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  • Donny Thompson, M.S., NPA


The collaboration between JOI and UNLV helped bring Las Vegas this 3rd Annual festival. UNLV, under the outstanding leadership of Dean Nancy Uscher (College of Fine Arts), Sue Mueller (Director, UNLV School of Music), and Professor Dave Loeb (Director, Division of Jazz and Commercial Music), worked tirelessly with the JOI team. Last year’s 2019 festival had been the largest Essentially Ellington Regional Festival in the 25-year history of EE and our 2020 Essentially Ellington Regional Festival surpassed even that with a prestige which attracted some of the best local and regional high school jazz bands in the West. It was not only bigger, it was even better!

In all, nearly 520 students representing 24 high school jazz bands participated in a full two days of noncompetitive performances, adjudications by Christopher Dorsey, Jerome Jennings, and Dave Loeb, individual band clinics by Kenny Rampton and Julius Tolentino, and masterclasses by Jerome Jennings, Julius Tolentino, Curt Miller, Kenny Rampton, and Dave Loeb. And we hosted our first and highly successful pizza party and jam session which was a highlight for many of the more than 130 students who chose to participate.

Along with JOI, Platinum Sponsor Nevada School of the Arts (Patrick Duffy) co-sponsored a Director’s Dinner with two keynote speakers; jazz artist and notable educator, Julius Tolentino and JEN president and Jazz at Lincoln Center Vice President of Education, Todd Stoll. Additional Platinum Sponsors for the festival included Del Quadro Custom Trumpets and U.S. Bank. Essentially Ellington regional festivals are licensed by Jazz at Lincoln Center, of which JOI is an affiliate.

The final concert on day two had our largest attendance yet at approximately 1,800 (a near sell-out) and featured an all-star cast of incredible performers playing with the world-renowned UNLV Jazz Ensemble I, directed by Dave Loeb. Guest artists included the Las Vegas Master Singers (David Weiller, Director), legendary Basie drummer Butch Miles, Don Cunningham (vocals), Michelle Johnson (vocals), Aaron Turner (tap dancer), Julius Tolentino (alto sax), Jerome Jennings (drums), and Kenny Rampton (trumpet), along with UNLV solo artists and high school outstanding solo award winners from the festival. The concert featured a rousing performance of selections from Duke Ellington’s Sacred Music. JOI was recognized by U.S. Congresswoman Susie Lee with a Congressional Commendation for the outstanding contribution to jazz education in Southern Nevada.

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