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Newark Academy wins the Essentially Ellington competition at Jazz at Lincoln Center

Newark Academy's jazz band Chameleon performing at this year's Essentially Ellington competition
Newark Academy
Newark Academy's jazz band Chameleon performing at this year's Essentially Ellington competition

Newark Academy’s jazz band, Chameleon, was named the No. 1 high school jazz band in the country at the Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition & Festival this past weekend at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

This was the first time Chameleon earned first place at the competition. The band has been named an Essentially Ellington finalist six prior times, under the leadership of Jazz Director Julius Tolentino.

“This is an accomplishment that our whole community will relish — and for the band and myself — for a lifetime,” says Director of Bands Julius Tolentino. “As the judges pointed out, the 15 bands at Essentially Ellington continue to raise the level, and to be top in the nation with the best of the best is unreal.”

Chameleon performed Duke Ellington's "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue" and earned outstanding accolades for its trombone and rhythm sections. Several Newark Academy students were also recognized during the outstanding performance with individual awards. They were:

Outstanding Tenor Saxophone - Ani Chakravarthy ’24
Outstanding Trombone - Vanessa Fang ’24
Outstanding Trumpet - Jacob Tolentino ’24
Outstanding Piano - Ben Collins-Siegel ’25
Earlier this year, the jazz band took first at the Mid Atlantic Jazz Festival as well as its 13th-consecutive first place victory at the New Jersey Association for Jazz Education State Championship.

“The combination of 11 senior leaders, the whole band buying into a culture of listening to the music and each other, a focused drive to get to that next level at each rehearsal, and soloists and sections playing with subtle nuance is what it took,” says Julius. “This has been a personal goal of mine that I never thought would happen, and I’m happier than I could ever be doing it with this group of students. I think it was meant to be.”

The annual Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition & Festival is one of the most innovative jazz education events in the world. It is known as the “Super Bowl” of high school jazz band competitions, attracting the top programs in the country to make an audition tape. Jazz at Lincoln Center selects 15 bands through a rigorous screening process from over 100 submissions. The 15 finalists traveled to New York City to spend three days immersed in workshops, jam sessions, rehearsals and performances at the “House of Swing” Frederick P. Rose Hall in Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Doug Doyle has been News Director at WBGO since 1998 and has taken his department to new heights in coverage and recognition. Doug and his staff have received more than 250 awards from organizations like PRNDI (now PMJA), AP, New York Association of Black Journalists, Garden State Association of Black Journalists and the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists.