After the Dust Settles

Photo by Steve Mundinger
Congratulations to Melissa Aldana, Tivon Pennicott, Godwin Louis, and the other saxophonists who performed Sunday and Monday as part of the 2013 Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition! I caught most of the semi-finals on Sunday, including a couple minutes of Godwin's much-Facebooked-about set on my phone as I sat on a bus to the New England Conservatory. I missed the finals on Monday, but heard great things.

Now that it's over, the post-competition discussion can begin; as James English argues in The Economy of Prestige, the real purpose of cultural competitions might be their value as a perpetual locus of discussion around which people can air their thoughts about the real stuff: the value of art, its relationship (or complete separation from) the market, etc. Jacob Garchik started up a brief Twitter discussion yesterday with the hashtag #monkcompetitionbonusrounds, which is also probably one of the longest hashtags to have trended on Twitter in a while.
Last year around this time, Michael J. West wrote a piece aptly titled, "What Did the Monk Competition Ever Do For You?", which gathered a couple opinions from Monk Competition alums regarding the practical value of competing and/or becoming a finalist. Garchik's tweet led to a variety of additions about the post-Monk Competition life, which, unsurprisingly, is still filled with much of the dues-paying musicians would have gone through anyway, had they not participated in the competition. 

And so forth. Darcy James Argue, Tim Berne, and Miles Okazaki also chimed in:

As an addition to English's thesis about how competitions function in cultural fields, maybe we could say that it reminds us to acknowledge that the everyday grind is still there and will never go away; or, that the grind is an essential part of "it" — the whole jazz life thing. In any case, I'm happy to hear that great young saxophonists were recognized; it's the least that a big organization could do for aspiring jazz musicians.

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As a side note, Miles Okazaki drew attention to the "league of #2," which is generally interesting to check out in these high-profile events. Tivon's in pretty good (great) company, I think:


  1. I never was a professional musician, but I am advanced horn player and been playing and studying jazz for more than 30 years. I have enormous sympathy for the financial plight of professional jazz musicians but I ask whether the injury in some measure is self-inflicted. Jazz has become too complex and mathematical for the general audience. Jazz was popular when it was dance music; the tunes were catchy, the bands swung hard and the solos were short.


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