Imagine a really great jam session. The rhythm section: Eric Reed on piano, Robert Hurst on bass, Carl Allen on drums. The emcees: T.S. Monk, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. A beautiful room with good acoustics. Eleven horn players, all trombones. Except that they're all playing one at a time, that's pretty much what the 16th annual Monk Competition Semi-Finals were like (I only attended the Semi-Finals, but will report on the Finals below).
I'm not going to give you a play-by-play of all eleven players, but further describe the scene and encourage you to be there for future competitions! Each year the Semi-Finals feature a different instrument or voice. Joshua Redman, Marcus Roberts, Jacky Terrasson, Ryan Kisor, Jane Monheit, Tierney Sutton and the late Teri Thornton have been among previous winners or second-place finalists. This was trombone's first year. Whereas the line for (free) tickets snakes through the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History for saxophone and other instruments, this year there was no line and Baird Auditorium was only a little over half-filled for the trombones (Which T.S. Monk dubbed "a truly divine-sounding instrument"). The public needs to wake up and check out the less sexy instruments, because Monk was on the money! Each year the array of judges is jazz history in the flesh. This year's lineup was Steve Davis, Curtis Fuller, Grachan Moncur III and Julian Priester (Steve Turre joined for the finals).
Selected from over seventy entries, the 'bone players, all in their 20's and 30's, all have had solid jazz education and performance experience. Each performed three selections, mostly standards, with a large proportion of intricate flag-wavers (two played "Voyage"; two played "Twenty-Six Two"). Oddly enough there were only two Monk tunes among the 33 presented. Only two of the players had what I would call a big sound. Only a few chose to use plungers or bucket mutes. Despite the title "International", eight contestants were from the U.S., two were from Canada and one was from England, but all were living in the U.S.
Andre Hayward, 30, a Houston native currently playing in the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, won the finals and a $20,000 scholarship; David Gibson, 33, was second ($10K); Noah Bless, 35, third/$5K; Karin Harris, 23, fourth/$2,500; and Marshall Gilkes, 24, fifth/$1,000. General Motors was the main sponsor. Based on performances in the Semi-Finals I just want to tell you to keep your ears out for Andrew Hunter, a very dynamic, soulful player who radiates a lot of personality on stage.
I encourage you to attend this competition in the future. It's always this time of year in D.C. The Semi-Finals are always free with a ticket obtained an hour in advance. The finals, held the next day, tend to be more star-studded but are low-cost and include a Composition award (this year to Ilja Reijngoud of Netherlands) and Founders' Award (this year to David Baker).
Check out www.monkinstitute.org for next year's program.