2021 National Jazz Awards Finalists Announced

NJA2021-Harry-MitchellTen of Australia’s finest young jazz pianists have been selected as finalists in the 2021 National Jazz Awards. Each year the Awards focus on a different instrument – piano, guitar, bass, saxophone, brass, drums or vocals with piano returning to the spotlight this year.

Casey Golden, Matthew Thomson, Steve Barry and Wilbur Whitta hail from New South Wales, whilst James Bowers, Kade Brown and Max Teakle all coincidentally reside in the Victorian suburb of Brunswick. Alex Wignall (SA), Harry Mitchell (WA) and Adelaide born, New York based Matthew Sheens round out the finalists for 2021.

They will compete at the National Jazz Awards, which this year will be presented in a series of free online concerts from 26 – 28 November 2021.

Initially planned for the traditional festival weekend at the end of October, the Awards will now be presented in November in accordance with the Victorian Government’s roadmap allowing access to artistic studios from 5 November.

Each finalist will vie for the $7000 major prize and recording session with Pughouse Studios (Melbourne), with second and third placegetters receiving $4000 and $2000 respectively. The winner will be announced online on Sunday 28 November.

The National Jazz Awards were open to high-level pianists aged 36 or younger on or before December 31. Pianists’ submissions included audio recordings of three pieces – a ballad, a blues and a piece by an Australian composer.

All entries were submitted anonymously to the judging panel, which was Chaired by 1999 National Jazz Awards (piano) winner Matt McMahon along with renowned pianists Andrea Keller and Stephen Grant.

“We received outstanding entries from across Australia, and even internationally-based Australians,” said Matt McMahon. “It is genuinely exciting to see that we have so many excellent young pianists in our scene.”

“We are very much looking forward to watching each of the finalist’s performances and announcing the winner at the conclusion of the concert.”

It is an illustrious line-up of young pianists at varying stages of their career. From current Melbourne Conservatorium of Music student Max Teakle who will soon embark on his professional career, to Steve Barry, composer, improviser and lecturer at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and 2013 National Jazz Awards runner up.

Casey Golden is a seasoned award-winning performer (Young Australian Jazz Artist of the Year, APRA Professional Development Award) and a constant presence on the jazz scene, releasing numerous recordings under his own name and contributing to many more.

So too is Kade Brown, whose improvisational flair has seen him playing with numerous Melbourne bands since 2014 to currently leading a quintet with Julien Wilson, Paul Williamson, Sam Anning and Luke Andresen.

Multi award winning artist Harry Mitchell has performed with notable jazz artists Vincent Gardner, Kate Ceberano, George Garzone, Vince Jones, Jamie Oehlers and Julien Wilson, as well as the Rolling Stones’ Charlie Watts.

Matthew Thomson has also performed alongside musical luminaries including Dave Holland, Miguel Zenon, Freddy Cole, Dave Douglas, Ben Folds and Taylor Dane and was awarded the 2020 ASCAP Herb Alpert Jazz Composers Award for his big band composition entitled, The Pursuit.

After completing his Bachelor of Music with First Class Honours at the Elder Conservatorium of Music, Alex Wignall relocated to the United States to compete his Master’s Degree in Jazz Performance with Dr. Luke Gillespie at the world renowned Jacobs School of Music in Indiana.

He has since performed in America, London, Germany, Scotland, Sri Lanka and his discography includes two solo albums with his band, The Big Wig’s Trio set to release their debut album next month.

Wilbur Witta has performed in the UK, Europe and Japan. He lived and worked in London where he earned a name for himself as an in-demand pianist and accrued many accolades including Dankworth Jazz Composition Award and was a semi-finalist in the Riga Jazz Stage Jazz Piano Competition.

James Bowers is one of Australia’s most in demand keyboard players and pianists, in large part due to his versatility and musicality across multiple genres and instruments. He recently released his debut recording My Trio Album to critical acclaim.

In 2009, Matthew Sheens became the first Australian to win a coveted Downbeat Magazine Student Award, and was offered a scholarship to complete a Masters Degree in Music Performance at Boston’s New England Conservatory.

Now a resident of New York, he has performed and recorded with many distinguished musicians including Jerry Bergonzi, Jon Gordon, and John Patitucci. He has performed at the Jazz Hoeilaart International Jazz Festival in Belgium and Montreux International Jazz Festival among others.

“These awards provide encouragement, exposure and a financial boost to young musicians,” said Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues Chair, Dave Fuller.

“We are so pleased to have them proceed this year, albeit in a digital format and thank Pughouse Studios and Wangaratta Rural City Council for their continued support for the prizemoney.”

“The joy of jazz feels like a much needed boost for us all. We encourage you to support the awards and look to the future of jazz in our online presentation,” said Mr Fuller.

The 2021 National Jazz Awards will be presented in a series of free online concerts from 26 – 28 November 2021. Concert schedule coming soon! For more information, visit: www.wangarattajazz.com for details.

Image: Harry Mitchell (supplied)