227

Monk Institute Celebrates 20th Anniversary

Franz A. Matzner By

Sign in to view read count
At heart the Monk Institute remains the project of dedicated artists passionately committed to both their art and the community it represents.
It is always tempting to find fault when something formerly counter-culture discovers itself embraced by the mainstream and honored by those who previously dismissed, devalued, or worse, denigrated it. For jazz, the fact that many of its founding fathers struggled against pernicious racism amplifies this tension, injecting the politics of civil rights into what is for other art forms merely the inevitable cycle of artistic innovation, rejection, acceptance, and finally, canonization. Add to this the venue of Washington, D.C., with its inevitable political patina, and one appreciates the complexity of the recent 20th anniversary celebration of the Thelonious Monk Institute.
The Monk Institute's formula for navigating this dynamic is deceptively simple and speaks to the creativity, professionalism, and intellectualism that underlie its two decades of accomplishment. Acknowledge the past, celebrate progress, and focus on the future. All three of these elements were in evidence at the Kennedy Center gala affair held September 17, 2006, and contributed to the success of an event that commemorated not only the annual Thelonious Monk International Music Competition, but also the significant strides the Institute continues to make to a variety of other education and music programs, of which many remain unaware.

Founded in 1987 by the Monk family and a handful of dedicated supporters, the Monk Institute has grown into one of—if not the—premier jazz education and promotion organizations in the country. Its board now consists of jazz luminaries and many of America's foremost talents, including Herbie Hancock, Bill Cosby, and Billy Dee Williams. Its prominence attracts a packed audience of Washington elite every year for the organization's center piece event, the annual competition dedicated to a single featured instrument. (This year was no exception, with the hall bursting with notables ranging from business leaders, to political sponsors, to entertainment industry glitterati.) The Institute, however, does not live and die by this one event. In recent years the Institute has founded several innovative programs to foster jazz education that not only focuses on producing the next crop of musicians, but also the next generation of audiences, and perhaps more importantly, simply strives to introduce to the younger generation, through, or perhaps with, jazz education a broader understanding of American history, cultural, social, and otherwise. This task may well be the Institute's most ambitious and important project.

Programs include the Monk Institute of Jazz Performance, a college-level program providing a direct bridge between today's masters and tomorrow's brightest talents, Jazz in the Classroom, which sponsors a variety of programs in schools throughout the country, the Bebop to Hip-Hop program, which brings jazz musicians and Hip-hop artists together to bring joint education programs to high-school students, and the National Jazz Curriculum. The NJC provides via the internet (www.jazzinamerica.org) a course of study integrating social studies, history, and music focused on jazz for 5th, 8th, and 11th grade students at public schools. The course includes teaching materials, course curriculum, a resource library, and a variety of evaluation materials aligned with national standards. While still under development, this program may represent the most far-sighted of the Institute's experiments, with the potential to bring elements of jazz education into classrooms around the country.

All of this and more was highlighted during the night's celebration, and it would have been easy for the Institute to wallow in well-deserved self-congratulation. However, while a healthy collection of laurels was passed around, the Institute remained true to its mission and wisely kept the evening centered on the piano competition and the three finalists competing for the $20,000 prize, while bracketing this with rare performances by a huge array of today's jazz talent.

Thus, spaced out over the evening, the audience was treated to performances by the three finalists, alumni of the Institute including Jane Monheit, Gretchen Parlato, and Joshua Redman, the current Monk Institute Ensemble, members of the esteemed judging panel, a variety of special guests, and to top it all off, the recipient of this year's life time achievement award, surprise honoree Stevie Wonder. Add to that MCing duties by Quincy Jones, Phylicia Rashad, Billy Dee Williams, as well as former Secretaries of State Madeline Albright and Colin Powell, and you have a night to give even the most jaded autograph hunter pause.


Shop

More Articles

Read Cheltenham Jazz Festival 2017 Live Reviews Cheltenham Jazz Festival 2017
by Nick Davies
Published: May 13, 2017
Read Omar Sosa At SFJAZZ Live Reviews Omar Sosa At SFJAZZ
by Walter Atkins
Published: May 13, 2017
Read Wadada Leo Smith At Firehouse 12 Live Reviews Wadada Leo Smith At Firehouse 12
by Franz A. Matzner
Published: May 11, 2017
Read Jazzahead! 2017 Live Reviews Jazzahead! 2017
by Henning Bolte
Published: May 11, 2017
Read Adrian Belew Power Trio at Ardmore Music Hall Live Reviews Adrian Belew Power Trio at Ardmore Music Hall
by Geno Thackara
Published: May 10, 2017
Read Bray Jazz Festival 2017 Live Reviews Bray Jazz Festival 2017
by Ian Patterson
Published: May 9, 2017
Read "Lewis Nash and Steve Wilson at JazzNights" Live Reviews Lewis Nash and Steve Wilson at JazzNights
by David A. Orthmann
Published: April 18, 2017
Read "Del & Dawg at the Ryman Auditorium" Live Reviews Del & Dawg at the Ryman Auditorium
by William Levine
Published: July 9, 2016
Read "Thundercat at the Bluebird Theater" Live Reviews Thundercat at the Bluebird Theater
by Geoff Anderson
Published: March 3, 2017
Read "Jonathan Butler at Yoshi's" Live Reviews Jonathan Butler at Yoshi's
by Walter Atkins
Published: November 5, 2016
Read "November Music 2016" Live Reviews November Music 2016
by Henning Bolte
Published: December 13, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Why wait?

Support All About Jazz and we'll deliver exclusive content, hide ads, and provide read access to our future articles.