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Monk in Hollywood

Jazz’s most important competition hits L.A. for a trumpet showcase

Monk Institute Chairman Herbie Hancock (right) and Concord Music Group's John Burk congratulate winning trumpeter Marquis Hill, 2014
An all-star assemblage honors Bill Clinton, recipient of the Monk Institute's 2014 Maria Fisher Founders Award

Jazz threw a party in Los Angeles on the weekend of Nov. 8-9. The occasion: the 27th annual Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Competition, the jazz year’s most prestigious. The guests of honor: 13 of the most talented up-and-coming trumpeters on the planet. The party favors: prizes worth more than $100,000, including a guaranteed recording contract with Concord Music Group. In the end, that top prize went to 27-year-old Chicagoan Marquis Hill.

The semifinals, held at Schoenberg Music Hall on the campus of UCLA, found the competitors strutting their stuff before a judging panel of trumpeting giants including Ambrose Akinmusire, Randy Brecker, Roy Hargrove, Jimmy Owens and Arturo Sandoval (and, during the finals, Quincy Jones). The musicians, backed throughout by the indomitable trio of pianist Reggie Thomas, bassist Rodney Whitaker and drummer Carl Allen, thrilled the audience with lyricism (Mike Cottone playing his original composition “The Traveler”) and moments of pure exultation (Alphonso Horne’s glistening rendition of Duke Ellington’s “Portrait of Louis Armstrong”). Pittsburgh’s Benny Benack III showed the fire of a classic hot-swing soloist on Monk’s “Green Chimneys,” while Mao Sone of Chiba, Japan, playing his own composition “Brightness of the Lives,” displayed a clean timbre and spectacular breath control. Venezuelan Alejandro Berti unleashed dazzling pyrotechnics without ever seeming show-offy, and Hermon Mehari of Kansas City, tackling the Monk composition “Bright Mississippi,” worked one of the composer’s most complex melodic lines as if it was written for him.

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