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Monk Sax Competition & B.B. King Tribute

Jon Irabagon performs with Dee Dee Bridgewater; Oct. 26, 2008, Los Angeles

“Bipolar” was the word that came to mind during the Monk Institute’s International Jazz Saxophone Competition in Los Angeles the weekend of Oct. 25-26. Not in the clinical sense, but in the frequent mood swings-and swinging moods-that took place over the course of the semi-finals and the finals. As a matter of fact, a manufactured word such as “multi-polar” might be an even more accurate descriptor.

In the broadest sense, the structure of the competition itself set the stage for a wide range of responses. Start with Saturday afternoon, which was devoted to the semi-finals. Staged at UCLA’s Schoenberg Hall, a 500-seater that does double duty as a concert venue and a lecture hall, it featured a long program of performances by the 12 finalists. Each played three numbers, with the choices reaching across the entire gamut of jazz expression: standards, blues and pop tunes, done fast, medium and slow, with backing or as wide-open solos. Facilitating it all required extraordinarily versatile accompaniment, and pianist Geoffrey Keezer, bassist Rodney Whitaker and drummer Carl Allen provided it in stellar fashion.

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