16-year-old Skylar Tang's composition for big band is getting an award. California musician Skylar Tang, 16, is the winner of a Jazz at Lincoln Center contest. She'll accept the award in New York this weekend.

Who says big band jazz is for old people? Not this teenage composer.

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LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Some 300 young musicians from around the country are in New York City for Jazz at Lincoln Center's Essentially Ellington Festival. It's a competition for high school jazz ensembles, and they also attend workshops and jam sessions. Among this year's musicians is 16-year-old trumpet player Skyler Tang. She won the festival award for composition and arranging. And NPR's Elizabeth Blair spoke with her.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Skyler Tang is a high school sophomore in the San Francisco Bay area. She says the vibe of her winning piece, "Kaleidoscope," is kind of frantic, like her life right now.

SKYLAR TANG: There's a lot of stress in the tune. You know, I go to school. I have assessments and tests.

(SOUNDBITE OF SKYLAR TANG'S "KALEIDOSCOPE")

BLAIR: The Dr. J. Douglas White Student Composition and Arranging Contest is for original pieces written for big band by high school students. The winner gets $1,000, and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra records it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SKYLAR TANG'S "KALEIDOSCOPE")

BLAIR: There were 17 submissions. That might not sound like much, but Tang says it took her about seven months to create the piece. Composing for big band is...

TANG: Quite a process.

TED NASH: You have the melody. You have solos. You have backgrounds. You have a development. Like, we - sometimes we call it a shout chorus.

BLAIR: That's Ted Nash, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra's saxophonist, composer and the competition's judge. He says Tang's piece is remarkable for its maturity.

NASH: She has all of these important elements in the piece, but it's deeply personal as well.

(SOUNDBITE OF SKYLAR TANG'S "KALEIDOSCOPE")

BLAIR: Tang has been playing music since she was 4, starting with piano. These days she plays trumpet in Bay Area youth jazz bands. During quarantine, she learned how to make split-screen videos to share her covers online. In this one, she plays trumpet, guitar, drums and keyboards.

(SOUNDBITE OF SKYLAR TANG PERFORMANCE OF LAWRENCE'S "DO YOU WANNA DO NOTHING WITH ME?")

TANG: That's what I love about music. It's about creating. It's about expressing yourself. And it's about innovation.

BLAIR: Something Skylar Tang plans to do for a very long time.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SKYLAR TANG PERFORMANCE OF LAWRENCE'S "DO YOU WANNA DO NOTHING WITH ME?")

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