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The Gilmore Announces Large-Scale Award for Jazz Pianists

Kalamazoo, Mich.-based organization will award $300,000 to a jazz pianist every four years, starting in 2026

The Christian Sands Trio performing at Bell's Cafe in Kalamazoo as part of the Gilmore Piano Festival
The Christian Sands Trio performing at Bell’s Eccentric Cafe in Kalamazoo as part of the Gilmore Piano Festival. (photo by Mark Bugnasky)

For many years, the Gilmore organization has overseen the prestigious Gilmore International Piano Festival and Gilmore Artist Awards, both focused on classical pianists. Recently, as a result of a $8 million gift, the organization announced that it will award $300,000 to a jazz pianist every four years. The Larry J. Bell Artist Award, named after the president of the Gilmore Piano Festival’s board of trustees and founder of Bell’s Brewery, consists of “a $50,000 cash grant to be used at the artist’s discretion, and $250,000 disbursed over a four-year period for projects and activities that will enhance the artist’s musicianship and career,” according to the press release received at JazzTimes. The first Larry J. Bell Jazz Artist will be announced in 2026.

This sizable award from the Kalamazoo, Michigan-based organization can’t claim to be the largest monetary prize a jazz musician could win at the present time, because the famous MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” which has regularly been awarded to jazz musicians over the years (including Jason Moran, Regina Carter, Cécile McLorin Salvant, Tyshawn Sorey, and Vijay Iyer), provides the recipients with a $625,000 grant over five years. Nonetheless, it’s a very significant sum for the jazz pianist talented and fortunate enough to earn it. In addition, the Gilmore will begin awarding two emerging jazz pianists a Gilmore Young Jazz Artist Award of $25,000 every two years.

Larry J. Bell, president of the Gilmore International Piano Festival Board of Trustees and founder of Bell’s Brewery, speaks at performance by the Christian Sands Trio at Bell's Cafe in Kalamazoo, Michigan
Larry J. Bell, president of the Gilmore International Piano Festival Board of Trustees and founder of Bell’s Brewery, speaks at a performance by the Christian Sands Trio at Bell’s Eccentric Cafe in Kalamazoo, Mich. (photo by Mark Bugnasky)

A spokesperson for the Gilmore told JazzTimes that rather than perform at an adjudicated competition, the recipients of the award will be chosen by an anonymous committee of judges who will tour the world for four years listening to pianists playing in concert. The judges will then confer and choose the recipient, after which the judging panel will be revealed.

The Gilmore International Piano Festival has traditionally alternated each year between classical and jazz pianists, with the upcoming 2022 edition focusing on jazz. “Jazz has been part of the Gilmore since the first festival, with guests over the years having included such greats as Chick Corea, Ray Charles, Bruce Hornsby, and—coming soon in 2022—Herbie Hancock and Fred Hersch,” said Pierre van der Westhuizen, the festival’s Executive and Artistic Director in the press release. “It has long been our dream to recognize the great jazz piano traditions and celebrate the next generation with an award that is on par with the Gilmore Artist Award for classical pianists. It’s incredibly exciting to have support in this venture. We are so grateful, and we know the gift will allow the Gilmore to make an enormous impact in the world of jazz for years to come.”

The very first Gilmore International Piano Festival in 1991 included performances by Chick Corea and Gary Burton. Other jazz artists who have performed at the festival include Branford Marsalis, Hank Jones, Diana Krall, Fred Hersch, Dave Brubeck, Harry Connick, Jr., Brad Mehldau, Bill Charlap, Emmet Cohen, James Francies, Christian Sands, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Snarky Puppy, Aaron Diehl, Robert Glasper, and Ethan Iverson. This year’s festival takes place April 24-May 15; it opens with a concert by Herbie Hancock and also features Hersch, Cohen, Sullivan Fortner, Dan Tepfer, and Pablo Ziegler, as well as 3Divas, Donal Fox, Svetlana and the Delancey Five, and the TRI-FI piano trio.

Learn more about the award, festival and organization here.