Newark Academy Wins Essentially Ellington

June 3, 2024

The Newark Academy jazz band, Chameleon (photo above), took first place in this year’s Essentially Ellington competition, sponsored by Jazz at Lincoln Center. This was the Livingston, NJ, independent school’s seventh time as an EE finalist but the first time it finished on top.

As reported in the May 2024 Jersey Jazz Magazine, the band prepared three pieces for the finals, which took place from May 9-11 at Frederick P. Rose Hall: “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue” with solo by tenor saxophonist Ani Chakravarthy; “Golden Cress” with solo by trombonist Vanessa Fang; and “Boy Meets Horn” featuring a solo by trumpeter Jacob Tolentino.

NA Jazz Director Julius Tolentino, in a Facebook post, pointed out that, “‘Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue’ actually revived Duke’s group after a legendary performance at the Newport Jazz Festival (in 1956). Paul Gonsalves played 27 choruses of ‘dog flat’ blues! We opened,” he added, “with a ballad (‘Golden Cress’) featuring our lead trombonist Vanessa! Not only did she nail it, she killed the lead part on every tune. What a sound!”

In addition to winning the overall competition versus 14 other finalist bands, several NA sections and individuals received special recognition: Outstanding Rhythm Section; Outstanding Trombone Section; Ani Chakravarthy, Outstanding Tenor Saxophone; Ben Collins-Siegel, Outstanding Piano; Ben Schwartz, Outstanding Drums; Vanessa Fang, Outstanding Trombone; and Jacob Tolentino, Outstanding Trumpet.

In the May 2024 Jersey Jazz article, Julius Tolentino said, “This is one of the strongest bands I’ve ever had at Newark Academy, and they wanted to play some harder music. So, that’s what we did. We picked one of Ellington’s most difficult pieces.”

Second Place Winner was Osceola County School for the Arts in Kissimmee, FL, and Third Place went to Agoura High School, Agoura Hills, CA. Judges were: alto saxophonist Sherman Irby, drummer Jeff Hamilton, trumpeters Terell Stafford and Sean Jones, and bassist Jennifer Krupa.

(See interview with Ben Schwartz, Newark Academy drummer and member of this year’s Carnegie Hall NYO Jazz Orchestra, in the June issue of Jersey Jazz).


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