Since its first year, in 1994, the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition has helped several promising young vocalists launch their careers. Here are some past winners and notable finalists who have gone on to become recognized in the jazz world.
1994 winner: Sara Lazarus (current age 50) — The first winner of the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition continues to live in Paris and actively performs throughout France and Western Europe. She has recorded two albums, both on Dreyfus, a French record label. Lazarus favors straight-ahead jazz and standards, and her delivery is conversational and accessible.
●From “Give Me the Simple Life” (2005): “Foolin’ Myself,” “Give Me the Simple Life”
●From “It’s All Right With Me” (2007): “Gypsy in My Soul,” “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning”
1998 winner: Teri Thornton (1934-2000) — When she first came on the jazz scene in the early ’60s, Thornton was lauded for her husky voice and rich vibrato. But soon after, she stopped performing as frequently and virtually disappeared from the national jazz scene. Winning the Monk competition signaled a highly publicized comeback for Thornton, but the singer died of bladder cancer the year after recording “I’ll Be Easy to Find” on Verve Records, her first album since the competition. She was 65.
●From “Devil May Care” (1961): “Lullaby of the Leaves,” “Dancing in the Dark”
●From “I’ll Be Easy to Find” (1999): “Nature Boy,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So”
1998 second-place winner: Jane Monheit (current age 34) — Known for her classic, velvety voice, the New York-based vocalist was runner-up in the Monk competition during her senior year of college at the Manhattan School of Music. Since then, she’s released nine albums, earning two Grammy nominations for instrumental arrangements.
●From “Never Never Land” (2000): “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good),” “Twisted”
●From “Taking a Chance on Love” (2004): “Honeysuckle Rose,” “Over the Rainbow”
●From “Home” (2010): “While We’re Young”
1998 semifinalist: Tierney Sutton (current age 48) — Known for her complex arrangements and her prolific work as an educator, the Grammy-nominated artist says she has “made a career out of being a gracious loser.” She has released nine albums and tours widely. Sutton taught for many years in the jazz department at the University of Southern California and is currently the vocal department chairman at the Los Angeles Music Academy in Pasadena.
●From “Introducing Tierney Sutton” (1998): “Caravan,” “Footprints / My Favorite Things”
●From “Something Cool” (2002): “Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead”
●From “American Road” (2011): “Wayfaring Stranger,” “Tenderly”
2004 winner: Gretchen Parlato (current age 36) — Her feathery-soft vocals and subtly sophisticated original compositions have launched her to the upper echelon of contemporary jazz vocalists. Parlato received a degree in ethnomusicology/jazz studies from UCLA. Since winning the Monk competition, she has recorded three albums. She was recently named the best female jazz vocalist by the 2011 JazzTimes Critics Poll, and the 2011 rising star female vocalist in the DownBeat Magazine Critics Poll.
●From “Gretchen Parlato” (2005) — “Skylark,” “Chega de Saudade”
●From “In a Dream” (2009) — “I Can’t Help It,” “On the Other Side”
●From “The Lost and Found” (2011) — “Holding Back the Years,” “How We Love”
2010 winner: Cecile McLorin Salvant (current age 22) — McLorin Salvant’s sound blends the deep inflection of Sarah Vaughan with the wry wit of Betty Carter. After living in France for several years, McLorin Salvant is now based in New York and studies music at a New York college in addition to maintaining a full-time performance schedule. She has released one self-titled CD and is in the process of planning a second, which will be released on Mack Avenue Records early next year.
●From “Cecile” (2010) — “Social Call,” “No Regrets,” “Anything Goes”