BYRON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The Byron Center High School Jazz Band has been nominated for the prestigious Essentially Ellington Award.

The band is among 15 across the nation nominated for the competition and festival — hosted by Jazz at the Lincoln Center — named in honor of jazz legend Duke Ellington.

“Though band directors and students around this country have faced epochal challenges (during the COVID-19 pandemic), you found innovative and creative ways to learn, to teach, ad to play,” Jazz at Lincoln Center Managing and Artist Director Wynton Marsalis said in announcing the finalists.

“I know the audience really loves the music,” Byron Center junior Nolan Kirkwood, who plays trumpet, said. “So we get to put in all of this hard work, playing with our friends, just having fun, and then present it to others and they get to hear it, too.”

According to the competition’s website, the aim of Essentially Ellington is to elevate musicianship, broaden perspectives and inspire performance.

“They do a blind audition process where bands from all over the country submit music by Duke Ellington,” Byron Center Fine Arts Director Marc Townley explained. “It includes not just public schools, private schools, it also includes fine arts schools and it includes community schools. “

The announcement caps off a year of socially distanced practices and virtual performances for the Byron Center band.

“We’ve been virtual, we’ve been hybrid, full-time — all these things. It’s just been a lot of chaos and stress,” Kirkwood said. “And then just being able to come in and play like normal, with people and still record and submit to Ellington, all that stuff, it’s really helped. It just make things seem a little more normal.”

And not just for the students, according to jazz great Marsalis in his online message to nominees.

“Your excellence and your commitment to one another and this music have provided us with much needed inspiration and have strengthened our belief at a time when we need to have our beliefs strengthened,” Marsalis said.

It’s a sentiment captured in every note played on the stage at the jazz band’s home stage at the Van Singel Fine Arts Center.

“I think there’s a lesson that is all about life, and jazz is just a small part of it,” Townley said. “We use the music to live life to the fullest.”

The competition is set for June 4 and 5 and it will be virtual. You can listen at