The inaugural Bob Ravenscroft International Jazz Piano Competition has concluded. The six competitors who traveled to Scottsdale to perform in the live event Finals (10/08/2022) included:
Nicki Adams (USA)
Antoine Bacherot (France)
Antoine Bouchaud (France)
Michael Clement (USA)
Horváth Balázs (Hungary)
Jason Yeager (USA)
After separate morning and afternoon solo piano performances by each of the Finalists, our esteemed panel of judges awarded the Competition prizes as follows:
Third Place – Antoine Bacherot (France)
Second Place – Jason Yeager (USA)
First Place – Michael Clement (USA)
Congratulations to these three exceptional pianists for their achievements in the Competition. And congratulations to all six of the Finalists who shared their musical voices and abundant creativity with the adjudicators and the live audience in Ravenscroft Hall.
The adjudicator panel for the live event Finals included this diverse collection of remarkable artist-teachers:
A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, jazz pianist George W. Russell, Jr. is a performer, composer, and educator. He began studying piano at seven years old. Along with studying formally, Russell had the great fortune of growing up playing at his local church. There was no written music at the church, so he was given the opportunity to develop his ear. As he continued studying music in college, he discovered jazz and its uniquely beautiful harmonies. It was then that Russell began to understand what exactly he was playing from a theoretical viewpoint, both in church and in classical repertoire. In that period of time, his unique fusion of gospel and jazz was beginning to form.
Russell’s present-day performances range from solo piano, to groove-oriented jazz trios, to soulful, fresh-sounding larger ensembles that arouse the listener's intellect and touch the soul. His playing is filled with passion, fire, soul, and, most of all, spirit.
Following undergraduate studies in music education at Duquesne University, Russell pursued a graduate degree in Jazz Studies from the New England Conservatory. At that time, he taught at local community music schools and eventually became a piano instructor at Tufts University. He then went on to Chair the Jazz Department at the New England Conservatory Extension Division. He also led the Jazz Department at the Pennsylvania’s Governor’s School for the Arts for over 20 years.
Currently, Russell is Chair of the Harmony and Jazz Composition Department at the Berklee College of Music. Prior to becoming Chair, he also served as a Professor of Harmony and Piano at Berklee. He has been awarded the Ted Pease Award for Excellence in Teaching, along with the Curriculum Development Award for the Writing Division. Russell has also been recognized with the highest honor that Berklee bestows upon artist-teachers, the Most Distinguished Faculty Award.
Japanese-born pianist Miki Yamanaka has called New York City home since 2012 and in the past decade has wasted no time establishing herself as one of the leading personalities of her generation on the piano. Critics laud her “light, expressive touch and solidly crafted, mainstream approach” (Mike Jurkovic, All About Jazz), while audiences delight not only in her playing, but in her vibrant personality as well. In recent years, she has emerged as a leader of the “New York Scene” via her notable residencies at mainstay West Village sister clubs Smalls and Mezzrow. Yamanaka has also gained international recognition from her albums as a leader; her most recent release, Stairway to the Stars (Outside In Music), features jazz masters Mark Turner and Orlando le Fleming. She has a myriad of glowing reviews for her recorded work and the iconic Downbeat magazine has repeatedly awarded her albums high marks.
During the pandemic, Yamanaka developed a successful in-home, live-streaming weekly concert series entitled “Miki’s Mood”, where she has featured a veritable who’s who of NYC talent (including her husband and frequent collaborator, drummer Jimmy Macbride). The series showcases her vast knowledge of the repertoire, often featuring themed offerings from various composers.
As a sideman, Yamanaka has worked with jazz luminaries such as saxophonist Antonio Hart, who posits “Miki will be recognized as one of the most exceptional artists of her generation, as she is already one of the most talented and dedicated musicians from Japan.” Other notable bands she currently works in include the Philip Harper Quintet and the Roxy Coss Quintet. One of her most respected mentors on piano and organ (Yamanaka also performs on organ), Larry Goldings, once mused, “If only I could have Miki Yamanaka comp behind me!” - a compliment of the highest order from one master keyboardist to another.
Jazz pianist Angelo Versace, a native of Indiana, Pennsylvania, has been the Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Arizona since 2014. He attended William Paterson University from 2004-2008, studying with Mulgrew Miller, a seminal figure in jazz and a man whom Versace cites as being a main musical influence. He subsequently earned his Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees from the University of Miami, studying jazz piano, jazz pedagogy, composition, and arranging. During his time in Miami, Versace served on the faculty of the Superior Academy of Music, an award-winning institution backed by the Royal Conservatory Music Development Program. He was also on faculty at the CGCC Community Arts Program and Dillard High School – high school jazz band programs that found success at the prestigious Essentially Ellington competition. He began to work for the Tucson Jazz Institute (a two-time winner of the Essentially Ellington competition) after his move to Arizona in July of 2014.
Versace has performed on twelve studio albums: two as a leader and ten as a sideman, including Jazz Hymns with guitarist Jerry Hahn and Khristian 3.0 with Take-6 vocalist, Khristian Dentley. He has also had the privilege of working as a sideman with several internationally recognized artists: Roxy Coss, Chuck Israels, Lewis Nash, Marcus Printup, Troy Roberts, Joe Saylor, Dave Stryker, Brice Winston, and Warren Wolf.
Versace travels yearly to Taipei, Taiwan, where he is on faculty at the Fu Jen University Jazz – a camp which coordinates with the American Institute of Taiwan Jazz Outreach Program. Most recently, he has been a member and appointed board director of the newly minted Tucson Jazz Collective (TJC). The group, which has performed for the SAACA Jazz Legends Concert with vocalist, Becca Stevens, continues to perform regionally.
Ravenscroft also acknowledges and thanks the esteemed Preliminary Round adjudicators for their exemplary work on behalf of the competition:
Michael Kocour is a pianist, Hammond B3 organist, and composer. He presently serves as Director of Jazz Studies in the School of Music, Dance, and Theatre at Arizona State University. An active performer for more than three decades, Kocour has appeared at venues around the world and has been a guest on Marian McPartland's internationally syndicated NPR program "Piano Jazz." Among the many artists and ensembles with whom he has appeared are Randy Brecker, Eddie Daniels, Carl Fontana, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Golson, Eddie Harris, Joe Lovano, James Moody, Lewis Nash, Dewey Redman, Ira Sullivan, Lew Tabackin, and the Chicago Symphony.
As a studio musician, Kocour's recorded work includes soundtracks to two major motion pictures, and numerous television commercials. He has also released six critically acclaimed CDs as a leader. Alfred Music has published Kocour's original compositions and arrangements for piano. Additionally, his arrangements for jazz ensembles are available at ejazzlines.com.
Melanie Shore is a jazz pianist, educator, composer, and arranger. Her dynamic fluency on the piano and Hammond B3 has established her as an accomplished performer, studio musician, and music director. Shore is a sought-after clinician and mentor for jazz performers, and has been teaching jazz at the collegiate level for over 15 years. Through Melanie Shore Music, she creates educational resources, such as her recent release 6 Steps to Soloing: a start up guide for jazz newbies.
As a studio musician, Shore is known for her authentic stylistic versatility, recording across a wide variety of genres. Over her career, she has performed with an array of artists, including Chuck Berry, Corey Christiansen, Il Divo, Kris Johnson (of the Count Basie Big Band), and Lea Salonga. A frequently commissioned composer, Shore is also the arranger for the Homecoming Spectacular series, for which she has written for renowned artists Colbie Callait, Kristen Chenoweth, Gladys Knight, and Ben Rector.
Dr. Samuel Gingher is a consummate performer at the keyboard. He possesses a rarely-heard quality among pianists, being equally adept at classical and jazz performance. Gingher has performed at festivals in Europe and the US and received First Prize at the 2010 Brevard Music Festival Piano Competition and the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts' Debut Artist Award. He has played with such noted artists as trumpeter Tito Carrillo, saxophonist Remy Le Boeuf, bassist Chris Finet, drummer Arthur Vint and erhu player, Yang Ying and recorded on the Naxos label.
Originally from Greensboro, NC, Gingher earned DMA in Piano Performance and Literature, MM in Piano Performance, and MM in Piano Pedagogy degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As an undergraduate at UNC-Chapel Hill, Gingher studied with Ed Paolantonio, who was a student of legendary jazz pianist and educator, Lennie Tristano. Gingher is currently an Assistant Professor at Northern Arizona University, having previously taught at Millikin University, Bradley University, and UIUC.
The Bob Ravenscroft International Jazz Piano Competition has been developed to recognize and celebrate exceptional creative artistry in young, professional jazz pianists. In order to participate in this (acoustic) jazz piano event, the entrant must be 21 to 35 years old. It is the intent of the Bob Ravenscroft International Jazz Piano Competition to elevate those performers who are best able to explore their musical gifts in ways that connect with their audience at a deeper, spiritual level. The most venerated pianists will be able to inspire others even as they themselves seek inspiration to create pure improvisations in the moment.
Bob Ravenscroft, the visionary namesake for this competition, is an accomplished jazz pianist, composer, recording artist, and teacher. He has performed and recorded for decades as a solo artist and in piano trio settings, often with his improvisational collective, Inner Journeys. In 2004, Bob founded Music Serving The Word (MSW Ministries) through which he continues to create and encourage others to discover new and innovative ways for music to transcend mere performance and truly serve the living Word. (John 1:1) Along with his wife and partner, Gretchen, Bob led the design and facilitated the building of Ravenscroft, a world-class music venue and multi-use space in Scottsdale, AZ, which opened to serve both spiritual and artistic communities in October 2021. And it is Ravenscroft that serves as the host facility for this competition.
The Bob Ravenscroft International Jazz Piano Competition will be held once every three years, with the inaugural event scheduled for 2022. It is open to creative artists from anywhere in the world; eligibility is not limited to citizens of the United States. All rounds of the competition are intended to showcase performers in solo piano settings.
An application fee is required to participate in this event. There are two rounds of adjudication; the first is done online in late spring, the second will be held in person in fall. For the preliminary round, entrants will complete an application form and upload video recordings to an online portal for review. Following confirmation of eligibility, the initial round of submissions will be adjudicated by a panel of outstanding jazz pianists. This panel will identify five to seven finalists.
The finals will be held in-person in October of that same year, at Ravenscroft (Scottsdale, AZ). Finalists selected will travel to Arizona for no fewer than three days, with travel support from the competition, to perform live in Ravenscroft Hall as a solo pianist.
Prizes awarded are as follows:
First Place - $8,000 (USD),
publication of an Artist Spotlight feature in DownBeat magazine, and
the opportunity to record solo piano tracks in the Ravenscroft studio on a 9' Ravenscroft Model 275.
Second Place - $4,000 (USD)
Third Place - $2,000 (USD)
Due to the potential for a high volume of preliminary round video submissions requiring review as part of this competition, there are prescribed limits to the total number of entrants. As such, although there is a stated application window for this competition (May 1st through June 15th), that window will close earlier if/when application limits are reached.
The age restriction cited (21-35 years old) refers to one's age on May 1st, which falls at the beginning of each competition's application cycle. For the sake of clarity, the application window for each administration of the Bob Ravenscroft International Jazz Piano Competition begins on May 1st and closes no later than June 15th. However, the application window may close earlier if the application limits (articulated below) are reached before that closing date.
While age is the primary factor determining eligibility to participate in the competition, please note that (beginning in 2025) former First Place prizewinners are ineligible to apply again in the future. Additionally, any pianist who has released one or more albums as a leader with a major jazz label in the past three years is ineligible to apply.
Applicants must complete an online application (found at the bottom of this page), including submission of the $35(USD) application fee. Shortly after receipt of the online application and fee, competition participants will receive an email containing a link to a site where they may upload their video submissions for the initial round.
In each administration of the competition, the application window will close after the first 100 completed applications are received. An application is considered received once the online form has been completed and the application fee has been submitted.
The preliminary round should feature two separate videos. In one, the applicant will perform a songbook standard, an original jazz classic, or a jazz treatment of a hymn or spiritual of their choice as a solo pianist. In the other, they will perform an original composition or a free improvisation, again as a solo pianist. The total combined time of the two videos submitted should be no more than twelve minutes in length.
As to the content and production of either video submitted to this competition, there are three important recommendations to consider. First, videos should focus on effectively presenting the applicant's performance of the music. There is no advantage to be gained with an adjudication panel by creating videos featuring state of the art cinematography, lighting, editing, post-production, etc. The competition seeks to recognize outstanding creative artistry in young, professional jazz pianists, so please make certain the audio track for the video reflects a focus on quality. Cell phone videos may be sufficient to achieve one's goals, so long as the audio component provides a clear representation of the musical performance. Ultimately, the video should be about the music, not the vast visual representations of the music that are possible.
Secondly, in addition to providing that clear representation of the musical performance, the audio should also provide an honest and transparent one. Advanced audio post-production techniques such as pitch correction should not be utilized in any video submission.
Finally, the adjudication panels for this competition will most value performances that truly feel inspired, living in the moment, and resonating with listeners in deeply emotional and/or spiritual ways. For the purposes of this competition, to submit a video that exhibits the ephemeral, ineffable connection that many great performances possess is far more valued than submitting a recording in which impressive, bravura technique is found in abundance, but used in ways that do not consistently serve the music.
Once the application window has closed, the preliminary adjudication panel will review all video submissions. After deliberations have concluded, five to seven Finalists will be announced. It is anticipated that Finalists will be announced no later than August 1st.
Finalists Competition Details
All Finalists will be invited to perform live and in-person at Ravenscroft (Scottsdale, AZ) in October of the same year. Finalists must be available to travel to Arizona and be present for a minimum of three days (a Thursday-to-Saturday commitment). Finalists will receive hotel accommodations for up to three nights during their time here, courtesy of the competition.
Additionally, for travel expenses (as necessary), the competition will provide airfare reimbursement for Finalists up to these amounts:
A maximum of $800 (USD) for competitors from North America
A maximum of $1,600 (USD) for competitors from outside North America
The competition will only reimburse coach air travel to and/or from the country in which they have declared citizenship (or is serving as their primary country of residence).
Finalists will be asked to provide a one-page personal and artistic statement by September 15th. This document will have no bearing on the competitive aspects of the event, but may be used in other ways, such as for potential video packages that are created (discussed below).
For those comfortable and conversant in English, it would be greatly appreciated if one's personal and artistic statement in provided in English. However, non-English speakers may submit the statement in their native language.
Finalists are encouraged to arrive on Thursday, two days before the actual competition, due to potential time zone/jet lag issues. But there are no major duties/responsibilities until the second day. On that day (Friday) at Ravenscroft,
Finalists will have the following activities on their schedules:
1) A scheduled interview segment which will be recorded and excerpted for potential audio and video packages produced for livestreaming and subsequent posting online. (An alternate option to the interview may be proposed for non-English speakers or a translator may be provided by the competition to facilitate the interview.)
2) An opportunity to practice (solo) on the competition instrument, a 9-foot Ravenscroft Model 275 Piano.
Also at some point that day, each participant must provide a "hard copy" proof of age eligibility, such as a government-issued driver's license, passport, or an official birth certificate. [Simply entering one's date of birth will be sufficient as part of the initial application and preliminary round.]
On the concluding day of the competition (Saturday), Finalists will perform three pieces in a solo piano setting in front of an audience in Ravenscroft Hall. Each Finalist will initially perform two pieces of their choice, again drawing their selections from songbook standards, original jazz classics, or jazz treatments of hymns or spirituals. Subsequently, they will perform a free improvisation. A visual image or reading or theme/concept/term will be provided to the Finalist immediately before performing the free improvisation. One's improvisation will require incorporating this extramusical content into one's performance, to ensure each Finalist is truly creating new music in the moment.
Please note that the competition may have Finalists perform all three pieces as one set or separate the performance of the traditional selections from the free improvisation (so as to allow all Finalists' free improvisations to be performed back-to-back).
After all Finalists have finished their performances in Ravenscroft Hall, an adjudication panel will review their efforts. After deliberations are completed, Prizewinners will be announced that evening. All monetary awards will be provided to Prizewinners prior to their departure from Arizona.
As part of one's agreement to enter the competition, all participants shall provide the following to Ravenscroft (for the purpose of promoting the Bob Ravenscroft International Jazz Piano Competition):
1) The right to post online all videos submitted for the preliminary round.
2) The right to livestream and post online all performances in Ravenscroft Hall.
3) The right to livestream and post online any audio interviews or biographical feature video packages created.
4) The waiving of any synchronization licenses for original compositions (specifically, works written by competition participants) performed as part of this event.
Also, Finalists must submit a list of the first two selections chosen for their Finals performance at least thirty days in advance, so the competition can secure synchronization licenses for works that are not yet in the Public Domain.
The Bob Ravenscroft International Jazz Piano Competition is administered by Ravenscroft, a 30,000 square foot music venue and multi-use space in Scottsdale, AZ. Ravenscroft is an outreach of MSW Ministries, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit private operating foundation, dedicated to presenting creativity that gives glory to God. To learn more about MSW outreach ministries and activities, many of which take place in Ravenscroft, please visit this page.