Ryan Kisor, a 17-year-old high school student from Sioux City, Iowa, won first prize and $10,000 in scholarship money in the Louis Armstrong International Jazz Trumpet Competition held at Baird Auditorium over the weekend. Sponsored by the Thelonious Monk Institute and previously devoted to jazz piano, the two-day event drew 20 trumpeters from five nations.
Second prize and $5,000 was awarded to 28-year-old Tom Williams, a Towson State University student and Army jazz band member. Third prize and $3,000 went to 24-year-old Gregory Gisbert, whose numerous professional credits include a recent stint with the Charles Mingus "Epitaph" Orchestra.
"It was difficult. They were all so wonderful, but that young man Ryan was just a little more wonderful," said be-bop legend Red Rodney after the winners were announced. Rodney sat on the judges panel along with jazz luminaries Clark Terry, Snooky Young and Nat Adderley, all of whom insisted that age had nothing to do with their choice. "We all had a long list of things to listen for and he was the one who kept topping the list," Terry explained.
Although Kisor, the youngest finalist, was one of the few participants without an extensive re'sume' (and later conceded he was "a bit nervous"), he seemed unfazed by the task at hand. Each finalist -- accompanied by an exceptionally resourceful rhythm section composed of pianist Richard Wyands, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington -- was allotted 15 minutes to perform three tunes of his own choosing, as long as one was a ballad, one medium-tempo and one uptempo.
Kisor immediately impressed the audience (and presumably the judges) with a fiery rendition of "A Night in Tunisia," during which he deftly exploited the upper register of the instrument. He moved on to a seductive reading of " 'Round Midnight" and a breathlessly paced "Oleo." He was hardly the only crowd-pleaser -- Williams, Gisbert and 23-year-old Soviet entry Alexander Anatolievich Sipiagin (awarded a commemorative trumpet for his participation) were clearly favorites as well.
"Sure, one of the things we were listening for was range," said Adderley, after acknowledging that Kisor was one of the few participants to reach for the stratosphere. "I know the other guys had big ranges too, though they didn't show it much. We don't mind if you use it as long and you don't use it maliciously."
The son of a school band director and the recent recipient of a fellowship at the Aspen Music Festival, Kisor said one of his major influences was Terry -- who seemed to have coached or influenced all of the entrants at one time or another. "He plays so melodically," Kisor said of his mentor. Kisor also said he plans to use the prize money to study music.
Hosted by Thelonious Monk Jr., jazz critic Leonard Feather, record executive George Butler and broadcaster Willis Conover (who contributed a touching remembrance of Armstrong), the competition was taped for future airing by both National Public Radio and Voice of America.