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Wednesday, May 28, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Jazz Etc. / Paul de Barros

'An everybody-wins kind of festival'

EDMONDS — Although Edmonds-Woodway High School's top jazz ensemble left the Essentially Ellington jazz festival without a trophy, the band's players say it was an experience they'll not soon forget.

Last week, the 21-member high-school Jazz Ensemble I returned from New York City as one of 15 jazz bands picked nationwide to compete in the prestigious festival. The competition, held May 18-19 at New York's Lincoln Center, featured the top high-school jazz outfits performing the works of Duke Ellington. Seattle's Garfield High School Jazz Band, the only other Washington band at the event, took top honors.

It was the first invitation to the festival for the Edmonds-Woodway band.

"It went as good as it could have gone," band director Jake Bergevin said. "The kids played to their maximum potential and swung hard and seemed to really enjoy themselves.

"It's really an everybody-wins kind of festival."

Two of the ensemble's players, Aubree Little and Neil Welch, received individual awards of excellence for their performances with the group and were the only winners in their instrument categories.

"I think we really got into the groove and played a step higher than we had ever played before," said Little, 18, who plays bass. "I don't think it could have gone any better."

Little said one of the highlights of the trip she'll cherish most was meeting and getting a hug from Wynton Marsalis, who presented the awards. An acclaimed jazz trumpeter and composer, Marsalis is artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, which hosts the festival.

The opportunity to meet Marsalis and play before an audience of more than 2,500 made the festival a once-in-a-lifetime experience, said Welch, who plays tenor sax. It also was an opportunity to connect with the music of one of the genre's greats, he said.

"We learned so much about the art of jazz through Duke Ellington's eyes," said Welch, 17.

The competition also was educational: Students participated in music clinics with members of the Lincoln Jazz Center Orchestra.

For senior Greg Bell, New York City was a bit of culture shock.

During the four full days the students spent in New York, many listened to jazz in intimate clubs around the city and explored places such as Greenwich Village and Chinatown when they weren't performing.

Although Edmonds-Woodway didn't place in the contest, the ensemble's performance at the competition was among their best, said Bell, who plays lead alto sax. The band will receive a written critique of the performance in the coming days.

"I think everyone came away from it really happy with the way we played," he said. "The experience was just as good, whether or not we took home the trophy."

Tina Potterf: 425-745-7809 or tpotterf@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2003 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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