Finalists for Monk Competition Announced
Charenée Wade, Cécile McLorin Salvant and Cyrille Aimée advance to Finals at Kennedy Center
At the semi-finals of the Monk competition held at the Museum of the American Indian on the Mall in Washington, CD, three young vocalists advanced to the Finals of the Competition, sponsored by the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. Charenée Wade, Cécile McLorin Salvant and Cyrille Aimée were chosen out of a field of 12 vocalists by judges Patti Austin, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Kurt Elling, Al Jarreau and Dianne Reeves. Aretha Franklin was unable to attend as originally scheduled because of personal issues with her family. She will be replaced as a judge at the Finals by Gladys Knight.
Each contestant performed three songs (with the set not lasting any longer than 15 minutes) with a trio of Reggie Thomas on piano, Rodney Whitaker on bass and Carl Allen on drums. The auditorium at the Museum was packed and in the audience were Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter who arrived after intermission after flying in from St. Louis where they had performed with a symphony. Also in the audience were several former winners of the Competition, including Ben Williams, Ambrose Akinshire and Gretchen Parlato. Monk's son T.S Monk and movie star Billy Dee Williams co-hosted, which basically consisted of announcing each vocalist and keeping things moving. As it was, the program went a total of about 4 hours. It is a compliment to the performers that the day went fast and there were no empty seats from beginning to end.
The vocalists represented a wide variety of styles, from crooners to scatters and many did their best to cover all the possible ground in between. The performers who received the greatest response from the audience were Salvant and Sarah Marie Young, though the judges had a different take on things because the latter did not end up in the final three. Every contestant performed at least one Monk tune, with a few doing two, not an easy task for any vocalist. Among the Monk tunes covered were, "In Walked Bud," "I Mean You," "Straight No Chaser," "Nica's Dream," "Pannoica," and "Monk's Mood." Interestingly, none chose to do "Round Midnight" perhaps his most famous vocal song. Ditto with "Ruby My Dear." There were the usual surfeit of standards, of course, with a few curveballs thrown in, including a recent tune from Corrine Bailey Rae as well as the Cachao-written and Santana-inspired Latin jazz standard "Oye Como Va," performed with much gusto and rhythmic drive by French singer Cyrille Aimée.
The Finals will be held at the Kennedy Center on Monday, October 4. The three finalists will compete for scholarships and prizes totaling over $100,000 including a $20,000 first place scholarship and guaranteed recording contract with Concord Music Group, a $10,000 second place scholarship, and a $5,000 third place scholarship. There will also be a special concert at the Gala, saluting the Great American Songbook.