Laurin Talese took first place in the seventh annual Sarah Vaughan International Vocal Competition on Sunday.
The competition, also known as the Sassy Awards, shines a light on rising jazz vocalists from around the world. Its finals took place Sunday at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, as a capstone to this year's TD James Moody Jazz Festival.
This year's panel of judges included Stefon Harris, a vibraphonist and NJPAC’s Artistic Advisor of Jazz Education; Nnenna Freelon, a six-time Grammy-nominated vocalist; Mary Ann Topper, president of the Jazz Tree, Inc. artist management; Jon Faddis, trumpeter, conductor and composer; and WBGO's own Sheila Anderson.
Talese, a native of Cleveland, Ohio who now lives and works in New York City, impressed the judges with an assured performance that included her version of the George and Ira Gershwin standard "Someone to Watch Over Me." As the winner, she'll receive $5,000 and a slot at the 2019 Newport Jazz Festival. In second place was Oleg Akkuratov; in third place was Toscha Comeaux.
Each of the five finalists recently came in to WBGO, where they told us about their musical history and path to the competition. Listen to those brief interviews below.
Australian vocalist Olivia Chindamo is now based in New York, but was 2016 Bell Award winner for “Young Australian Jazz Artist of the Year.” Before that, she recorded and released her debut album, Keep an Eye on Spring.
Toscha Comeaux is a native of Hartford, Conn., and began her musical journey in church. Comeaux says she's been influenced by wide variety of music, but that jazz has the most profound effect on her spirit.
Twenty-nine year old Oleg Akkuratov was born in southern Russia. Born blind, he showed early musical abilities and soon went to a specialized music school for blind children. Later Oleg studied at the Moscow State College of pop and jazz Music, and in 2013 became a member of the international project of Igor Butman's "The Future of Jazz" with bass player Kate Davis, drummer Mark Whitfield, Jr. and saxophonist Francesco Cafiso.
Cleveland, Ohio native Laurin Talese attended the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, receiving a Bachelor of Music degree in jazz vocal performance. In 2016, she released her debut album, Gorgeous Chaos, which features Robert Glasper, Josh Lawrence, Christian McBride, Christian Sands and others.
Gabrielle Cavassa began her career in San Francisco, performing at jazz clubs like Club Deluxe, Black Cat, Small Wonder and Yoshi's. She studied at San Francisco State University, then moved to New Orleans to further her lifelong study of music.