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Los Angeles’ Kris Bowers Wins Monk Piano Competition

Monk Institute 25th Anniversary Celebration & Piano Competition Finals; Washington, D.C., Sept. 12, 2011

Kris Bowers
Aretha Franklin onstage at the 25th Anniversary Monk Institute Celebration
2011 Monk piano competition winner Kris Bowers
Jennifer Hudson onstage with Monk Institute 25th Anniversary Year Co-Chair Colin Powell
Herbie Hancock, Kris Bowers and Monk Institute President Tom Carter (from left)

There was a lot of applauding on Monday night at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater in Washington, D.C., and a lot worth applauding, including performances by R&B royalty and many jazz A-listers. But there was also a logistical mastery on display that deserved accolades: a lot of people onstage at the same time, somehow making sense and often generating real excitement in an institutional setting. Programming this event, the 25th anniversary gala of the Thelonious Monk Institute and the finals for the 2011 Monk piano competition, amounted to assembling a puzzle containing complex, important pieces like time, celebrity, tradition and genuflection-along with plenty of teleprompter talk about aspiring jazz musicians and hope for the future. But everything fit together nicely.

The annual Monk gala program is always a tricky organizational proposition, but it’s rarely handled with such tact. (I remember one particular closing all-star jam in past years that began as a blues and devolved into a train wreck.) There is a lot to do and a high-profile audience to do it for, with people like co-chairs Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright and many executives. Ostensibly, the most important order of business is the competition, and here it didn’t disappoint. A panel of Herbie Hancock, Renee Rosnes, Danilo Pérez, Jason Moran and Ellis Marsalis culled the three finalists from an imposing group of 12 semi-finalists the day prior, and were again on-hand to choose the winner. Miami native Emmet Cohen, who earned third place, arrived with space and clarity on a ballad and followed with Kenny Dorham’s tastefully grooving and swinging “Short Story”; Southern California’s Joshua White, second place, took on Monk’s “Criss Cross” as well as “Darn That Dream”; and Los Angeles native Kris Bowers, the victor and recipient of a Concord label contract and a $25,000 scholarship, included as his Monk obligation “Shuffle Boil.”

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