By Don Heckman
Hollywood, CA. The 2014 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition came to a dramatic conclusion Sunday night in a All-Star Gala event at Dolby Hall in Hollywood. This year, the Competition was for trumpet players. And the three finalists each offered a display of their considerable skills in a setting that allowed each player to perform a pair of selections of their own choice. And it was no surprise that works by Thelonious Monk were popular choices.
Inevitably, there was a winner, a second and a third place finisher, as follows:
But the prevalent thought that came to mind while hearing these fine young players in action was the firm belief that each of the prodigal musicians had displayed all the skills required for successful careers in the musical world in general and the jazz world specifically. And, win or place as a finalist, they all will benefit from the visibility associated with having placed so high in such a major competition.
In addition to the Competition finals, the Gala presented a concert clearly intended as a celebration of jazz itself, in its many shapes, sizes, styles, disguises and a lot more. As a result, much of the music was far more closely related to pop, blues, rock, soul and beyond. No problem there, except in the passages attempting to shoe horn those genres into a jazz setting.
In its best, moments, however – especially when singers Dee Dee Bridgewater and Dianne Reeves, and instrumentalists Herbie Hancock, John Beasley, Wayne Shorter, Marcus Miller, Stefon Harris, Joshua Redman and others were on stage – the program’s jazz roots were ever present.
The Gala concert was hosted by Kevin Spacey, Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock, Don Cheadle, Goldie Hawn and Billy Dee Williams. It included performances by a multi-generational group of all-stars including Musical Director John Beasley, Pharrell Williams, John Mayer, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Wayne Shorter, Queen Latifah, Jimmy Heath, Chaka Khan, Taj Mahal, Dianne Reeves, Marcus Miller, Kenny Burrell, Stefon Harris, T.S. Monk, Joshua Redman, Jon Faddis, Billy Childs, Vinnie Colaiuta, James Genus, Theo Croker, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Dontae Winslow, Melissa Aldana and others.
As if the presence of all the stellar names on that list wasn’t enough, the Monk Institute also honored President Bill Clinton with the Institute’s 2014 Maria Fisher Founder’s Award. Each year, the Founder’s Award is presented to an individual who has made major contributions to the Institute, the perpetuation of jazz, and the expansion of jazz and music education programs. President Clinton received the award from Herbie Hancock, Chairman of the Monk Institute, with a smile and a wave to the crowd. He did not, apparently, ask to sit in on tenor saxophone.
The Gala ended with a crowded backstage party for participants and friends of the Monk Institute, enlivened by conversations already speculating on possibilities for next year’s Monk Competition.
Which was good news for music education. Proceeds from the All-Star Gala Concerts support the Institute’s jazz education programs in public schools across America.