- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 23, 2002

Five hours of world-class live jazz for free that's the unbeatable lineup today at the Smithsonian's Baird Auditorium as the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz presents its 15th international jazz competition.
"You're going to hear some great saxophone playing," says saxophonist Joshua Redman, one of the judges at this year's competition.
"The saxophone is a sexy and exciting instrument, and the semifinalists are going to come out and blow their brains and hearts out," Mr. Redman says during a recent phone interview from Cleveland, where he was performing.
The saxophone alto and soprano is the instrument of choice this year, as it was in 1991, when Mr. Redman, now 33, won the contest. He since has recorded 10 CDs, tours constantly and makes critics take note.
Other years, the competition has featured vocals, drums, trumpet, guitar/bass or piano.
The idea of the competition, started in 1987, is to provide young jazzmen and women from around the globe a stage (and some money) to show off their talents, says Danna Reynolds, spokeswoman for the institute.
The competition, with Herbie Hancock and Billy Dee Williams as hosts, will showcase 15 semifinalists today and five finalists tomorrow.
Each musician has about 12 minutes to play three tunes today, with the accompaniment of drummer Carl Allen, bassist Bob Hurst and pianist Eric Reed. The contestants will perform the music of Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Benny Golson, Chick Corea, Billy Strayhorn and Irving Berlin.
Accomplished saxophonists Wayne Shorter, Jackie McLean, Don Braden and Mr. Redman will decide on the five finalists, who compete for the first-prize scholarship of $20,000, second prize of $10,000, third of $5,000, and fourth and fifth of $1,000 each.
"This is the ultimate subjective music. It's not like judging a sporting event," Mr. Redman says. "There is some basic criteria that we will be looking at, but the semifinalists are all going to be really good [technically]. So, what I am looking for is a personal sound where you can sense the real meaning and focus behind what they are doing. I am looking for someone who has soul and passion."
One of the competitors whom Mr. Redman will be judging today is Joseph Henson, 30, whose day job is playing the saxophone with the Army Blues Band, a branch of the U.S. Army Band, which is based at Fort Myer.
Mr. Henson started playing saxophone when he was a junior high school student in Rock Hill, S.C. Band director John Entzi introduced young Joseph to jazz, "and I have been hooked ever since," Mr. Henson says.
He identifies Mr. Coltrane, who died in 1967, as his greatest influence and favorite jazzman.
"'Trane is up there," Mr. Henson says. "It's his sound. He's so unique. When he's playing it's like hearing a human voice."
His favorite Coltrane period is the 1950s, when the jazz great came out with the masterpiece "Giant Steps."
That unique style of play "that you just can't get tired of" is what Mr. Henson is working on for at least five hours a day in addition to band practice.
He will be playing the songs of Messrs. Monk, Coltrane and Hancock in the competition today.
"Winning would be great," he says, but he already lives his dream by getting to play his instrument full time. He says the most rewarding aspect of the competition is preparing, participating and meeting other jazz musicians.
"I don't think my life would change that much if I won," he says. "I have a family, and I already make a living playing the saxophone."
Not everyone who participates in the competition gets a record deal, and Mr. Redman's success stands out in this respect. But there are other rewards.
Lisa Henry, a jazz vocalist, cites the collaborations with the institute after her 1994 participation. "My life changed in more subtle ways," she says from her home in Kansas City. "I didn't get the big record contract, but I did get an opportunity to work with the institute, which I love."
One of her most recent projects with the institute is "Jazz in America: The National Jazz Curriculum," an Internet-based curriculum for fifth-, eighth- and 11th-grade students in public schools. It's available at jazzinamerica.org.
Judges for the Monk competition may struggle with balancing the merit of technical skill and personal taste, and competitors may have to combat flaring nerves. But Mr. Redman points out that the late Mr. Monk probably would not have been considered "technically perfect" in such a competition, and yet he is one of the most revered jazzmen.
Mr. Monk, who died in 1982 and is considered one of the architects of bebop, was an unconventional piano player, known for his unexpected silences and tonal distortions he emulated the sound of the horn by playing two notes simultaneously on the piano. He was known to virtually attack the piano with his dexterous fingers.
"He knew how to use the technique to really say something," Mr. Redman says. "He's one of the greatest."

WHAT: 15th annual Thelonious Monk International jazz Competition. The winner of the ninth annual Thelonious Monk Interntional Jazz Composers also will perform and receive a $10,000 prize.
WHERE: Baird Auditorium at the National Museum of Natural History, 10th Street and Constitution Avenue NW
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. today and 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. tomorrow
TICKETS: Semifinals today are free; finals tomorrow cost $20 and are sold out
PHONE: 202/357-3030

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