Irregardless Sends Off the Triangle Youth Jazz Ensemble

On May 8th, The Glenwood hosted a ‘Send Off’ Fundraiser dinner to raise travel funds for the Triangle Youth Jazz Ensemble (TYJE) to complete in the Jazz at Lincoln Center 2018 Essentially Ellington Competition in New York City.

This is the 3rd year in a row that our Triangle Youth Jazz Ensemble has been selected from Youth Ensembles around the county, to complete at the Lincoln Center. In 2016, TYJE won second place in the competition. The Triangle Youth Jazz Ensemble is a part of The Triangle Philharmonic Association, a non-profit that aims to provide musical opportunities for students from the 4th through 12th grades.

Jazz at Lincoln Center’s annual Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition & Festival is one of the most innovative jazz education events in the world. Each year, high school musicians from across North America travel to New York City to spend three days immersed in workshops, jam sessions, rehearsals and performances. The Competition & Festival is the culmination of the yearlong Essentially Ellington program, during which participating bands are invited to submit a recording and 15 finalists are selected through a rigorous screening process. Each finalist band receives an in-school workshop led by a professional musician before coming to New York to put up their “Dukes” and perform before Wynton Marsalis and a panel of esteemed judges.

Under the direction of Dr. Gregg Gelb, who is the director of TYJE, students audition to be part of the Youth Jazz Ensemble. These High School Students can begin performing as early at the eight grade and continue to their senior year. They meet once a week on Sunday afternoons to practice.

Gregg Gelb is a good friend of Irregardless’ patrons, performing often at the Cafe’s Saturday Night Show beginning at 9 pm, with several of his ensembles: La Fiesta Latin Jazz Quintet, Second Line Stompers and The Gregg Gelb Jazz Qunitet and Swing Band and the Heart of Carolina Jazz Orchestra.

Gelb says that about ten TYJE students will be graduating this year to continue studies in music as a major or minor. “It’s a proud moment to see how many of our students jazz performers are moving on to serious studies in college and that they’re keeping music in their lives.”

The day after the ‘Youth Jazz Send-off Fundraiser’, all the TYJE traveled together to New York City. On Thursday night, they will participate in a jam session with all the Ensembles and the competition begins on Friday May 11th. Our Triangle Youth Jazz Ensemble is scheduled to play at 2pm on Friday, the first band to play. To watch this year’s Essentially Ellington Competition LIVE, visit

Each band plays three pieces, at least one piece is one of the eight transcribed arrangements from the big band era sent from the Jazz at Lincoln Center. The other two pieces must also be from their repertoire.

The students do such a good job with this music and the music just feels so good,” said Gelb when asked what he enjoyed most about teaching the group. “To me, being produced live, it’s just amazing. I’m totally in the moment when I hear it and it gives me a lot of energy. When I hear our musicians’ level of improvisation, I’m like wow, I can’t believe this is coming out of a kid! A 10th, 11th, 12th grader. It’s really amazing to hear young people playing a such a high level.”

While the group will lose some players throughout the years and may change their sound as new players join, TYJE works as hard as any ensemble coming for Arts High Schools where they the students practice every day. Our teen musicians are truly talented and work even harder, as evident in their finalist status for the past three competitions.

It hasn’t been without its challenges for the Triangle Youth Jazz Ensemble though. They are always on the look out to involve more students. Gelb mentions that the Philharmonic Association make a huge contribution, without them it would be difficult to find kids who are interested in playing classical or jazz music. “The Philharmonic Association is so organized, they bring a lot of people together. If I just had to do this on my own,” he trails off with a whistle and an exasperated look.

Another challenge is picking music to fit the students’ skill level and playing. “It’s not just about picking music that fits the band; you gotta figure out the solos,” Something most of the audience didn’t hear was that there was another song that the group practiced but was unable to make the cut as one of the three pieces they would play at the competition. “We spent a long time on it, trying to make it work and it never got there. It was too hard. We need to practice and gauge whether the Ensemble can or can not make it work. Our goal is to perform music that is going to sound good. It’s a real strategy to figure it out.”

The other challenge, which most bands also find difficult, is finding the money to fund the trip. With as many students as there are, the group had to raise $25,000 to get to New York. Through various fundraisers since the announcement of the finals in the competition, they were able to raise enough to go. One thousand dollars was raised at The Glenwood Send-off Fundraiser dinner.