Seven of the world’s best jazz piano players have been selected as finalists in the Ellis Marsalis International Piano Competition and will compete for top prize Friday and Saturday, June 22-23, in downtown Huntington. The competition will take place at Missio Dei Church on the upper level of Pullman Square and is free and open to the public.
The finalists in the jazz piano competition include Joshua Espinoza of Baltimore; Dave Meder of Tampa, Florida; Ben Paterson of Philadelphia; Oscar Rossignoli of San Pedro Sula, Honduras; Arcoiris Sandoval of Tucson, Arizona; Isaiah Thompson of West Orange, New Jersey; and Rina Yamazaki of Saitama, Japan.
Named for NEA Jazz Master, educator and patriarch of “America’s First Family of Jazz” Ellis Marsalis, the competition will take place in conjunction with the inaugural Huntington International Jazz Festival June 19-23. Marshall University is hosting the event in partnership with Nu Jazz Agency in New York City, having been selected because of the commitment that the university’s School of Music has made to jazz education.
Along with featuring the international piano competition, the Huntington International Jazz Festival will feature five days of celebrating jazz through free concerts with world-renowned jazz performers, including Ellis Marsalis and sons, Arturo O’Farrill and sons and Jon Batiste of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. The festival also will feature a jazz photo exhibits, a street fair and more.
The competition includes four segments, the first two which will be from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Friday, June 22, at Missio Dei Church in Pullman Square and the last two segments, which will be from 6 to 8:45 p.m. Saturday, June 23, at the same location. The competition is designed to challenge competitors’ skills across different genres, styles and formats of the jazz idiom. The judges will include Ellis Marsalis, who is an NEA Jazz Master, as well as Arturo O’Farrill, who is a six-time Grammy and Latin Grammy Award-winner, Jon Batiste of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and special guest judge Branford Marsalis, also an NEA Jazz Master.
The competition will be streamed on the Huntington International Jazz Festival’s Facebook Page at www.facebook.com/huntingtonjazzfest.
The seven finalists were chosen from among 160 entries and 45 semifinalists. They’re vying for over $200,000 in cash and prizes. Judges will award first, second and third place and two special merit awards for Best Rendition of an Ellis Marsalis Song and Best Original Composition.
“It is really exciting to see the kind of young talent that rose to the top in the preliminary judging for the Ellis Marsalis International Jazz Piano Competition,” said Donald Van Horn, dean of Marshall’s College of Arts and Media. “We had 13 countries represented in the initial pool of pianists, and I understand that the competition was at a very high level, so we know that the finalists who are coming to Huntington are very gifted musicians.”
The finalists will be paired with some of the jazz industry’s top side personnel. Team 1 features Dezron Douglas (acoustic bass) from Hartford, Connecticut and Dayeon Seok (drums) from South Korea. Team 2 features Mimi Jones (acoustic bass) from New York and Jerome Jennings (drums) from Cleveland. Additionally, special guest Camille Thurman (tenor saxophone/vocals) will appear in a special PLUS One segment in which competitors must accompany her as both instrumentalist and vocalist on songs to be randomly selected from a pre-approved list.
The first place winner will receive a $25,000 cash prize; a record contract with ELM Records; and management, marketing, booking, and promotions assistance from Nu Jazz Agency. First prize also includes guaranteed performance opportunities at venues and festivals around the world, including a night at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in New, York; SOUTH Jazz Bistro in Philadelphia; the San Jose Jazz Festival in California; Le Duc des Lombards in Paris; and the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music in New Orleans. Second- and third-place winners will receive $10,000 and $5,000 respectively, as well as their own series of national and international performance opportunities.
“This competition is something that I am really proud of being able to put together at this point in my career,” Ellis Marsalis said. “With entries from France, Russia, the Netherlands, Canada, the U.S., Brazil, Japan, England, Germany, Chile, Italy and countless other countries, it is proving that jazz truly is an international language.”
“The dizzying array of talent that we had, proved to be a tough job for the preliminary judges to make decisions on” said Jerald Miller, executive director of the competition and managing director of the Nu Jazz Agency. “In my book, the finalists are all winners already. But when all is said and done, only one can walk away with the top honor. Whoever wins will truly be worthy of the prize, but they will have to have earned it.”
The Huntington International Jazz Festival kicks off Tuesday with photo exhibits at the Huntington Museum of Art and Visual Arts Center, and continues throughout the week with free concerts featuring legendary jazz music and artists, and a Saturday street fair. The street fair will include food vendors, artisans, inflatables, face-painting, arts and crafts for children, a canned food drive to benefit the Facing Hunger Food Bank and of course special performances.