Three Berklee Saxophonists Compete for Top International Title

Kimberly Ashton
September 9, 2013
Melissa Aldana

The Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition is regarded as the most prestigious contest in the genre, a jazz Olympics of sorts in which an elite group of instrumentalists compete to be recognized as the best in the world.

Next week, 13 saxophonists will contend for the honor—and a quarter of them will be Berklee alumni. These three are Godwin Louis ('08) of Bridgeport, Connecticut; Melissa Aldana ('09) of Santiago, Chile; and Dean Tsur ('12) of Timrat, Israel.

“It’s an international bunch,” says Bill Pierce, chair of Berklee’s Woodwind Department. “It speaks to what we do at the school and the student body as a whole.”

The competition focuses on a different instrument each year, rotating among the piano, bass, drums, hand drums, trumpet, guitar, and vocals. This is the fourth saxophone competition since 1987, when the first Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition was held.

If an alumnus snags this year’s top prize, he or she will be the second Berklee saxophonist to do so. Seamus Blake ('92) won in 2002 and has since enjoyed a prolific career. Berklee alumni have also won first place in guitar (Lage Lund, 2005), trumpet (Darren Barrett, 1997), and piano (Jacky Terrasson, 1993). Moreover, nearly half of the participants in the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance program have come from Berklee.

The contest’s winner will receive a $25,000 scholarship and a guaranteed recording contract with Concord Music Group. The scholarships may be used for college-level jazz studies or private, specialized instructions.

The semifinals, held at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., are Sunday, September 15, from 12:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Each semifinalist will perform for 15 minutes. Three artists will be advanced to the finals, at the Kennedy Center, on Monday, September 16.

Pierce says he hopes a Berklee alumnus wins the title, but that “even if we don’t win I hope we make a good showing, that people know we still take care of business ... and as exceptional as they are, they are a microcosm of the saxophonists at Berklee.”