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Everything’s Great in Guelph — Unless You Ask Sainkho Namtchylak

Flora Purim

Gretchen Parlato won first place in the 17th annual Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition finals on Monday night at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. Parlato, a New York City-based singer and power-yoga instructor who studied ethnomusicology and jazz at UCLA with Gerald Wilson and Herbie Hancock, displayed near-perfect intonation, distinctive behind-the-beat phrasing, and creative, melismatic scat in her winning versions of “More Than You Know” and “I’ve Never Been in Love Before.” She takes home the $20,000 first prize, with second place going to the charismatic Canadian Kellylee Evans, who recast John Lennon’s fragile peace song “Imagine” into a searching, soulful anthem. Third place honors went to the seriously swinging Robin McKelle, who garnered the loudest audience reaction, with the fourth place finish going to the beautifully poised Betty Carter Jazz Ahead alumnus Charenee Wade.

Singers were evaluated and prizes were awarded by an all-star line of judges, including Quincy Jones, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Al Jarreau, Kurt Elling, Flora Purim and Jimmy Scott, all of whom performed in the concert’s second-half gala. The finalists were coached and backed by the rhythm section of George Duke, piano; Lonnie Plaxico, bass; and Carl Allen, drums.

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