Monk Trumpet Competition brings out the stars

JamesOnJazzsquareMarquis Hill beat 13 trumpeters to win the 2014 Thelonious Monk International Trumpet Competition last Sunday, November 9, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.

The 27-year-old Hill, of the south side of Chicago, Illinois, secured a $25,000 music scholarship. The competition began in 1987 and remains the most prestigious honor for a young jazz musician. Also, Bill Clinton, lifelong devotee of jazz and the 42nd President of the United States, accepted the Institute’s Maria Fisher Founder’s Award.

According to a press release, “Presented by the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz (the world’s preeminent jazz education organization), the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Trumpet Competition awarded more than $100,000 in scholarships and prizes, including a major scholarship and a guaranteed recording contract with Concord Music Group for the winner.” The accomplished group of trumpeters Quincy Jones, Jimmy Owens, Arturo Sandoval, Ambrose Akinmusire, Randy Brecker and Roy Hargrove served as this year’s judges.

Hill performed “If I Were a Bell” and “Polka Dots and Moonbeams.” Second-place winner was Billy Buss of Berkeley, California, and the third-place winner was Adam O’ Farrill of Brooklyn, New York. The superb band backing each trumpeter included pianist Reginald “Reggie” Thomas, bassist Rodney Whitaker and drummer Carl Allen.

Quincy Jones (l) and Herbie Hancock were among the hosts of the Monk Competition concert. Chaka Khan (r) was one of the performers at the Monk Competition concert.
Quincy Jones (l) and Herbie Hancock were among the hosts of the Monk Competition concert. Chaka Khan (r) was one of the performers at the Monk Competition concert.

At the Hollywood Dolby Theatre, Sunday’s gala concert was hosted by Kevin Spacey, Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock, Don Cheadle, Goldie Hawn and Billy Dee Williams, and included performances by everyone from Musical Director John Beasley, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Wayne Shorter, Queen Latifah and Jimmy Heath, to Chaka Khan, Dianne Reeves, Marcus Miller, Kenny Burrell, Stefon Harris, T.S. Monk, Joshua Redman, Billy Childs, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Melissa Aldana, and Pharrell Williams, among others.

Proceeds from the All-Star Gala Concert support the institute’s jazz education programs in public schools across America. By way of its competition and wide range of year-round programs, the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz identifies and trains the world’s leading young jazz musicians. The institute’s education programs are provided free of charge, with a special emphasis on serving economically disadvantaged public school students and their teachers and parents.

On Saturday, I watched some of the Monk Competition’s semifinal performances via live stream and even tweeted my thoughts about what I experienced. I enjoyed Mike Cottone’s treatment of Monk’s “Bolivar Blues” and O’Farrill’s passionate take on Monk’s “Ask Me Now.”

But what surprised me most about Hill’s playing was his overall imaginative improvisation. I’m looking forward to hearing more from Hill on his current recording, Modern Flows EP Vol. 1 (Skiptone Music). Check Hill out at, and follow him on Twitter (@mhilljazz).

Congrats to everyone! And special thank you to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz for some glorious trumpet playing.

Robin James welcomes reader responses to Follow Robin James on Twitter at @Robin_James1.