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Plano West Senior High School Jazz Band Selected as Finalist in the Essentially Ellington Jazz Band Competition

February 17, 2017

The Plano West Jazz Band is headed to New York City! Jazz at Lincoln Center announced fifteen finalist bands in the 22nd annual “Essentially Ellington” High School Jazz Band Competition & Festival – one of the most innovative jazz education events in the world. Plano West Jazz Band under the direction of Preston Pierce was one of these elite fifteen. Finalists will compete May 11 – 13 at the Frederick P. Rose Hall at Lincoln Center. Hear the band on the district's facebook.

Plano West jazz Band Students with their instruments

Plano West Senior High School Jazz Band – First row: Grant Fischer, Eric Ge, Nathan Eisenberg, Tristan Jackson. Second row: Annalee Hixson, Brandon Ta, Gene Choi, Oscar Ibanez, Kyle Sanborn, Max Dauber, Austin Zhang. Third row: Omar Barradas, Tim Wang. Fourth row: Blake Aldridge, Blake Evans, Will Hopkins, Adam Johnson, Blake Murray, James Krape, Alex Sims, Alan Koo. Not pictured: Elijah Freeman.

Nearly 100 high school jazz bands across North America entered the competition. Each school submitted recordings of three tunes performed from charts from Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Essentially Ellington library. In May, the finalist bands will spend three days at Jazz immersed in workshops, jam sessions, rehearsals and performances. On May 13, the Competition & Festival will conclude with a concert and awards ceremony featuring the three top-placing bands and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. Festival events, including the final concert, will be webcast live on

The fifteen finalists were selected through a rigorous screening process. Plano West Band Director Preston Pierce is understandably proud of the band, “The Jazz Band’s dedication and drive was very apparent this year. Students were regularly listening and sharing recordings with each other, transcribing solos and even went so far as memorizing their music. What is most impressive to me about this special group of students is their humbleness. After we heard our Ellington recordings for the first time, several of the students commented on how this is something to be proud of regardless if we make it to New York or not. To me this speaks volumes about their character. I’m very lucky to work with such talented and hardworking individuals. We are beyond excited to represent Plano West and Plano ISD on the largest stage for High School Jazz Bands in the country!”

According to Kathy Kuddes, director of fine arts & special academic services, “This (competition) is often referred to as the 'Super Bowl' for high school jazz bands. Of all the events of this kind that our ensembles aspire to, this is the most educational of all. While these jazz bands do go to New York to perform, the focus of the event is on growing them as individual musicians and as an ensemble. Sessions include working up close and personal with some of the best professional jazz musicians in the world!”

Each finalist band receives an in-school workshop led by a professional musician before coming to New York to perform before Wynton Marsalis and a panel of esteemed judges. The three top winning band will receive trophies and cash prize of: $5,000 for first place, $2,500 for second place and $1,000 for third place. Up to two honorable mention prizes may be awarded at $750 each, and other bands will receive $500.

About the Essentially Ellington Competition

Founding leadership support for Essentially Ellington is provided by The Jack and Susan Rudin Educational and Scholarship Fund. Major support is provided by Jessica and Natan Bibliowicz, Alfred and Gail Engelberg, Casey Lipscomb, Dr. J. Douglas White and the King-White Family Foundation, Augustine Foundation, Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation, Charles Evans Hughes Memorial Foundation, and the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust, Bloomberg, Con Edison, Entergy, and United Airlines.

Link to more information about the competition.




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Hear the Jazz Band play selections on Facebook.