(NEWARK, NJ) -- On a Wednesday night in 1942, Newark teenager Sarah Vaughan went to the Apollo Theater to compete in an amateur singing contest. It was the chance to win $10 and a weeklong engagement performing on the Apollo stage. Instead, Vaughan's win launched a career and forever changed the art of jazz vocal music.
Now in its seventh year at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition, also known as the SASSY Awards in a nod to Vaughan's nickname, announced the five jazz singers who will perform for the top prize honor on Sunday, November 18 at 3pm in NJPAC's Victoria Theater. This international jazz vocal competition honors the talent of its namesake by giving one outstanding performer a platform to embark on a career in the music business. The competition was established in 2012 by NJPAC and legendary jazz music visionary Larry Rosen.
The 2018 finalists of this international competition are Oleg Akkuratov (Moscow), Gabrielle Cavassa, (New Orleans), Olivia Chindamo, (New York), Toscha Comeaux (Las Vegas), and Laurin Talese(Philadelphia). The five finalists will perform before a panel of judges on the final day of the TD James Moody Jazz Festival (November 4-18) at NJPAC. The grand prize winner will receive a $5,000 cash prize as well as a guaranteed performance slot at the 2019 Newport Jazz Festival.
The competition has become a platform for a single outstanding jazz singer to gain widespread recognition in the music industry. Past winners include Cyrille Aimée, Jazzmeia Horn (winner of the 2015 Thelonious Monk Competition), Ashleigh Smith, Arianna Neikrug, Deelee Dubé, and last year's winner, Quiana Lynell.
The panel of judges include multi-Grammy-winning bassist Christian McBride, NJPAC's Jazz Advisor; six-time Grammy nominated jazz vocalist-composer Nnenna Freelon; Mary Ann Topper, President of the Jazz Tree, Inc. artist management; WBGO Jazz 88.3FM radio personality Sheila Anderson, and trumpeter, conductor and composer Jon Faddis.
Through three public rounds, public voting on the IndabaMusic.com, the field was narrowed to the five vocalists. Contestants were judged on vocal quality, musicality, technique, performance, individuality, artistic interpretation, and the ability to swing, with more than 600 submissions from men and women around the world.
NJPAC is proud to partner with TD Bank, the festival's title sponsor. For the 7th consecutive year, TD Bank's generous support and commitment to the arts has helped build the TD James Moody Jazz Festival into one of the most noteworthy jazz festivals in North America. "TD Bank is excited to sponsor and be a part of this jazz festival, which has grown into one of the country's best," said Martin Melilli, TD Market President. "We believe the opportunity to enrich our communities is both a privilege and a responsibility and TD is honored to support the jazz festival as an opportunity to enhance a more inclusive and culturally vital Newark."
Meet the Finalists
Pianist and vocalist Oleg Akkuratov, who was born blind, showed outstanding musical ability in pitch, musical memory and sense of rhythm from a very early age. A graduate of the Rostov State Conservatory in Russia, where he currently teaches, he studied at the Moscow State College of Pop and Jazz Music and the Institute of Music at the Moscow University of Culture and Arts. He has toured internationally as a member of the Igor Butman Quartet and the Moscow Jazz Orchestra. Akkuratov was the subject of Lyudmila Gurchenko’s film Colorful Twilight.
A young singer with a distinctive sound, Gabrielle Cavassa began her career in San Francisco, performing in jazz clubs like Club Deluxe, Black Cat, Small Wonder, and Yoshi’s. She graduated with a degree in jazz history from San Francisco State University, where she studied with saxophonist Andrew Speight, to whom she credits her love of bebop. Last year, she moved to New Orleans to further her lifelong study of music and performs weekly with both straight-ahead jazz and hip hop groups.
Australian vocalist Olivia Chindamo is a New York based musician who is best known for her natural and effortless ability to improvise, or scat. As the 2016 Bell Award winner for “Young Australian Jazz Artist of the Year,” she became one of Australia’s most sought-after jazz vocalists and is now being recognized internationally. Chindamo studied with some of America’s finest jazz musicians at the Banff International Workshop in Jazz & Creative Music 2016, and has performed on stages of all sizes, such as Melbourne’s iconic Hamer Hall and The Basement in Sydney.
Toscha Comeaux, a native of Hartford, Conn., began her musical journey in church. Genres of music – classical, R&B, soul, rock’n’roll, pop – have always been a part of her vocal makeup, but jazz would have a more profound effect on her spirit. There was something about the lyrics and melodies that were so simple, yet complex. Sarah Vaughan was one of the first vocalists Comeaux bent her ear to, and then many greats followed.
Laurin Talese has been captivating audiences with her voice since the age of 10. A native of Cleveland, she earned a bachelor’s degree in jazz vocal performance at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. She has worked with such recording artists as Bilal and Robert Glasper and has shared the stage with the Cleveland Orchestra, The Moses Hogan Chorale and the Mozarteum Orchestra of Salzburg. A passionate songwriter, she released her debut album, Gorgeous Chaos, in partnership with producers Ulysses Owens Jr. and Adam Blackstone.
New Jersey Performing Arts Center is located at One Center Street in Newark, New Jersey.