Essentially amazing: Mount Si Jazz Band brings home honors and inspiration from New York jazz festival

Mount Si student Connor Drake plays
Mount Si student Connor Drake plays 'Cottontail' at Essentially Ellington, held May 8-10 at New York City.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Only jazz mattered for the hundreds of high school students who went to Essentially Ellington this year—jazz, and the people who played it.

“Everybody’s there for the music,” said JT Hartman, one of the 20 Mount Si Jazz Band members who recently returned from the prestigious event this year. “The whole thing was a really great experience.”

Inspiring, too.

“It just made me want to do more,” said Mount Si bass player Christian Henriksen, “I want to listen to more jazz, and keep playing it, to get better…. once we left, I was ready to go back!”

Henriksen, named an Outstanding Bass player in the festival, was one of four Mount Si musicians singled out for accolades by the Essentially Ellington judges, who are also the Jazz at Lincoln Center musicians. Connor Drake earned Outstanding Piano honors, Leslie Kolke earned Outstanding Trumpet, and Boone Hapke received an honorable mention for Outstanding Tenor Sax.

Mount Si sections also were recognized; Outstanding Brass honors went to the horns and the rhythm section earned an honorable mention in its category.

The awards were the result of a two-day performance competition among the 15 high school bands selected for the festival. Mount Si performed second in the Friday line-up following another band that was also appearing for the first time at the festival.

Before their performance, students had a day and a half of workshops and coaching, jam sessions and listening sessions with other students and world-class jazz musicians and a Q & A session with Wynton Marsalis. Drake for one, was happy to perform early, before even hearing another band and starting to make mental comparisons.

“We set the bar,” he said.

Especially for themselves. Band director Matt Wenman said of their time before the judges, “We feel really good about how we performed… It was definitely our best performance of the year.”

Although the band didn’t place in the top three, and so didn’t perform in the closing concert at Lincoln Center, they were all thrilled with just making it to the event, and all the community support they had to get there.

“The Boosters did a really good job of organizing the fundraisers,” Hapke acknowledged.

“There’s nowhere else you can go, any other high school jazz festival, with that quality of judging panel,” Wenman said. “You can go and not win this festival, but come away feeling really really great, knowing we did a good job.”

Learn more about the Mount Si Jazz Band at

You can see a photo gallery of the Mount Si Jazz Band, at home and at the Essentially Ellington festival, here.


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