Once relegated to the smoke-filled nightspots, jazz music is now recognized as one of America's greatest original creations. Today it thrives in unexpected places-like the Jacksonville, Florida high school jazz band that stars in Bruce Broder's refreshing and empowering documentary. The film follows T.J., Owen and other aspiring jazz musicians as they compete with elite bands from all over the country at the Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition & Festival in New York City. Whittled down from over 900 high schools, fifteen bands (including two stellar groups from Seattle) are invited to perform at Lincoln Center. Along the way, virtuosic teenagers from a myriad of backgrounds not only improve their skills on their chosen instruments, they also learn the elusive art of truly "swinging"-and become a tight-knit family in the process. As artistic director of the festival, jazz musician Wynton Marsalis teaches the teenagers about soulfulness and urges them to keep alive the legacy of Duke Ellington and other jazz luminaries. World-renowned bassist Ron Carter visits their Jacksonville high school to help prepare them for the upcoming competition in a uniquely heart-warming scene. Inspired by the entire community of jazz musicians, the students humbly recognize the honor of carrying on the legacy of the masters. Reminiscent of Mad Hot Ballroom, Chops will make audiences admire the dedication of these young people as they proudly watch the culmination of their hard work: a festival performance where the students realize that no matter how much one prepares, sometimes life, like jazz, calls for improvisation.