For the sixth consecutive year, singers from around the world will gather online to compete in the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition – a 21st century version of the amateur night at the Apollo Theater that helped launch the career of a gifted teenager from Newark, Sarah “Sassy” Vaughan, more than 70 years ago.
But this year, there’s a slight change in tempo: For the first time, the competition at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) has been opened to male singers as well as female.
“We’ve spent the last five years identifying a host of brilliant new vocalists,” said John Schreiber, President and CEO of NJPAC, which presents the contest as part of the TD James Moody Jazz Festival (November 4-12) – an annual autumn celebration that fills both the Arts Center and venues throughout Newark with swing.
“But for every Sarah, Ella and Billie, there was also a Joe Williams, a Jimmy Rushing and a Billy Eckstine,” Schreiber said.
“So why not double down on our mission of seeking out the best new voices in jazz by opening the competition to everyone?”
The move was welcomed by the roster of jazz luminaries who’ve been involved with the competition since its inauguration.
“The Sassy Awards – which have helped discover some of the finest young female vocalists in the world – will now, thankfully, open the competition to that all too rare species, young male jazz vocalists. Opening the competition to male vocalists will make this event more exciting than ever!” said Grammy-winning bassist and composer Christian McBride, NJPAC’s Jazz Advisor and a competition judge from 2014 through 2016.
“‘Sassy’ had a divine voice that inspired so many people throughout her career up to today. Her instrument, the voice, is the basis for the Sarah Vaughan International Vocal Competition. Opening the competition to all voices, regardless of gender, seems like the natural progression,” added Tony- and Grammy-winning singer DeeDee Bridgewater, who served as judge during the contest’s initial round in 2012.
Over its first five years, 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 and Arianna Neikrug, as well as last year’s champion, London’s Deelee Dubé.
The only international vocal competition of its kind in the world, the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition culminates in a rousing performance on the final day of the TD James Moody Jazz Festival, held in Newark each November.
Beginning May 15, vocalists can enter by submitting recordings of at least three songs at sarahvaughancompetition.com. The public can vote for their favorites; songs have been played, commented on, and voted for, hundreds of thousands of times over the course of the competition’s five years. Five finalists, who will be announced on October 10, will perform at NJPAC on November 12 before a panel of judges that will include legendary vocalists Ann Hampton Callaway, Vanessa Rubin and Will Downing, and composer and percussionist T.S. Monk, along with WBGO’s Gary Walker.
The competition is open to all vocalists who are 16 years old or older, and who are not presently signed to a major record label. Singers must submit audio clips online through a website powered by Indaba Music (sarahvaughancompetition.com) by September 5 at 5pm.
Think you have what it takes? The judges are looking for vocal quality, musicality, technique, performance, individuality, artistic interpretation – and the ability to swing. The grand prize winner of the coveted SASSY Award will receive a cash prize and a recording deal with Concord Music Group.
The incomparable singer Sarah Vaughan was born in Newark in 1924 and was known as “Sassy” throughout her life for her vibrant personality. After winning the top prize of $10 at the Apollo Theatre’s amateur night at age 18 in 1942, she went on to record with the greatest names in jazz, including Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Billy Eckstine and countless others.
The 2017 Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition finals will take place on Sunday, November 12 at 3 p.m. in NJPAC’s intimate Victoria Theater. For tickets, which go on sale May 19, call 1.888.GO.NJPAC (1.888.466.5722) or visit njpac.org.
To learn more, visit www.td.com.
NJPAC, One Center Street, Newark, New Jersey 07102
www.njpac.org or 888.GO.NJPAC (888.466.5722)