Five finalists have been selected for the 2019 American Pianists Awards. The five pianists, all in their mid-to-late 20s — Kenny Banks, Jr., Emmet Cohen, Keelan Dimick, Dave Meder and Billy Test — will take part in a year-long competitive process in Indianapolis, home of the American Pianists Association. One will win the coveted Cole Porter Fellowship at the finals there next April.
The first date on the awards calendar is a sneak preview at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in New York City, on Thursday, May 17. Featuring performances by all five finalists, this showcase will be open to the public and livestreamed by both the American Pianists Association and Jazz at Lincoln Center. (WBGO is a media partner in the event.)
Each finalist has already received $20,000. What awaits the winner is a package valued at over $100,000, consisting of a cash prize, career consultation and concert booking, and a contract with Mack Avenue Records.
The awards are held every four years, and have an admirable track record of success. So far this century, the Cole Porter Fellowship has been given to an imposing roll call of pianistic talent: Sullivan Fortner (2015), Aaron Diehl (2011), Dan Tepfer (2007), Adam Birnbaum (2004) and Aaron Parks (2001).
Of the current competitors, only two are based outside New York: Keelan Dimick, who lives in Miami, Florida, and Kenny Banks, Jr., who has spent nearly the last decade in Atlanta, Georgia. All five finalists are accomplished sidemen, and most are familiar with the dynamics of competition. (Cohen, for one, has been an American Pianists Awards finalist twice before, in 2015 and 2011.)
Each finalist will pay separate visits to Indianapolis, performing adjudicated solo and trio sets at the Jazz Kitchen; leading workshops in local schools; and participating in other community events. The finals will be held in April of next year. For a sense of how the process unfolds, see this report by Becca Pulliam for NPR Jazz, from the 2011 competition. (I served on the jury that year.)
The 2019 gala concert, on April 6, will be hosted by Dee Dee Bridgewater and streamed live online. It will feature her fellow jazz vocalist Kurt Elling along with the Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra. For more information on the American Pianists Association, or about the five finalists, visit americanpianists.org.