Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz celebrates 25 years of Keeping Jazz Vibrant

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Friday September 09, 2011


Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz celebrates 25 years of Keeping Jazz Vibrant
By: Matt Schudel

In 1986, four years after the death of Thelonious Monk, a benefit concert honoring the memory of the enigmatic jazz composer and pianist was held at Washington’s Constitution Hall. There was talk at the time of building a statue in Rocky Mount, N.C., Monk’s home town, but his widow, Nellie, hoped for a more dynamic way of remembering her husband.

‘She wanted something that was living, vibrant and involved young people,’ recalls Thomas R. Carter, who organized that concert 25 years ago.

Out of a widow’s wish grew the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, which has become one of the most important behind-the-scenes forces in promoting the music that Monk helped define. The Washington-based institute is best known for its annual international competition, which has launched the careers of such jazz stars as Joshua Redman, Jane Monheit and Eric Lewis, and is by far the most significant musical contest in the jazz world.

‘It was a huge moment in my life as a jazz musician,’ says Redman, who won the 1991 saxophone competition. ‘I was out of college only a few months. At the time, I had every intention of going to law school the next year.’

Redman was taking a year off to explore his interest in jazz and entered the competition ‘as a lark,’ competing against such stellar saxophonists as Eric Alexander, Chris Potter and Tim Warfield.

‘I often feel a little sheepish about it,’ Redman says. ‘I had a great time, but I honestly feel I shouldn’t have won