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Blake Takes the $20,000 Cake: Seamus Blake Wins Monk Contest

They played standards, originals, ballads and blues. Most of all, they played a lot of notes. Accompanied by the house band of Eric Reed, Robert Hurst and Carl Allen, the five finalists in the Thelonious Monk International Saxophone Competition seemingly played every lick known to the Western world, all within the 15 minutes allotted each entrant. There were so many notes, bent and otherwise, played at the Baird Auditorium in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 24 it could hardly have come as a surprise that the winner was the one who left some spaces in his solos.

Seamus Blake (pictured left) took home the $20,000 first prize, thanks to spirited and evocative versions of Ellington’s “The Feeling of Jazz,” Monk’s “Ask Me Now” and his own “Vanguard Blues.” Clearly the most professionally accomplished of the semifinalists, Blake is a veteran of John Scofield’s group and the Mingus Big Band and has been living and working in the New York area for several years now. As one jazz media wonk said during the postshow reception at the State Department, “He has a discography!”

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