Chops was one of those films I slipped into while killing time before the Spider-Man 3 press screening. And though we're looking at two completely different movies, the two do share similar themes. In fact, both deal with young kids who possess extraordinary talents and, in the most difficult, nerve-racking situations, they must utilize those talents to the best of their ability. In the case of Chops, the film follows a group of high school kids as they pursue their goal to win the most prestigious jazz band competition in the country: the annual Essentially Ellington Festival in New York City. In the vein of films like Mad Hot Ballroom, pic documents their journey; from the first day they played together as a band to overcoming their fears as they travel to New York to compete against the best of the best.
Roughly 900 high schools apply to compete in the festival, yet when it's all said and done only fifteen bands are chosen. The great thing about the Essentially Ellington Festival is that it's not just about determining which of these fifteen bands is the best; it's more about surrounding these kids with professional talent who then help them explore their craft. Folks like Wynton Marsalis and Ron Carter meet with the kids, answer their questions and attempt to show them that it's not about playing the music, it's about feeling it and being creative. When we're first introduced to the kids of this Jacksonville high school, they're strangers. Some are arriving from junior high school, while others are band veterans -- kids who've experienced Essentially Ellington, but never had what it takes to win. Towards the end of the film, as the competition heats up, we watch as these one-time strangers slowly become a family -- one tight-knit voice so devoted to the art of jazz that it's hard not to shed tears when the final outcome is revealed.