The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz made its latest move upward in the arts with a concert and awards presentation Monday night at the Kennedy Center.
Previous concerts, held at the Smithsonian Institution, consisted of instrumental competitions. But this year's event included an additional contest for composers, and a newly commissioned work introduced by alto sax player Benny Carter.
Only an artist as respected as Carter, 86, could assemble a band in which almost every member has been a leader in his own right. The sidemen included Phil Woods, Illinois Jacquet and Joshua Redman on saxes, Clark Terry and Jon Faddis on trumpets, trombonist Al Grey, plus Herbie Hancock on piano, Christian McBride on bass and, on drums, Thelonious Monk Jr. (son of the composer/pianist who died in 1982). Carter let them stretch out, producing some of the most vibrant blowing conceivable.
Despite his title, "Time to Remember--Lest We Forget," Carter's composition was cheerful, played at a moderate tempo that left nobody uncomfortable. His alto sax playing was as rich as ever in its inventive beauty. Though just on stage for 10 minutes, the audience response suggested that this band could have stayed on stage for hours.
Earlier, the three piano finalists played to the packed house, which included the board of judges: Hancock, Marian McPartland, Marcus Roberts, Dorothy Donegan, Muhal Richard Abrams and Dave Brubeck. They awarded the $10,000 first prize to Jacky Terrasson, 27, an eclectic soloist who found new avenues for the old bop standard "Donna Lee" and the brooding ballad "You Don't Know What Love Is."
Born in Berlin and raised in Paris, Terrasson has toured Europe and Japan but is almost unknown in the United States. The prestige of this victory will place him in the running along with such previous winners as Redman and trumpeter Ryan Kisor, who landed recording contracts on the strength of their Monk gigs.
The winner of the composer's competition, Patrick Zimmerli (he competed here two years ago in a sax contest), performed "The Paw" with a quartet, but seemed to need a larger setting to do justice to his penmanship.