As the Thelonious Monk Institute staged its 25th Anniversary International Jazz Piano Competition and All-Star Gala Concert, one thing became brilliantly clear: Jazz music is thriving in virtuosic hands.
BMI composer-pianist Kris Bowers was named the first-place winner of the Jazz Piano Competition. Held Sunday, September 11 and Monday, September 12 in Washington, D.C., the contest drew 12 semifinalists from around the world, who performed before an expert panel comprising Herbie Hancock, Ellis Marsalis, Jason Moran, Danilo Perez and Renee Rosnes. Three finalists were selected to advance to the last round, held Monday at the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater. Bowers was ultimately voted the champion and will receive a $25,000 scholarship.
Bowers is a graduate of the Julliard School in New York. The Los Angeles native has already shared the stage and/or recorded with artists such as Terell Stafford, Mulgrew Miller, Terence Blanchard, Clarence Penn, Carl Allen, Ben Wolfe, Ron Blake, Rodney Jones, Benny Green, Bobby Watson, Kurt Elling, Duane Eubanks, EJ Strickland, Ambrose Akinmusire, Walter Smith, and Ingrid Jensen, to name a few, and has performed for luminaries including Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, and President Barack Obama. In addition to classical and jazz, Bowers is a voracious student of all music and enthusiastically absorbs genres ranging from hip-hop to rock to electronica. Currently, he is forming his own group and plans to release an album of original music soon.
Monday evening was an ideal mix of auspicious newcomers and inspiring icons, truly living up to its “all-star” billing. As Bowers was crowned the winner of the Jazz Piano Competition, BMI legend Aretha Franklin was celebrated as the Institute’s 2011 Maria Fisher Founder’s Award honoree.
Bobby Avey, another fiercely original BMI composer-pianist, was also honored during the celebration as the grand prize winner of the Institute’s annual International Jazz Composer’s Competition, a prestigious award sponsored by BMI.
Avey earned the award on the wings of his composition “Late November,” which he performed Sunday. A graduate of Purchase College Music Conservatory, he is based in Brooklyn. Many are taking note of the 26-year-old composer, who received a New Jazz Works grant from Chamber Music America just three months ago. A piano prodigy since the age of 5, Bobby has already amassed a galaxy of awards for young jazz virtuosos, including the Presser Scholarship, and multiple commissions including a development grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. He fronts his own trio, who has a wide New York following, and is preparing to release his first CD as leader. Avey has been a BMI composer since the beginning of his career.
“BMI is proud to have been associated with the Thelonious Monk Institute’s Awards for the past 19 years,” said Fred Cannon, BMI Senior Vice President, Government Relations, who presented the award to Avey during the festivities. “Kris Bowers and Bobby Avey are outstanding choices, both of whom reflect the true quality of the new upcoming young jazz composers.”
The event was co-chaired by Madeleine Albright, Quincy Jones, Debra Lee and Colin Powell.
About the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz
The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, a nonprofit education organization, was founded in 1986 by the Monk family along with the late Maria Fisher, an opera singer and lifelong devotee of music. Its mission is to offer the world’s most promising young musicians college level training by America’s jazz masters and to present public school-based jazz education programs for young people around the world. All of these programs are offered free of charge to the students and schools.