DENVER — Ninety-nine percent work and one percent performance is how Dave Hammond describes the success of his Jazz Workshop Orchestra this year.

For 25 years, Hammond has been the Director of Bands at the Denver School of the Arts, and he says the student musicians he's working with this year are exceptional.

"I've got so many really great seniors that are playing so well - just amazingly well - some of the best players I think I've ever had in the program," Hammond said. "And so that's why this year it made sense."

Hammond did not attempt to send a band to the annual Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition and Festival last year.

But in 2017, the DSA Jazz Workshop Orchestra placed 2nd.

As a sophomore, vibraphone player Alec Streete was a member of that 2017 band. "That just felt like really, really good to be doing all that hard work for the whole year and have it pay off," he said.

As a senior, Streete is now preparing for his second trip to the New York City competition and thinks this year's band has a chance to take the top spot. "I think we will - with some more work for sure," he said.

Hammond says he got the call about his band's invitation to this year's competition on the last day of the Denver Public Schools teachers strike.

"I was on strike ... and I let out a hoop and a holler on the street," Hammond said. "And of course everybody thought I was doing that because I was striking, but it was because I was on the phone [with] Essentially Ellington, and they were letting us know that the band got selected."

Hammond sent a text to one of his student musicians, asking to spread the word to all the other kids.

The good news did not sink in immediately for trumpet player Thutmose Toure. 

"I was takin' a nap - not gonna lie," Toure said. "Someone woke me up and told me, and I was like, 'Oh, okay.' And I just went back to sleep. And then after an hour I was like, 'Oh wait, we made Essentially Ellington.' And I was just so happy."

Because of the strike - along with two snow days last week - the band is working with Hammond to schedule extra rehearsals to make up for lost time.

"I think we're gonna do one [over] spring break, maybe two," Toure said. "It's just, we have so much to do."

The band will also have additional rehearsals after school on Fridays.

"All the kids are very serious - no messin' around," Hammond said. "They want to create an impact in New York and play their very best."

The band has created a GoFundMe page to raise money for their trip, May 7-12.

During the competition and festival, May 8-10, the DSA band web site will have regular updates, and Jazz at Lincoln Center web site will stream live performances.

The first place band wins $5,000. Second place is $2,500. And then third place is $500. "But, it's really bragging rights," Hammond said. "It's about going there and showing your love of the music."

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