Introducing the candidates for the Sixth American Jazz Piano Competition
This week the American Pianists Association will announce a new winner for the coveted Cole Porter Fellow title as its top jazz pianist. The winner will receive a prize package worth over $70,000.
Six finalists from across the nation selected in preliminary judging are in town to compete at the Jazz Kitchen in two semi-final sessions on Friday, May 7 and in the finals on Saturday, May 8 at the Madame Walker Theatre. On this night, each finalist will play solo and in special arrangements with the Buselli Wallarab Jazz Orchestra. A distinguished panel of final judges include Kenny Barron, international jazz artist and teacher; Dr. Mark Applebaum, a Stanford University composer and jazz artist; Tony Caramia, international artist and educator of the Eastman School of Music; and Dr. Neil Slater, North Texas State University chair of jazz studies. These are the six finalists performing for this year’s honor of Cole Porter Fellow. Adam Birnbaum: A 25-year-old New York City resident holds music degrees from Boston College and Julliard. In January 2003, he recorded a solo piano album for Yamaha’s “Rising Star” series. He also was featured on a sampler disk produced by Jazziz magazine. Dan Cray: This 27-year-old Evanston, Ill., resident holds a degree in jazz studies from Northwestern University. He currently leads a trio that has recorded two albums. Cray has played for two former Illinois governors and Chicago Mayor Richard Daly. Steve Einerson: A 30-year-old Milwaukee resident received music training at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he is currently the director of the Jazz Symposium. He has performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland and the North Sea Jazz Festival in Holland. Einerson recorded his first CD with guitarist Paul Silbergleit in 2003. Brian Friedland: A 21-year-old Los Angeles resident studies jazz at the University of Southern California Thorton School of Music. He toured with the Downbeat award-winning New Trier Jazz Ensemble in 2000 and has performed at numerous venues. Marco Paguia: Twenty-six years old, and a New York City resident, Paguia holds a music degree from Northwestern University. He was a finalist in the APA’s 2001 Jazz Piano Competition. Paguia has shared the stage with Arturo Sandoval, Kenny Loggins and Nell Carter. He recently performed with the North American and Japanese tours of The Full Monty as keyboardist and conductor. He is currently the music director and conductor on the national tour of Flower Drum Song. Hal Weary: This 27-year-old Wayne, N.J., resident has a music degree from California State University and is studying for a masters degree in music business at William Patterson University. He won the 2002 Reno Jazz Festival Outstanding Musicianship Award and was a finalist in the 2001 and 2002 Montreux Solo Jazz Piano Competition in Switzerland. The American Pianists Association’s Artistic Director Joel Harrison is facing his second Cole Porter Fellow competition after arriving for the inaugural year of this jazz honor. Harrison brings a wealth of experience and credentials to his position and has provided the event with some innovative ideas. He shows that he is a free-thinker in this interview. NUVO: Is there a difference in providing career programming for the Jazz Fellow compared to the Classical Fellow for the APA? Harrison: There is some. Obviously, historically there has been some difference. It’s a theory of mine that those differences are being diminished, even in the way I program APA concerts. For instance, the winner of this competition will be featured in two concerts at the Children’s Museum on June 13 for the opening of Dinosphere. Also on that program will be Tom Rosenkrantz, one of our Classical Fellows. NUVO: Has there ever been a candidate apply for both Jazz and Classical Fellow titles? Harrison: If they can cut it that’s fine with us. An example is the 1995 Classical Fellow, Anthony Molinaro. He now has a career as a jazz pianist and has put out jazz CDs and is touring. I think we are going to see more and more of that in the future.
Along with the Indy 500 in the month of May, the tempo of jazz is accelerating. Last Sunday, the Indiana Historical Society provided a second week of outstanding jazz performances. In front of a sold-out theater, vocal divas Shannon Forsell and Brenda Williams gave a rapidly-paced non-stop performance. They were backed by an exceptional seven-piece “Cool Cats Swing Band” led by pianist Roy Geesa and belted, swung and crooned the night away in sensational form in front of some tight big band sounding arrangements. The ladies were at the peak of their vocal prowess and kept the house laughing between tunes, exchanging witty barbs on changing outfits. It was a night of classic swing tunes, beautifully packaged and a show worthy of being heard on a wider scale. Downtown
At the Chatterbox, 435 Mass. Ave., pianist Monika Herzig’s Acoustic Jazz Project performs Friday, May 7. The exciting Latin jazz of the Monsalve-Perez Jazz Project plays Saturday, May 8. Sets both nights are 10:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. Artsgarden, Illinois and Washington streets, has the award-winning composer/pianist Becky Archibald in a free concert Tuesday, May 11 at 12:15 p.m. Jazz On the Avenue, 617 Indiana Ave., fourth floor ballroom of the Madame Walker Building, will showcase Project JC with vocalist Staci McCrackin Friday, May 7 from 6:30 to 10 p.m. Northside
At the Jazz Kitchen, 54th Street and College Avenue, the dynamic vocalist Brenda Williams will record her second CD backed by alto saxman Jason Curry’s Quartet in two sets, 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. Saturday, May 8. Sullivan’s Steakhouse, 3816 E. 86th St. features Steve Corn, piano, and Joe Deal, bass, Friday, May 7 playing 5:30 to 11:30 p.m. Substitute Claude Sifferlen on piano Saturday, May 8 with Joe Deal playing 5 to 11 p.m. Chuck Workman is the producer/ host of the Sunday Morning Jazz Show at 107.9 WTPI.