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Monk Competition To Be Held In February

There are many, many competitions jazz artists can compete in for a spot in the limelight, but the Thelonious Monk Institute’s International Jazz Competition is perhaps the most prestigious and one of the few that can turn an unknown into a known, having helped launched the careers of Joshua Redman, Jacky Terrasson, Marcus Roberts and Jane Monheit to name a few.

On February 23, 15 saxophonists will meet at the Smithsonian Institution’s Baird Auditorium to take part in this year’s competition as semifinalists, each filling their 15 allotted minutes of play time with fleet-fingered melodies, interesting intervals and whatever else it takes to impress a panel of judges comprised of Jackie McLean, Wayne Shorter, Don Braden and Joshua Redman. It’s a brave cat who’ll put themselves at the mercy of such a distinguished crew, but the prestige of winning, along with the scholarships, prizes and a chance at a major-label record deal offer more than enough incentive to blow in front of the heavyweight adjudicators.

That’s not to suggest that the competitors don’t have their acts together. Even if the names Chris Baker, Seamus Blake, Eli Degibri, John Ellis, Wayne Escoffery, Aaron Fletcher, Joseph Henson, Luis Hernandez, Quinson Nachoff, Andy Parsons, Jaleel Shaw, Mark Small, Loren Stillman, Marcus Strickland and Michael P. Tucker don’t ring a bell, most of them have been at it for years with degrees from the top music schools and CDs as leaders on respected labels, and they’ve all played with or studied under established artists like Lee Konitz, Roy Hargrove, Clark Terry and Arturo Sandoval.

But what they play on Feb. 23 is all that will count as far as the Thelonious Monk Institute is concerned, and is all that will advance them to the finals on Feb. 24. Both days of the competition will be hosted by headhunting keyboard hero Herbie Hancock and Death Star destroying, Colt-45 slurpin’ Billy Dee Williams (pictured left), two guys that, unlike the contest’s competitors, have little, if anything, left to prove.

BET will be at Baird Auditorium on Feb. 24 to tape the finals for later broadcast on both the BET and BET on Jazz networks. Check your local television listings in the weeks after the contest for broadcast times. For more information about the competition and the Thelonious Monk Institute, visit

Originally Published