“Just going to New York, the center of the jazz mecca is already pretty intimidating,” Fernando said. “To say we’re going to play in Lincoln Center and meet all these guys, Wynton and the whole orchestra, is incredible. I’m pretty nervous. I’ve never been in the same room with so many greats at one time. This is going to be crazy!”
Todd Stoll, vice president of education for Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Essentially Ellington, now in its 18th year, was impressed with the Coral Gables kids. The finalists were chosen in a blind judging process.
“Coral Gables was one of the top bands. We’re excited having a new band that has never been a finalist before, it is phenomenal,” he said.
The competition is a part of the program, but Essentially Ellington’s primary goal is to provide free charts and other resources to band teachers and students. This year Jazz at Lincoln Center will have distributed 15,000 newly transcribed scores, including 104 previously unavailable big band scores by Ellington and other seminal composers.
“Wynton’s vision for this is that no kid should graduate jazz band without being exposed to the greatest composers and arrangers. They should know Ellington, Basie. It would be akin to graduating from Juilliard and not knowing Mozart. That’s what this program is about,” Stoll said.
Win or just soak it all in, Strange sees it all as a learning experience.
“People call this the Super Bowl of big band for high schools,” he said. “I like that pressure but it also means playing with the best.”
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