- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 12, 2004

S. Monk begs to differ when addressing the naysayers who predict a slow death for jazz and a future crop of new artists who will embody America’s music.

“Jazz is the healthiest it’s ever been in terms of the up-and-coming generation,” says Mr. Monk. “Go to any high school in the country and you’ll find a jazz band. American kids are attracted to jazz because it embodies so many individual characteristics — just like hip-hop.”

He should know.

Since 1987, the District-based Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, founded in 1986 in honor of Mr. Monk’s father Thelonious Sphere Monk (undoubtedly, an innovator of modern jazz), has hosted its own version of “American Idol,” seeking an aspiring artist who just might be the jazz world’s next big thing.

This year’s search ends tonight when three vocal finalists perform before an illustrious panel of judges, all noted singers, including Tony and Grammy-winner Dee Dee Bridgewater, Grammy-winner Al Jarreau, Jimmy Scott and Kurt Elling — during a star-studded gala at the Kennedy Center.

“We’ve taken a lot of time over the past 18 years to put these things together,” says Mr. Monk, 54, a jazz drummer with his own record label who also chair’s the Institute’s board of directors.

“I have no doubt that the vocal competition will be spectacular. You don’t come to sing for this group of people [the judges] unless you’re prepared to sing your behind off.”

Over the last decade, record companies have begun taking notice of jazz artists, Mr. Monk says, citing the careers of Diana Krall, Cassandra Wilson, Jane Monheit (a second place winner from the 1998 Monk competition) and Norah Jones, whose Grammy-winning debut, “Come Away With Me,” was 2003’s second highest-selling album, according to Nielsen-Soundscan.

“The record companies are beginning to believe in the fiscal abilities vocalists bring to jazz,” Mr. Monk says, adding that similar fame and fortune could await tonight’s finalists..

The three vocalists (as yet unannounced) performing tonight were selected from a field of 13 hopefuls — all under age 30 — during yesterday’s semifinal rounds at the Smithsonian’s Baird Auditorium.

A combo featuring bassist Lonnie Plaxico, drummer Carl Allen and pianist George Duke will accompany the singers.

The evening’s second half will feature performances by the judges. Joining them will be a stellar lineup of jazz heavyweights, including trumpeters Clark Terry and Terrence Blanchard, saxophonists Wayne Shorter and Jimmy Heath, plus Mr. Monk and Mr. Duke.

Pioneering jazz pianist Herbie Hancock, actor Billy Dee Williams and the legendary Quincy Jones are the evening’s hosts.

Winners of the competition will receive college scholarships totaling $60,000 — and, more importantly, a bit of exposure.

To date, the Institute’s track record of showcasing its winners and finalists has been impressive, helping to jump-start the careers of dozens of today’s rising jazz stars including saxophonist Joshua Redman (first place, 1991), pianist Jacky Terrasson (first place, 1993) and pianist Marcus Roberts (first place, 1987).

But the Institute can’t do it alone, says Mr. Monk, who is an outspoken critic of how the recording industry markets jazz artists.

“There’s no question that the audience is there, our problem lies in the marketing,” Mr. Monk says. “Jazz is not dying, if it were, I wouldn’t make seven figures annually from my father’s royalties (The elder Monk died in 1982).

“Jazz is flatlining in the market place because the labels do not market their product. We don’t sell it in a competitive fashion and we don’t make it attractive. Just think what would have happened to rock and hip-hop if they’d done the same thing.

“We have to promote the young people of today.”

WHAT: Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition

WHEN: 7:30 today

WHERE: Eisenhower Theater, Kennedy Center

TICKETS: $30 to $50

INFORMATION: 202/467-4600

WEB SITE: www.monkinstitute.org, and kennedy-center.org

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide