The national Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition and Festival is held annually in New York City at Frederick P. Rose Hall, the home of Jazz at Lincoln Center. Fifteen finalist bands are selected as finalists and, to prepare, each finalist band receives an in-school workshop in their community led by a professional musician. Essentially Ellington culminates in a three-day festival in May for the finalist bands, including workshops, rehearsals, jam sessions, and performances. The three top-placing bands perform an evening concert with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.

The Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Program (EE) is unique among educational resources for high school jazz bands. Each year, Jazz at Lincoln Center transcribes, publishes, and distributes charts by Duke Ellington and other seminal big band composers and arrangers, along with additional educational materials to bands in the U.S., Canada and American schools abroad. Beyond providing these charts, EE also supports its members throughout the school year with a variety of initiatives including teaching guides, the Essentially Ellington website, newsletters, a student composition/arranging contest, and professional feedback of student performances of the charts.

Schools that join the program are eligible for participation in noncompetitive regional festivals and also have the option to submit a recording for the national Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition and Festival. Since 1995, more than 300,000 students have participated in Essentially Ellington. To date, more than 120,000 copies of 102 previously unavailable scores have been distributed to more than 4,000 schools in the United States, Canada and American schools abroad.

Founding leadership support for Essentially Ellington is provided by The Jack and Susan Rudin Educational and Scholarship Fund. Major support is provided by Con Edison Community Partnership Fund, Anonymous, Jody and John Arnhold, Augustine Foundation, Alfred and Gail Engelberg, Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation, Charles Evans Hughes Memorial Foundation, Mericos Foundation, Jennifer and Michael Price, Donald and Darlene Shiley, Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust and the Vosshall Family.

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