This weekend, Washington, D.C. will be host to the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition and Concert. Named after the prolific jazz musician, this prestigious competition will showcase the talents of a new generation of jazz pianists. The 12 semi-finalists will compete for scholarships and the recognition that comes with winning this internationally celebrated award.
The players who will be performing and competing this weekend hail from countries all over the world, and span in age from 18 to 30. For many, competing this weekend is the culmination of a life’s work dedicated to music. Such is the case for Aaron Parks, a contestant in this weekend’s festivities.
Parks was raised in Seattle, Washington, and began playing piano at age 10, learning mostly by ear. He began his career in jazz at the age of 16 after leaving the University of Washington to focus more intently on jazz studies at the Manhattan School of Music in New York. Parks won first place in the 5th American Jazz Piano Competition and is a Cole Porter Fellow of the American Pianist Association.
“I grew up knowing this competition,” he said. “The Monk competition is the most prestigious in my field. The winners always go on to do great things.”
The competition will take place in two parts. The first will be held on Saturday, September 16 at 1 p.m. in the Baird Auditorium of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. All 12 of the semi-finalists will strive for three finalists spots. The finals will take place on Sunday, Sept. 17 at 7 p.m. It is at this final event that the three remaining musicians will vie for scholarships and international recognition
The final phase of the competition will be hosted by Quincy Jones, Phylicia Rashad and Billy Dee Williams. Along with these distinguished performers, 13 members of Congress are on board as co-chairs and members of the Gala’s Benefit Committee, and the Gala Honorary co-chairs are former Secretary of States Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell.
Tickets for the semi-finalist event on Saturday, September 16 are being offered free of charge and will be distributed at the Baird Auditorium, beginning 90 minutes prior to the start of the show. Tickets for the finals may be purchased at the Kennedy Center box office.
The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz was established in 1986, in memory and reverence to the renowned pianist and composer. This year in celebration of its 20th anniversary, the jazz competition which is held every year focusing on different elements and instruments that are vital to jazz, will instead be focused on what the Institute’s namesake had truly loved best. The 20th anniversary competition and celebration is planned in accordance with the Institute’s overarching mission to education and inspire love for jazz and for music.