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Jazz Notes

Monk Competition Puts Singers in Spotlight


Autumn White or Pete McGuinness may be the next big-name vocalist in jazz.

"Who?" you say.

White and McGuinness aren't exactly household names, but they do have one thing in common: They're among 11 semi-finalists in this year's Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition, being held Monday at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington.

And given the hubbub over some past other Monk winners, like pianists Marcus Roberts and Jacky Terrasson or tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman, chances are that one of these singers will be a name we will come to know fairly well.

For many, a victory in the Monk Competition has become a ticket to jazz stardom. Redman, an unknown when he won the event three years ago, became the subject of a bidding war, and he eventually signed a lucrative contract with Warner Bros. Records. He has gone on to become one of the two bankable stars in jazz--the other being Wynton Marsalis.

Even Monk runners-up have done well. Trumpeters Nicholas Payton and Marcus Printup, who both came in behind trumpeter Ryan Kisor in 1990, have albums due out soon on Verve and Blue Note, respectively.

Shelby Fischer, executive producer of the competition, says that while the affair started out as simply a means of exposing young jazz artists and increasing visibility for jazz in general, commerce has definitely come into the picture.

"This year, all the major labels have given financial support and will have representatives at the semis and finals," she says. "They recognize that they can come here and find talent. They're all looking for the next big star."

In the past, the competition has focused on pianists, trumpeters, saxophonists and drummers. This is the first year singers are competing, and Fischer feels that vocalists will benefit from the exposure.

The Monk Institute received more than 200 audition tapes, from which the 11 semifinalists were selected. This latter group, all age 33 and under, reflects jazz's worldwide appeal--there are semifinalists from France, Italy and Germany--as well as its substantial presence in New York, where five of the semifinalists live.

Three finalists for Monday's affair will be chosen from performances on Sunday judged by Abbey Lincoln, Jon Hendricks, Dianne Reeves, Shirley Horn, Cleo Laine and Jimmy Scott. The first-place winner receives $10,000, second place gets $5,000 and $3,000 goes to the third-place entry.

Speaking of Singers: If Stephanie Haynes were entered in the Monk Competition, there are many who feel she'd have an excellent chance of winning. Regarded as one of the finest jazz-influenced singers anywhere, Orange County-based Haynes has a dynamic voice and works with a remarkable sense of rhythm. She knows how to swing.

"I like to work in a jazz context," she says, "and put in my 2 cents' worth as a jazz improviser. I can work with rhythm, moving the phrases around. My model there is Anita O'Day."

Haynes appears with pianist Dave Mackay on Sunday from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Equestrian Center in Burbank, (818) 840-1313. And on Monday, Haynes will appear with Bopsicle, a group she co-leads at a new club in Burbank called Genesis, 121 N. San Fernando Blvd. at Olive, (818) 848-1035. Music starts at 9 p.m.

Genesis, a 150-seat venue, offers jazz and continental cuisine seven nights. The Ken James Swing Quintet appears tonight, Billy Mitchell plays Saturday, and Doug MacDonald is in on Sunday.

Remembering Shorty: A memorial service for Shorty Rogers will be held Dec. 2 at 2 p.m. in the King's Place, located on the west campus of the Church on the Way, 14800 Sherman Way at Kester Avenue, Van Nuys. The trumpeter-composer-arranger died last week at age 70. Information: (818) 779-8000.

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