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Live Reviews

Monk Institute Celebrates 20th Anniversary

By Published: October 11, 2006

Under the best of conditions, competing at the Monk competition—which can launch instant careers—must be daunting. Add to that the pressure of performing at the 20th anniversary in front of the luminaries cataloged above, and it's a wonder that the three finalists were able to take the stage at all. And while nerves were apparent, all three of the finalists' engaging performances stood as a testament to both their musical abilities and their professionalism. Presenting first, Aaron Parks of Seattle delivered a crisp rendition of Wayne Shorter's Ana Maria, followed by a mid-tempo piece dominated by asymmetric solos. Next, Gerald Clayton took the stage, boldly opening with a funky, mid-tempo original full of slinky lines that got the crowd clapping. In a gambit to highlight his versatility, Clayton then switched gears to present an unconventional combination of Beethoven's 'Pathetique' Piano Sonata and John Lewis' "Django , which folded together beautifully delivered classical style with adept bluesy improvisation. While this experimental approach proved a crowd pleaser, and displayed an impressive ability to cover the full range of the keyboard, it wasn't enough to overcome the passionate explorations of the final contestant Armenian Tigran Hamasyan. Attacking "Cherokee with a passionate vengeance and delivering a thoroughly reworked version of Davis' "Solar , Hamsyan combined an enormous technique, a touch of good natured irreverence, unfettered enthusiasm, and a seemingly unstudied outpouring of ideas to both secure first place and effectively steal the show.

Before the final announcement of the winner, however, came several additional highlights, including a surprisingly novel arrangement off "So What performed by none other than Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, John Pattitucci, Terri-Lynn Carrington, and Joshua Redman, a rousing take on "How High the Moon by Patti Austin, and at the very least the most poignant moment of the evening, an improvised duet between Hancock and Shorter expressing their gratitude to Monk Institute president Thomas Carter. A moment carved out of the night's clockwork efficiency, this musically satisfying moment was especially affecting because of the honest expression of friendship, affection, and respect it represented, revealing to the audience that at heart the Monk Institute remains the project of dedicated artists passionately committed to both their art and the community it represents.

In the final evaluation, this dedication to community is what makes the Monk Institute's programs—and its annual event—so successful. While embracing its transformation into a major institution able to engage in programs around the world, garner Congressional sponsorship, and secure the support of major corporations, it manages, in the words of Steve Wonder, "to keep it real . It remains a community of individuals bonded to each other as much as to the Institute's mission, and thus grounded enough to remember the challenges of its humbler beginnings while embracing its future ambitions.

Photo Credit
Steve Mundinger

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