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An ensemble from Seattle JazzED will compete in Essentially Ellington for the first time

Seattle JazzED
The high school musicians in the Seattle JazzED Ellington Ensemble hail from all over the state, including as far away as Walla Walla.

Five bands from the Seattle region will take part in the prestigious Essentially Ellington competition in New York in May. Washington has more finalists than any other state. Eighteen bands were selected out of 106 entries.

Four of the bands chosen have a track record of going: Garfield and Roosevelt high schools in Seattle, Mountlake Terrace High School and Mount Si High School in Snoqualmie.

For the fifth band, the Seattle JazzED Ellington Ensemble, it’s an especially sweet honor because this is the first time the group has been selected.

The band is directed by Kelly Clingan of the nonprofit music education organization, Seattle JazzED. The ensemble’s 25 musicians hail from 15 different schools all over the state, including as far away as Walla Walla, and only rehearsed together three times.

Kenji Wagner, 17, is a senior at Interlake High School in Bellevue and plays trombone and trumpet. He had the idea for Seattle JazzED to enter this ensemble into the competition. He said he’s been watching videos of the bands in the Essentially Ellington competition throughout his whole high school career.

Credit Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX
The Kenji Wagner Quintet performed in the KNKX studios last year.

“I just feel like it’s totally surreal that we’re getting this opportunity that we watched so many other people partake in for so long,” he said.

All the band members are thrilled. Ava Lim, 17, plays alto sax and attends Ballard High School.

“Of course we all dreamed of this and want this so bad, but the fact that we actually made it is kind of unheard of,” Lim said.

Clingan said in past years, Jazz at Lincoln Center has called directors before the announcement to let them know their bands had been chosen. When she did not get that call, she decided not to watch the livestream on Facebook.

Then she got a text from her mentor and friend, Roosevelt High School’s band director, Scott Brown.

“Scott texted me and said, `You did it!’ And I wrote back, `Did what?’ And he wrote, `EE, baby!’” she said. “And then I called him and cried. It was really special that Scott was actually the person who told me because he was my high school band director.”

Now the focus shifts to getting ready to compete in New York in May.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.