Roosevelt Jazz Band Wins Essentially Ellington

Great news from NYC - the Roosevelt High School Jazz Band has once again won top place in the Essentially Ellington Jazz contest.  This is the fourth time that RHS Jazz has won which ties with Garfield High School's four wins.  No other schools in the country can match these records.

Congratulations to both Roosevelt and Garfield for their inspired work. 

From the Times:
No Seattle band had taken first place at the competition since Garfield High School won in 2010. Since then, local bands had consistently made the finals, with Roosevelt netting third in 2013 and second in 2011 and 2012, but fell short of grasping the brass ring.

Started by Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Center in 1996 and opened to the West Coast in 1999, Essentially Ellington is the most prestigious competition in high school jazz. Fifteen bands compete each year, with Garfield High School and Snoqualmie’s Mount Si High School joining Roosevelt in making the cut this year, from a field of 112 bands across the country. 

In addition to Roosevelt’s victory, “outstanding” citations went to eight local soloists. From Roosevelt: Will Knight and Carter Eng, trumpet; George Fulton, tenor saxophone; Nick Altemeier, baritone saxophone; Eli Sullivan, “doubler” on soprano and saxophone; Elise Toney, trombone. From Garfield: Aidan Siemann tenor saxophone; Tyler Feldman, guitar.
Four band sections were also deemed outstanding: Roosevelt for brass, trombone and trumpet; Garfield, for trombone.
To note, this achievement was put up at a Facebook page and one person pointed out that in the photo, there were no black students in the Roosevelt photos.  There are also none in the Garfield photos.  I pointed out this story from the Times in 2003.
Many black students have been priced out, or are opting out, of an art form that has its roots in African-American culture.

In the past, hip-hop kids like Maxie and Clark might have been playing jazz — a popular, rebellious, oral tradition performed by community-tutored musicians in black neighborhoods. Today, jazz is an American classical music, accounting for less than 2 percent of total U.S. record sales.

The majority of the district's black students are from low-income families who can't afford private music lessons. And music has become an expensive luxury at budget-strapped public schools forced to cut programs and staff. Some also say jazz no longer appeals to young black students, that hip-hop is a much more powerful draw.

Clarence Acox, black director of the Garfield jazz band, which made the Ellington finals again this year, says cuts in elementary-school music instruction mean low-income kids never get a chance to start.

"The top jazz musicians in high schools didn't start out as jazz musicians," agrees Roosevelt band director Scott Brown. "They started out learning band instruments in elementary school."
So I would venture that it's less about hip hop being more accessible to black students and probably more about lack of opportunity to start early.

That was in 2003 and I note that both the Roosevelt High music director, Scott Brown, and the Garfield High music director, Clarence Acox, are STILL working hard for excellence in these jazz bands.   But SPS gives very little to support these bands and it's the hard work of parents and boosters that sustains them.  Both high schools have jazz booster clubs that provide scholarships for travel to events. 

It is sad that there are two great jazz bands in two different high schools and yet the district has done little to diversify who is in them.  What about equity?


CascadiaMom said…
I also want to note that the bands skew highly male, at least from the photo that I saw. This is sad, because I can report that the elementary and middle school bands are at least half girls and those girls work hard.

I think that Scott Brown and all the high school band teachers need to look closely at their program and ask themselves why there are 50% girls in middle school bands, but in the top high school bands it is majority male. Is there implicit bias going on? Is the learning style skewed so that it turns off girls from participating? Are tryouts taking place behind a screen, as orchestras needed to do to get more women in the ranks?

I know from what I see at middle school that girls work hard and practice more than boys in general, so I was very surprised to see how male the band was.

I know that there is now an all-girl jazz band at the high school level, winning awards, and I wonder why girls felt that their own high school band was not a good place for them.
Anonymous said…
I know our elementary school (Genesee Hill) works really hard with class scheduling to make band and orchestra a priority. Kids can take instrumental music without missing academic class time or staying after school. We are a big school with a low FRL population, a strong music teacher, plus an assistant vice principal who was a former music teacher. All those things combined (i.e. lots of support) enabled a really large percentage of our 4th and 5th graders to take instrumental music.

In addition to funding problems, I wonder if the constant demands for higher test scores on lower income population schools also come into play. Music becomes an "extra," rather than a core part of education.

We need to support ALL students in music education. The idea that Jazz music in the U.S. is becoming upper middle class is heartbreaking. There are undoubtedly untapped amazing instrumental musicians at Title I schools who are missing out.

Crazy idea: Can we have a city-wide fundraiser to support those music programs? Maybe at Memorial stadium? With these jazz bands, and other amazing SPS student musicians? Lots of people would come and donate! And, I would love to hear them!

WS Parent
Anonymous said…
CascadiaMom--Really interesting points!

One thing I see in my kids' elementary school is that the girls tended to gravitate to woodwinds and orchestra, and the boys tend to gravitate towards brass instruments. On that basis Jazz bands might skew male. Not sure if this is true in other places.

My daughter plays violin, and my younger daughter says she will choose cello. Most of my older daughter's friends play flute or clarinet. Very few of the girls are playing trumpet, trombone, or sax. Not sure what it would take to diversity this.

WS Parent
Anonymous said…
One wonders how many parent dollars go to the Roosevelt and Garfield programs.

One also wonders about the lack of diversity shown in the picture of the Roosevelt Jazz Band.

The accomplishment of the Roosevelt band is indisputable and to be celebrated. Unfortunately the inequalities of the system and perhaps the school and the band itself are also on display and need thoughtful addressing.

SPS Parent
Address Based said…
Just want to add that lots of schools have amazing Jazz Bands & musicians but don't have the financial support that Roosevelt has (they have their own Jazz Booster club/board). Ingraham (and other schools I'm sure!)for example has some amazing, dedicated talented musicians but the focus of their band program is not on entering/winning competitions. Their music program just doesn't have the $$ that RHS & BHS has based on their attendance area - and Ingraham has a much more diverse student population with more high priority basic student needs such as the recently featured Bright Futures program ( that provides food,clothing, toiletries and shoes and experiential needs such as club activity fees and uniforms. Not at all saying the RHS musicians aren't deserving of their award just adding that when people say the RHS music program is "better than" other schools a lot of it is about the resources that school has and what a school is able to put its efforts into based on its student population. Yes, the students are talented and work hard but they are fortunate to have access based on their address. So if you are a jazz musician who is fortunate enough to live in the RHS attendance area that's great - you have access to an amazing program with dedicated teachers and school/parent support.
Anonymous said…
WS parent, I see this too. The highest level orchestras are almost entirely female at most schools, and those programs seem uninterested in developing male orchestra players. At least the jazz programs are trying to bring girls up through both awareness and things like these all girl jazz programs and JazzED is an incredible program located in the central district working on both gender and racial diversity in jazz. There is work to do, but people are doing it, which is no small thing.

Congrats to both programs on their incredible accomplishments.

Music nerd
Anonymous said…
Address based, for years musically interested students chose Garfield over Ingraham if they had a choice (HCC), when Garfield was more diverse with more needs and priorities for students with higher needs. The IB program makes high level participation in music hard. I don't think it's just FRL rate. Ingraham has also been smaller than these schools, and I wonder if the Ingraham program will improve as it gets bigger. It's not really outside funds- there need to be enough kids so that you can have many sections of music class, allowing the top section to be really passionate, intense musicians. Any school with 2000 kids and a dedicated music teacher could have this level of program, but only 3 schools in our district are that big (surprise, Ballard, Garfield, Roosevelt). We'l probably see some reshuffling as the schools all change sizes.

Music nerd
Anonymous said…
@ Music nerd also address based if they have a choice, they have also been choosing Ballard over Ingraham for the music program in large numbers in recent years as well. This year there are 92 HC freshman at BHS. The additional requirements of doing the entire IB diploma are a limitation for extra-curriculars, as well as the school size. I also suspect the school size and IB focus also limits the ability of Ingraham to be able to raise enough funding to offer a First Robotics club that competes at the same level of Roosevelt & Ballard. I believe Ingraham's program is First Tech program which is also great, but smaller robots and much less funding is required.

Here is some info about Ballard's music program:

"The top music ensembles at the school have traveled to festivals and performances across the country and have won multiple awards and recognitions for their high level of music-making and outstanding performances.

"Highlights include Concert Choir and Advanced Chorale’s performance at New York City’s Carnegie Hall for Choir Nationals for Top Choirs, Wind Ensemble’s performance at Carnegie Hall for the New York International Music Festival, Chamber Orchestra’s performance at Lincoln Center for the National Orchestra Cup. Featured conference invitations include Wind Ensemble’s performance at the Washington Music Educators Association Conference, Chamber Orchestra’s performance at the American String Teachers Association Nation Conference, and Concert Choir’s performance at the NW American Choral Director’s Association Conference.

Jazz Band has multiple times in recent years been a finalist in the Essentially Ellington Jazz Festival the Monterey Next Generation Jazz Festival, the Savannah Swing Central Jazz Festival, and has been selected for Starbucks’ “Hot Java Cool Jazz” concert at the Paramount."

BHS Parent
Anonymous said…
Hale can only dream of having even a band that plays during football games or plays music for the musicals. I went to many football games with other Hale parents and I was always envious of the bands from the other schools - Chief Sealth, Ingraham, Roosevelt, Garfield, etc.

Anonymous said…
Is there a reason the talented director couldn't teach during the day but host the all-city, audition-admittance-only jazz band at night, with support from SPS? These award-winning bands don't happen solely on school time; they majority practice out of school right? Don't we have both all-city orchestras and choirs operating this way? That would allow a greater draw of diverse students,and citywide fundraising support for the group. So much more inclusive even if it doesn't solve the problem of offering supplemental music lessons to poor kids which is another thing to tackle. It's kinda creepy that the 'top' jazz band has no African-Americans plus barely other minorities or women. It isn't the kids in the current band's "fault"and yay Roosevelt for the award but right now this is another privileged NE Seattle showcase which could and probably should be organized better to reflect the full district and full Seattle community values. It's not like poor or minority communities have any chance at a real foothold in living in the area and accessing the program otherwise. It's mostly white and wealthy because of generations of redlining.

JazzBand SoWhite
Anonymous said…
It is absolutely the money. A prize like this represents many years of private lessons and parent support. That's money for lessons, money for the time and transportation for lessons, money that allows a parent to be at home to encourage practice, money for all of the concerts and trips and vacations and the right summer camps that enrich and encourage a child's musical career, money money money. Money that allows you to live in a neighborhood that is zoned for a rich school. Money that gave you the connections you need to know what to do to put your kid in the right place at the right time. Don't forget the money for the music booster organization. And also the money for travel and hotels and meals for these competitions. It is a huge privilege to be able to afford the life that supports these kids and it is absolutely no surprise to anyone that RHS would be the cream of this crop. Of course the kids are talented and work hard, but it is extreme privilege that allows them to develop their talents enough to compete at that level. Because the real money in this situation, the money that makes the difference, is in the families, not the school or the PTA, or even the booster clubs. These elite groups are so primed to succeed that a kid just starting out with instrumental music in 6th grade (because the elementary school could not offer it, unlike richer schools that could) cannot even hope to get in. If you can't see how money made this happen, you are so buried in your own privileged life that you cannot see it, or more likely you refuse to see it because your own kid is a big beneficiary of this system and you love it.

Anonymous said…
Yes I agree that kids with talent who also receive enrichment via private lessons really thrive. My own parents AND my husband's parents all grew up dirt poor. They said the more wealthy kids always had the dance and music lessons. My husband and I are the first generation of middle class and also who went to college.

If you really want to see privilege in action, get your head out of the public school system. Take a look at private schools like Lakeside where the gap between the ultra wealthy and the rest of us is far far greater.

I remember seeing a program on KCTS about a low income public school in NYC in which the kids received private lessons somehow, I think through local musician volunteers and they were really great! Seattle has so many talented musicians and many artists are also attracted to social justice issues. I can envision a program of volunteers providing private lessons.


Anonymous said…
I think we can celebrate these students' achievement while acknowledging the equity issues presented by access to instrumental music in Seattle. (But I'm always curious when this gets raised, do we apply similar analysis to sports? If not, why not?)

I am sure I'm not the only one who would *love* to see SPS support centralized fundraising for instrumental music so that every student has the opportunity to start an instrument in 4th grade and access grants for lessons and instrument rental. Such an effort could potentially bring together parents from many different schools - imagine what that could lead to.

Ruthie (who has sold a *lot* of band citrus)

Anonymous said…
Seattle private and parochial schools seem to be very intentional about attracting and retaining communities of color and those without financial means. They can because wealthy families of the less diverse past paid big money SPS yakyaks about equity but daily reality hits and the uneveness of financial and cultural integration in wide parts of the system smacks you upside the head like in this case. No way to know family finances but the Roosevelt draw area is largely from families of means. Jazz was rooted in segregated, poor American black culture and advanced by polyglots. Some might call the Roosevelt Jazz Band cultural appropriators given its makeup. I wouldn't. That goes too far in my book. But some might see it that way and I can see why. Do the band members learn and respect the origin of the music they play with obvious passion and skill? Don't know. Hope so. Needs to be so. Do they give back to these communities? Don't know. Hope so. Needs to be so. Is there a way to get more kids of color into that and other well funded programs? Hope so. Needs to be so. Don't want to tear down the band's honor. Do want to use the publicity around the award to kick SPS staff + parents endlessly funding their own kids + the kids themselves to do something early and often about very apparent imbalance in the system.

NE SocialJustice?
Anonymous said…
Roosevelt is almost 70% white and only 4% Black. What did you expect their jazz band to look like?

Fairmount Parent
Anonymous said…
The school is evenly split between girls and boys, though. RHS, and others, need to take a look at gender balance in programs like this. Looking at the orchestras there, it is closer to 40% male and 60% female. Having kids in multiple music programs in the past, we know of girls dropping out for a variety of reasons from the jazz program, and it is not for lack of talent. It would be worth a better look at the reasons for the discrepancy between the music programs and actively work for change, rather than accepting that it has always been this way.

It does feel like club/music/sports boosters should be held accountable at schools so that they don't create more racial or gender inequity. I'm not sure how this can be done, as even after having kids at Roosevelt for 4 years, I still don't understand how Boosters and Foundations are or can be overseen by the staff, if at all. As noted by Ruthie above, sports is another big area in which schools like Roosevelt have significantly better resources. Similar to private music lessons, parents who have had their kids in select sports for years are easily able to provide better uniforms, additional coaches or other extras that other schools cannot.

It should be celebrated that SPS is able to succeed at a national level. Congrats to the schools that have done well, and the all girl programs who have done well outside of SPS. Let's work to getting more Seattle students able to participate in programs like those!

Anonymous said…
Congratulations to Roosevelt as well as the Garfield and Mount Si jazz bands! Terrific programs all.

Garfield Jazz has Black member musicians, plus other students of color and girls too. I'm not sure what photograph is being referenced here that doesn't accurately portray the group. Garfield's separate vocal jazz group skews female.

The overall Black student populations at these schools are 22% at Garfield, 4% at Roosevelt, and <1% at Mount Si. Increasing Black representation in any of these jazz programs is more a challenge of demographics rather than access.

An art form celebrating originality and improvisation does not require years of expensive private music lessons. Just dedication and an instrument. The principal reason these schools repeatedly qualify for this competition is their jazz band LEADERS, not the students.

Anonymous said…
Last year both Ballard and Roosevelt were 2 out of the 15 finalists for Essential Ellington. This competition invites 109 schools to participate nationally. It is quite an honor for the Seattle Public High schools. They have also competed and won honors at various other competitions as well. The schools also do have professional mentors and great teachers. However, I would not agree with FNH that it is primarily due to the leaders. I think it is due to students, who have resources for private lessons, combined with the mentors and leaders, as well as focus, interest and dedication which are also values shaped by their families.

My grandfather an immigrant who came here during WWI, as a child fleeing massive starvation, generations of poverty and centuries of political oppression by foreign rulers was much poorer than many of those who we consider poor today. He did not have private lessons or even have the opportunity to go to high school. Yet he ended up playing in a professional band during the "big band era" in the US. His talent, ancestral values toward music and his dedication fueled his passion. Of course he must have had an enormous uphill battle in order to succeed, but yet he did. He was also a working class person his entire life as it can take generations to reach the middle class. I do believe those who are very determined and talented can also find a way to succeed. There are countless other stories I can share about multiple people I know who can find success despite the odds.

Anonymous said…
Some more SPS Jazz band news, Ballard Jazz Band Wins 1st Place at the Bellevue Jazz Festival
Ballard's Jazz Band 1 won First Place in the 3A division at the 37th Annual Bellevue Jazz Festival on May 4th. Forty-nine (49) high schools from throughout the Northwest were in attendance. Aside from outstanding ensemble playing, several Ballard soloists were featured - Joe Fotheringham, Evan Snoey, Alli Beaulieu, Tera Richardson, Ava Lim, Charlie Burns, Casey Welch, and David Nicolella.

Anonymous said…
Let's just celebrate the results of these great kids' hard work and dedication. All this holier than thou social justice warrior-ing gets really old.

Fed Up
Music Lessons said…
Duke Ellington started taking piano lessons at the age of 7. Miles Davis started taking private music lessons at age 13. Dizzie Gillespie started playing the piano at age 4. Thelonious Monk started playing the piano at age 6. Nat King Cole's mother started teaching him to play the organ by age 4 and he started taking formal lessons at age 12. Were their parents all opportunity hoarders?
Anonymous said…
For those of you advocating for music in all the elementary schools, please look at Seattle Music Partners. It's a great program that pairs one-on-one instrumental instruction in Central District Title 1 schools. My kid volunteered with them for three years in high school, getting service hours and making a real difference for students who might not get exposed to instrumental music.

SMP also provides group instruction in middle school. If you are looking for a worthwhile cause to be a part of, they are always looking for instructors and volunteers (and donations, of course).

Music Parent
Anonymous said…
Music Parent--Thank you for this recommendation! I think it would be great to get some city-wide fundraisers to support Title I music programs, and they would be a great organization to give to.

WS Parent
Anonymous said…
I agree with Fed Up, let's celebrate the kids. They've worked hard to be where they are!

Today there's an article on the Seattle Times about an amazing program Seattle JazzED, hopefully kids with fewer opportunities but the willingness to put the time and effort will participate.

Anonymous said…

June 27 - July 3, 2019
At the Summer Jazz Prep Camp you will pick your instrument, begin reading music and learn to play songs in a beginning band. At the end of camp you'll be invited to keep learning in the after-school Jazz Prep Ensembles, which start Fall 2019.

Every student gets:

a free JazzED t-shirt
a free instrument to use at camp
Thursday, June 27 - Wednesday, July 3
Morning session: 9:00 AM - 1:00 PM (suggested grades 4-5)
Afternoon session: 1:00 PM - 5:00 PM (suggested grades 6-8)
We suggest choosing the session associated with your student's grade as of Fall 2019 but we can be flexible based on your needs.

Camp is at Rainier Prep, 10211 12th Ave S, Seattle, WA 98168 (map).

Pick from Clarinet, Saxophone, Trumpet, Trombone, or Upright Bass.

Every student will get a t-shirt and the use of a musical instrument while at camp. We are committed to this program being financially accessible for ALL families. You select the tuition amount that works for you.

On the last page of the registration form (the ‘check-out’ page) you can enter one of the sliding scale tuition codes listed below in the coupon box. Once you apply the code it should automatically update your tuition balance. Then you can select a payment plan option if you want to break payments up.

$400, do not enter any code on the check-out page
$275, enter code TWOSEVENTYFIVE
$150, enter code ONEFIFTY
$50, enter code FIFTY
$0 - FREE (full tuition waiver) enter code WAIVER
If you'd like to pay a different sliding scale amount than the options here, fill out our easy online form, and we'll send you a custom tuition code.

Have questions about how this works? Contact us and we'll get right back to you! You can also call our office at 206-324-5299 to speak with a staff member. Hablamos Español.

Open to students entering 4th through 8th grade in the fall. No music experience required. Students who have already participated in this camp for two years may not register again to allow room for new students.

Click here to register online. Enter your chosen sliding scale tuition code (listed above) on the final check-out page. You should receive a confirmation email from our registration system


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