consider the ‘mecca of jazz,’” Mr. De Leon said of the event. “It’s literally the highest accolade you [can] get as a scholastic jazz ensemble.” 

The festival, normally held at New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, will be held virtually this year. This means that instead of a four-day trip to New York, students will listen to seminars and performances via Zoom. However, this did not deter from the magnitude of the accomplishment. 

“It was an amazing feeling,” Serafin said. “I jumped out of my seat when I found out that we got in. Near the end of my high school career, I never thought I would do this festival.”

The festival audition usually requires schools to send three recorded pieces for evaluation. Due to the pandemic, schools this year were required to send just one audio-only piece recorded either live or asynchronously. 

The jazz ensemble recorded their piece asynchronously to accommodate virtual members. Mr. De Leon then took all of the individual tracks and mixed them together to form a cohesive piece. 

“We made a full ensemble decision on what piece we were going to play,” Serafin said. “From there, it was all just individual work. Everyone did their part, and they did it to their best potential.” 

Besides being a hallmark of success for any school jazz program, the festival is also an opportunity for young musicians to work with and receive feedback from industry experts. 

“You’re basically thrown into a full-time jazz experience,” Mr. De Leon said. “You get to watch all the other bands perform. You get masterclasses. You get sectionals. You get a live question-and-answer session with Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Just being at that event is pretty awe-inspiring.” 

Though students will not physically be there, the festival is attempting to give students the New York jazz experience in a virtual setting. 

“Virtually, they are trying to recreate everything that you get in New York City,” Mr. De Leon said. 

Students will still virtually perform for others in the concert at the end of the festival. 

“There’s a lot to get out of the festival,” band sophomore Roman Ullian said. “Although it will be online, playing with other people is something that excites all of us.”

In order to attend the festival, the ensemble will have to repeat the process of filming a complete piece. But Mr. De Leon, who has attended twice before, knows the hard work is worth the experience. 

“It is life-changing when you’re there because it … gets them to see where they stand within their own peer group from schools that are all over the country,” Mr. De Leon said. “It’s inspiring to see other kids your age working just as hard for the same goal. I think it’s important that kids know what it’s like to really work hard for something, and then see how your best measures up with other people.”