Wynton Marsalis is the artistic director of the Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition, which is the focus of director Bruce Boder's documentary film, Chops. Throughout the film, Marsalis highlights the role soulful cooperation plays among the young musicians. In his own words, "Soulfulness is the feeling that when I'm around you, I don't want to leave" This is about learning the beautiful music of Duke Ellington." The festival is held annually in New York City, and receives over 1,000 applications from the United States, Canada, and American schools abroad. For the 15 high school jazz bands that make the cut, the experience is pivotal.
Darren, one of the film's most talented high school soloists, began playing the saxophone at age 6 when he tagged along with his older brother to a middle school summer band camp. According to Darren, jazz lets you "tell stories about how you feel at that moment." One of the strongest points Chops makes is how music nurtures social-emotional learning. When a friend recommended Chops, I expected competition to be the focal point. Instead, it gave me goose bumps.