Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition: SASSY Awards
Discover the jazz greats of tomorrow today at this exciting afternoon of performances by the five finalists in this seventh annual event, initiated in 2012 by NJPAC and WBGO in honor of Newark’s “divine” jazz icon.
Rising vocalists from around the globe compete for the chance to perform in the finals of the competition, also known as “The SASSY Awards.” The only event of its kind, this competition for outstanding jazz singers gives the winner a platform for embarking on a career in the music business.
Singers will be evaluated by a panel of special guest judges, and rated for vocal quality, musicality, technique, performance, individuality, artistic interpretation, and ability to swing. The grand prize winner will receive a $5,000 cash prize.
Judges include Stefon Harris, NJPAC’s Artistic Advisor of Jazz Education; 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.
This year's finalists are Oleg Akkuratov, Gabrielle Cavassa, Olivia Chindamo, Toscha Comeaux and Laurin Talese. For biographies, click on Program Notes above.
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.