CHICAGO NATIVE AND DEPAUL UNIVERSITY GRADUATE
(presently based in Astoria, Queens) Jon Irabagon won the
2008 Thelonious Monk competition at Kodak Theater, he started
his journey to be in jazz heaven. The opportunity was provided
when judges Wayne Shorter, Jimmy Heath, Greg Osby, Jane Ira
Bloom, and David Sanchez awarded him the Grand Prize at the
21st annual Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition
its $20,000 first place prize and a contract with Concord
Records at the Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition - the most
prestigious honor available to a young jazz musician. Finishing
in second place was Tim Green, of Baltimore, Md.; Quamon Fowler,
of Fort Worth, Texas, was third.
"STARWAY TO (JAZZ) HEAVEN" included
his verson of “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” provided
evidence of his creative maturity by utilizing a rarely
used musical quality and grasp of all innovative options
not typically known to young and upcoming artists - silence,
while not losing the essence of the song's melody. Iragon's
performance with Dee Dee Bridgewater
“Just Friends” was highlighted by the "call
and response" between the two artists. The number illuminated
his knowledge and experience in the long-standing tradition
of great jazz of "feeding off one another" in
creative challenges to uplift one another to greater and
surprising levels of improvisational explorations that could
only be attain through this journey. The night provided
ample evidence that Irabagon's future could bring great
satisfaction to listeners from the United States to the
Philippines to Asia to Europe and to the entire world.
COMPETITION'S HIGH PROFILED JUDGES' DECISION
acknowledged their opinion that Irabagon had distinguished
himself from the original twelve semi-finalists in the usage
of his high technical skill (that all the contestants had)
to display rich and imaginative improvisational explorations.
Hopefully this will be another step in
his proceeding on the "starway to (jazz) heaven"
that started as a member of Mostly Other People Do the Killing
and in his first album as a leader - Outright! on Innova
with songs like Quorum Call, That Was Then, Groovin"
High and on Outright! Theme.
GREEN AND QUAMON FOWLER won 2nd and 3rd
places while soliciting opinions from many within the audience
of who was the best - along with which performances were
the most riveting when the three finalists were performing
on the final night of competition. Green and Fowler displayed
many qualities and reasons why they will have long and creative
careers. Their abilities and performances that reaches beyond
boundaries between genres and generations will provide them
excellent opportunities to join the many Monk finalists
who have moved on to successful careers, despite their 2nd
or 3rd place finishes. It will be fascinating to watch their
(Iragagon, Green and Fowler) respective journeys and creative
explorations through the years.
ACHIEVEMENTS AND SUCCESS during this competition
is especially noteworthy considering its many demands. It
started on Saturday afternoon where the semi-finals was
staged at UCLA’s 500 seat Schoenberg Hall where each
of the 12 finalists played three numbers that covered a
wide range of styles while being supported by pianist Geoffrey
Keezer, bassist Rodney Whitaker and drummer Carl Allen.
The diversity from the contestants that from throughout
the world (Gian Tornatore from Sacramento; Evan Schwam and
David DeJesus from New York City; Gilad Ronen from Israel;
Jon Irabagon from Chicago; Troy Roberts from Australia;
Joris Roelofs from France; Walter Smith and Quamon Fowler
from Texas; Jason Marshall and Tim Green from Maryland and
Alex Hoffman from Washington, D.C.) provided a rewarding
experience knowing of the influences of great jazz can be
FUND-RAISING PROGRAM also included awarding
Sherrise Rogers winning the award composition with her "Transitions"
that was performed by members of the CSU Northridge Jazz
Band - along with special awards to B.B. King (Founder's
Award) and businessman Paul D. Allen (Herbie Hancock Humanitarian
Award - who couldn't make the event, but had Bono and Edge
accept the award on his behalf), as well as a gala performance
reaching from sets by young Monk Institute-supported high
school jazzers and from the Institute's band at Loyola University
in New Orleans (the inaugural seven fellows that include
Gordon Au, Joseph Johnson, Johnaye Kendrick, David Mooney,
Vadim Neselovskyi, Jake Saslow, and Colin Stranahan that
are part of the Institute's postgraduate training program
headed by the trumpeter Terence Blanchard) to a stellar
line up of jazz, blues and pop artists that was started
by a performance by Poncho Sanchez's Afro Blue that started
the worldwide journey of the night. Billy Dee Williams,
Quincy Jones, Don Cheadle, Herbie Hancock and Monk Jr. served
as emcees for the night.
THE PROGRAM'S TITLE being “The Blues
and Jazz: Two American Classics” - B.B. King, Keb’
Mo,’ Joe Louis Walker and Robert Cray's performances
(along the high-profiled participation of Bono and Edge)
assured that the blues were well represented and appreciated.
Other musical tributes to B.B. King (who performed When
Love Comes to Town) and the blues included Walkin' Blues
with Keb' Mo, Sweet Home Chicago with Joe Louis Walker and
Bright Lights, Big City.
ALL-STAR ENSEMBLE played "Straight
No Chaser," that was lead by the great George Duke,
combined the talents of Dee Dee Bridgewater, Terence Blanchard,
Jimmy Heath, Terri Lyne Carrington, John Patitucci, Poncho
Sanchez and Lee Ritenour to provide a memorable performance.
During the course of the evening - the talents of Cassandra
Wilson, Kevin Eubanks, Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock
(who performed Jimi Hendrix's Red River that showed the
connections between rock, blues and jazz - while continuing
Hendrix's influences that was also shared by honoree Paul
Allen) provided additional ample evidence of great jazz
artistry. The event's obligatory "all-join-in"
number featured a long version of "Let the Good Times
Roll” that will be remembered for the enthisiastic
and energetic participation of all the great artists.
however, should be remembered and support - continuing the
valuable work of the Monk Institute in supporting and sustaining
the music that is America’s most significant cultural
achievement and legacy. In 2008, the Institution's acknowledgement
helped Jon Iragabon one gigantic and strategic step up his
"Stairway to (Jazz) Heaven"