- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater was SRO Sunday night at the culmination of the three-day 20th-anniversary celebration of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. After a private concert and dinner at the White House on Thursday and the semifinals for 12 pianists in the institute’s international jazz competition on Saturday, the closing-night event featured jam sessions with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Jane Monheit and inspirational messages from two former secretaries of state who just happen to be jazz aficionados.

Colin L. Powell said he wished the world would take the example of jazz musicians “who know how to share and cooperate,” and his predecessor, Madeleine K. Albright, reminisced about how she “energized the stuffy Diplomatic Reception Rooms” at the State Department with upbeat jazz recitals.

Phylicia Rashad, Quincy Jones and Billy Dee Williams were on hand to award the prizes: first place ($20,000) to Armenian Tigran Hamasyan; second place ($10,000) to Dutch-born Gerald Clayton, the crowd’s favorite for his rendition of variations on Beethoven’s “Pathetique”; and third place ($5,000) to American Aaron Parks.

The high note of the evening was the unannounced appearance of Stevie Wonder (recipient of the Maria Fisher Founders Award for “long-time support of the institute and jazz education”) who joined John Patitucci, Ron Carter, Terence Blanchard, Mr. Hancock and Mr. Shorter in a well-received rendition of “Midnight Sun.”

To honor Thelonious S. Monk (1917-1982), the all-star musicians also let loose with Mr. Monk’s signature piece “Four in One,” emphasizing the famed jazz pianist’s unusual and innovative composing style and reminding the audience of the universality of jazz.

At the somewhat delayed post-performance party, shutterbugs were torn between photo-ops of Hungarian Ambassador Andras Simonyi and his daughter Sonja (there to support composition winner Kalman Olah of Hungary). Mr. Powell (whizzing around the center on a wheeled cart because of an injured foot), basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Thelonious S. Monk Jr. and actor Billy Dee Williams.

Jennifer Crier Johnston

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