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Emmet Cohen Takes First Prize at the 2019 American Pianists Awards

Emmet Cohen is the winner of the 2019 American Pianists Awards, one of the most prestigious events of its kind.

Cohen, 28, hails from New York City, where he earned a masters degree from the Manhattan School of Music. He has released several albums, including Dirty in Detroit, released last year. He will appear at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola on April 16, with his trio.

The five APA finalists — Cohen, Kenny Banks, Jr., Keelan Dimick, Dave Meder, and Billy Test — made a strong showing in the finals at the Hilbert Circle Theater in Indianapolis on Saturday night. First they each accompanied singer Kurt Elling, performing a Cole Porter song. Then they took turns with the Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra, playing arrangements of jazz standards. The evening’s master of ceremonies was NEA Jazz Master Dee Dee Bridgewater.

The finalists were judged by a blue-chip panel: jazz pianists Stanley Cowell, Renee Rosnes and Helen Sung; Chris Mees, founder and president of the management company B-Natural, Inc.; and Will Wakefield, senior director of A&R at Mack Avenue Records.

As the winner, Cohen will receive the Cole Porter Jazz Fellowship, worth an estimated value of more than $100,000. This includes a cash award, a contract with Mack Avenue, and two years of career services and support.

The American Pianists Association, which has been based in Indianapolis since 1982, holds an award every two years. They alternate between jazz and classical music, which means the jazz award occurs with the frequency of presidential elections or Olympic summer games.

The APA finalists have been involved in competition, in one form or another, for a period of months. During the premiere series, which began last year, each pianist separately traveled to Indianapolis for a solo engagement and three-day educational residency. All five players also participated in the club finals at the Jazz Kitchen on Friday night.

Past winners of the Cole Porter Fellowship include some of the leading pianists in modern jazz — most recently Sullivan Fortner, Aaron Diehl and Dan Tepfer. Cohen has competed in the two previous editions of the competition, in 2015 and 2011. 

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, Nate Chinen is editorial director at WBGO and a regular contributor to NPR Music.