[JPL] All jazzed up about the future at the Monk competition

Jazz Promo Services jazzpromo at earthlink.net
Tue Oct 30 09:50:51 EDT 2007


>From the Los Angeles Times

All jazzed up about the future at the Monk competition

The Thelonious Monk Institute showcases emerging players and celebrates
Herbie Hancock as stars join in.
By Don Heckman
Special to The Times

October 30, 2007

Say this about the Thelonious Monk Institute: It sure knows how to throw a
good party. Sunday night's finals of the 20th annual Monk Jazz Competition
at the Kodak Theatre had the glitz and glamour of a major award show, with
the requisite presence of a star lineup that included Joni Mitchell, Sting,
Herbie Hancock, Al Jarreau, Nancy Wilson and Chris Botti, among others. It
may not have been the Oscars, but if you are part of the jazz world, you had
to be there.

That said, the event, which also included the semifinals on Saturday
afternoon at UCLA's Schoenberg Hall and invite-only dinners and receptions,
also displayed some of the contradictions -- creative and commercial --
present in 21st century jazz.

The Kodak event was actually a two-part presentation. The first hour was
devoted to the finals of the competition, with three young trumpeters --
Jean Gaze from Haiti, Ambrose Akinmusire from Oakland and Michael Rodriguez
from New York City -- vying for the first place prize. Although the monetary
award is a $20,000 scholarship ($10,000 and $5,000 for second and third
places, respectively), the true value of a win is the sort of visibility
that has successfully propelled the careers of such previous winners and
runners-up as Joshua Redman, Jane Monheit, Marcus Roberts, Jacky Terrasson
and Tierney Sutton.

As in the semifinals at UCLA, the quality level Sunday was remarkably high.
Each trumpeter had the skills to build a successful career.

It seemed apparent, however, that the final choice would be between Gaze and
Akinmusire, who offered very different competitive presentations. Gaze
played a soaring, lyrical improvisation based on the standard "I Thought
About You." Akinmusire, choosing a far more adventurous path, cruised the
outer limits of contemporary improvisation while opening solo patches for
the backup trio consisting of pianist Geoff Keezer, bassist Reginald Veal
and drummer Carl Allen. The judges awarded first place to Akinmusire.

The second part of the program took a somewhat different tack. The Monk
Institute, in association with the L.A. chapter of the Recording Academy,
has established the Herbie Hancock Humanitarian Award, with Hancock -- who
also is chairman of the Institute's board of trustees -- as its first

Although the program honoring Hancock broadly surveyed his remarkably
eclectic musical history, it focused largely on his pop, rock, funk and
electronica efforts, from "Watermelon Man" to "Rockit" rather than emphasize
his cutting-edge work with Miles Davis in the '60s, or his ongoing
envelope-stretching explorations with longtime friend and partner Wayne
Shorter. Nothing wrong with that, in principle. Hancock is a complex
creative personality with a broad range of interests. Still, in the context
of a jazz competition for young talents still in the heat of youthful
imagination, its orientation seemed a bit skewed.

But one could hardly argue with the entertainment aspects of the show,
which, from another perspective, made sense, because this event is one of
the Institute's principal fundraisers.

Jarreau served as a kind of bridge between the competition and the Hancock
tribute, singing with each of the trumpet finalists, romping in his uniquely
joyous fashion with George Duke adding subtle piano accents. Nancy Wilson
followed, recalling Hancock's film scoring while referencing Thelonious Monk
himself with an atmospheric take on " 'Round Midnight."

The all-star lineup continued without a break, with segments announced by
actors Jamie Foxx and Louis Gossett Jr. Roy Hargrove and George Benson
played a clattery version of "Cantaloupe Island"; Hubert Laws added
"Butterfly"; and, in one of the evening's most engaging segments, the
enthusiastic young members of the Debbie Allen Dance Academy surged through
a visually effervescent "Rockit."

But the climax of the evening -- an almost-too-brief climax, as it turned
out -- began when Hancock took the stage with Shorter, bassist John
Patitucci and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta to find ever-new musical territories
with "Maiden Voyage." Next, the arrival of Mitchell making a rare guest
performance -- and greeted by at least one rock-audience-style shriek from
the upper levels -- continued the welcome shift into the more intriguing
complexities of Hancock's current musical thinking.

Singing with great warmth and characteristically sly phrasing, countered
superbly by Shorter's epigrammatic soprano saxophone lines, she gorgeously
illuminated "Tea Leaf Prophecy" from Hancock's new Mitchell tribute album,
"River: The Joni Letters" and "Hana" from her own new CD, "Shine." Their
short segment left most of the audience, one suspects, hoping for a
Hancock-Mitchell tour.

Sting's rendering of "My Funny Valentine" backed by the lyrical trumpet of
Botti was a brief reference to Hancock's years with Davis.

And the final number -- "Chameleon" -- brought Akinmusire back to the stage,
along with Hargrove and fellow trumpeter Terence Blanchard, for an all-star
climax and a taste of what winning the Monk Competition can really mean.

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