Nov 18, 2014 View All News

Ashleigh Smith Wins 3rd Annual Sarah Vaughan Vocal Competition


Produced in association with JAZZ ROOTS and WBGO Jazz88 

Larry Rosen Productions and Concord Music Group Provide Exclusive Recording Contract 

(Newark, New Jersey – November 18, 2014) Ashleigh Smith from Lewisville, Texas won the 3rd Annual Sarah Vaughan Competition held on Sunday, November 16 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) in Newark. NJPAC, Larry Rosen Productions (LRP), and Concord Music Group have created a landmark agreement to provide an exclusive recording contract offer to record and release an album on Concord Records to the winner of the 2014 Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition, now known as the SASSY awards. In addition to a recording contract offer, Smith also received a $5,000 cash award. The 2nd Place Winner of the Competition was Shacara Rogers, from Washington, DC, who was awarded a $1,500 cash prize and the 3rd Place Winner was Sarah McKenzie, from Boston, MA, who received a $500.00 cash award.

“I am thrilled to be the winner of this year’s competition,” remarked Smith. “I cannot explain how honored I am to be the recipient of the 2014 Sassy Award! Sarah Vaughan is the epitome of what it means to be a jazz vocalist and to even be thought of as good enough to grace the stage in her honor was more than enough for me.”

The Concord arrangement is a three-year commitment by the record label to present an exclusive recording contract offer to the winner of the annual competition. The deal was struck between Concord GM Mark Wexler and the Sarah Vaughan Competition producer, Larry Rosen. This recording prize is in addition to the package of awards already presented to the Competition winner, which includes a $5,000 cash award and the opportunity to perform as part of the JAZZ ROOTS Concert Series.

“All of us at Concord are thrilled that Ashleigh Smith won the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition,” said Mark Wexler, General Manager/Senior Vice President, Concord-Telarc Group. “It’s great to be involved in the process of finding and nurturing new artists, and working together in the development of their careers.”

Smith was the first runner-up in the first Sarah Vaughan Competition that was held at NJPAC back in 2012. Smith said winning this year’s award will allow her to share her love for jazz and music in general with a larger audience. She is looking forward to working on her album to tell her own story through music, to meeting new friends and to creating new experiences along the way.


“I hope with the opportunity that winning this award provides, that I am able to let the world know jazz is still thriving,” said Smith. “It still needs to be heard and it will continue to be heard. I thank NJPAC, Larry Rosen and the entire judging panel for giving me this gift! I plan to hit the ground running and make even more music for all to enjoy.”


The Sarah Vaughan Competition is the only international jazz vocal competition of its kind and provides a platform for one outstanding jazz singer to launch a career within the music business. Each year, NJPAC partners with Indaba Music’s platform to launch the online portion of the competition, calling to action Indaba’s global music community. The first two years of the competition saw nearly 1,500 total song submissions, which music fans from around the globe shared, listened, voted, commented on, and liked nearly one million times online.  Furthermore, the competition received over 2 million hits during last year’s competition, making this the world’s most visible jazz vocal competition. Judges for the competition included Grammy Award-winning bassist Christian McBride, WBGO morning jazz host Gary Walker, multiplatinum-selling artist and composer Ann Hampton Callaway, multiple Grammy nominee Nnenna Freelon, and Peter Primont former CEO of Cherry Lane Music Publishing.

"This year's first place winner, Miss Ashleigh Smith, is a huge talent with a dynamite voice,” said Larry Rosen, creator and producer of the Sarah Vaughan Vocal competition.  “We are proud to be an integral part of launching her career.  The Sarah Vaughan Vocal Competition, now in its 3rd year, has proven itself to be the foremost female jazz vocal competition in the world".  ​

The competition itself recalls the humble beginnings of jazz icon Sarah Vaughan who, back in 1942, was a Newark teenager and winner of an amateur singing contest at the legendary Apollo Theater. That memorable night helped launch the lifework of one of the most successful, influential jazz vocalists in the history of American music.

 “It has been decades since Sarah Vaughan first graced the stage at the Apollo Theater but her memory lives on.  That evening, which singlehandedly changed Vaughan’s life, is what we replicate through this jazz vocal competition,” says John Schreiber President and CEO of NJPAC.  “We are thrilled to offer the next generation of talent an historic opportunity to carry on Sarah Vaughan’s legacy.”

About Ashleigh Smith

Sultry, soulful, and sincere are what audiences have said of up and coming vocalist Ashleigh Smith. From the small town of LaGrange, this Georgia Peach is new to Texas soil; however, she is no stranger to the stage. On scholarship as a vocal jazz major at the University of North Texas, under the instruction of Rosana Eckert & Dr. Timothy Brent, music has always been Ashleigh's passion and first love. She has performed for thousands of people across the state of Georgia and has begun to do the same in Texas, singing at private parties and other venues around North Texas, including the large Denton Jazz and Arts Festival for the past three years.


Smith is making her mark on the DFW (Dallas Fort Worth) area performing with many of Dallas’s top bands, such as the TOP Band (lead female vocalist), Professor D, Domino Effect, Downtown Fever, & The Knice 2 Know Band (K2K), & The Krewe of Swing. She has been awarded the prestigious Downbeat Student Award for Best Undergraduate Jazz Vocal Performance in 2011 and the Outstanding Undergraduate Vocal Jazz Soloist in 2012. She is a member of the world renown Jazz Singers 1 with whom she has also won a 2012 Downbeat Award.


Her vocal talent has also provided her the opportunity to travel and perform as a soloist and chorister in Washington D.C, Northern Ireland, Orlando, Florida, and New York City, and most recently she has shared the stage with the world renown vocal jazz group, The Manhattan Transfer, and the phenomenal Jon Hendricks during the Kennedy Center’s “Swing, Swing, Swing” concert series. Most recently, she was awarded the opportunity to do background studio work for Grammy award-winning artist Chrisette Michele.


Smith’s style is able to fit almost any genre with ease and finesse and while she takes perfecting her craft seriously, she fills every performance with the same fun she fills her life with. With the ability, style and grace to move from jazz, R&B, neo-soul, and funk, Smith’s charisma, sincerity, and energy make her a starlet worth watching.


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About Shacara Rogers

Shacara Rogers, born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has been singing and performing since the age of five. Her secondary instrument is the piano. She has recently graduated with her Bachelor of Music Degree from Howard University under Professor Jessica Boykin-Settles and continued her Jazz studies with Professor Connaitre Miller as a Graduate Teaching Assistant. She has been a member of the Afro Blue Jazz Ensemble since the spring of 2010 and is now a soloist for the group. She has also served three years as a member and soloist of Howard Gospel Choir, and is the lead vocalist for the groups GWN (Group Without A Name) and Ebony Rose. She has performed at many different arenas with artists like Geri Allen, Terri Lyne Carrington, Kim Waters, Lizz Wright, Dianne Reeves, Al Jarreau, Patrice Rushing, Esperanza Spalding and many others. She was recently awarded a 2014 DownBeat Award for Graduate College Outstanding Performance: Vocal Soloist.


About Sarah McKenzie

Sarah McKenzie has been described as an Australian national treasure, an acclaimed jazz vocalist and pianist whose album Close Your Eyes won “Best Jazz Album” at the 2012 ARIA Awards (Australian Grammys). She has performed throughout Australia and Europe, has toured with Michael Bublé and Chris Botti opened for John Patitucci, and Studied with NEA Master Johnny Mandel.  Now based in Boston, Sarah had the honor of being invited to perform her own material with The Boston Pops at Symphony Hall. After her highly praised performances at Melbourne International Jazz Festival, the Umbria Jazz Festival, The Boston Arts Festival, Stonnington Jazz Festival, she has been invited to play the Monterey and Dizzies Jazz Club NYC in 2014. Sarah recently graduated from Berklee College of Music on a full tuition scholarship.


About the Competition

Five finalists performed at the TD James Moody Democracy of Jazz Festival in NJPAC’s Victoria Theater on November 16, 2014 before a panel of judges comprised of some of the leading jazz vocalists today as well as others in the jazz and recording industry.  The Grand prize winner has been presented an offer to receive a Concord Records exclusive recording contract, a $5,000 cash prize, and an opportunity to perform on JAZZ ROOTS concerts across the country. The 2nd Place Winner received a $1,500 cash prize and the 3rd Place Winner received $500.00.


The competition was open to solo female vocalists who were not signed to a major record label. Singers submitted audio clips online through an interactive platform powered by Indaba Music. Through three preliminary rounds, public voting on the website (with 4,525 votes cast), members of the Jazz Education Network (JEN) and Larry Rosen narrowed down the field to five finalists in an effort to discover vocalists who embody Sarah Vaughan with swinging, thought-provoking and inspiring performances reflecting their own understanding of the work. Singers were judged on vocal quality, musicality, technique, performance, individuality, artistic interpretation and ability to swing.


This competition was held on November 16th at the Victoria Theater and featured performances by the finalists as well as rare concert footage of Sarah Vaughan.  It was produced by JAZZ ROOTS:  A Larry Rosen Jazz Series with NJPAC, WBGO Jazz88.3FM, the Jazz Education Network (JEN) and Indaba Music and Concord Music Group.

For contest rules and further information visit 



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The New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), located in downtown Newark, New Jersey, is among the largest performing arts centers in the United States and is the artistic, cultural, educational and civic center of New Jersey – where great performances and events enhance and transform lives every day.  NJPAC brings diverse communities together, providing access to all and showcasing the State’s and the world’s best artists while acting as a leading catalyst in the revitalization of its home city.  Through its extensive Arts Education programs, NJPAC is shaping the next generation of artists and arts enthusiasts.  NJPAC has attracted nearly 9 million visitors (including more than 1 million children) since opening its doors in 1997, and nurtures meaningful and lasting relationships with each of its constituents.  Visit or call 1-888-GO-NJPAC for more information.


JAZZ ROOTS: A Larry Rosen Jazz Series is a concert and educational program created for performing arts centers across America. The JAZZ ROOTS series was first launched in 2008 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County. Subsequently, the series has been presented in Dallas at the AT&T Performing Arts Center; the Palladium Theater in Carmel, Indiana; The Smith Center in Las Vegas; the Cobb Energy Centre in Atlanta; NJPAC in Newark, New Jersey; and now debuting at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Orlando. Rosen is the producer of the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition and the SASSY AWARDS and is currently working with BAM in Brooklyn developing a music-based educational curriculum for the New York City school system. Artists presented on JAZZ ROOTS concerts include: Dave Brubeck, Sonny Rollins, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, Chris Botti, Sergio Mendes, Wynton Marsalis, George Benson, Michael Feinstein, Paquito D’Rivera, John McLaughlin, Patti Austin, Aaron Neville, Count Basie Orchestra, Ramsey Lewis, Esperanza Spalding, Take 6, Arturo Sandoval, Eliane Elias, Ivan Lins, Buddy Guy, Dr. John, Manhattan Transfer, Al Jarreau, Dave Sanborn, Jon Hendricks, Dave Grusin, and many more. The JAZZ ROOTS series includes educational and outreach programs that organically connect to local community groups, art centers, universities and local boards of education. See


Mr. Rosen is a musician, producer, executive producer and co-founder of GRP Records, one of the industries premier record labels. Through his record productions, he has produced more than 350 albums, with more than 80 nominated for Grammy awards, winning 33 Grammys. Mr. Rosen is also the producer and director of many award-winning TV specials including, JAZZ and the PHILHARMONIC, An Evening with Dave Grusin, The GRP ALL-STAR BIG BAND LIVE, and more. He is currently producing a seven-part, multi-media project with hosts Quincy Jones and Phil Ramone titled  RECORDING: The History of Recorded Music.


About Concord Music Group

Concord Music Group, based in Beverly Hills, CA is one of the largest independent record and music publishing companies in the world.  A small sampling of the company’s active roster includes Sir Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, James Taylor, Alison Krauss, Valerie June, Ben Harper, Chick Corea, Steve Martin, Esperanza Spalding and Seether.  Concord’s catalog includes legends such as John Coltrane, John Fogerty, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Ray Charles, Miles Davis, Little Richard, Otis Redding, Thelonious Monk, Isaac Hayes, Ella Fitzgerald and Tony Bennett, among many others. The company’s celebrated family of labels includes Concord Records, Concord Jazz, Hear Music, Fantasy, Stax, Telarc, Milestone, Riverside, Specialty, Prestige and Rounder Records.   Additionally, Concord has recently partnered with independent label Loma Vista Recordings whose illustrious artist roster includes Spoon, St. Vincent, Little Dragon, Birds of Tokyo, Ghost BC, Manchester Orchestra and Papa.


Concord Music Group’s releases are distributed throughout the world by Universal Music Group and are regularly licensed for use in major motion pictures, television and advertising.  In March of 2013, Wood Creek Capital Management, LLC acquired Concord Music Group in partnership with an individual investor group that includes members of Concord's senior management. As an investment manager at the forefront of intellectual property investing, Wood Creek's confidence in Concord underscores a belief in the appreciating value of great music content around the globe.


WBGO Jazz 88.3FM/ Founded in 1979, WBGO (Newark Public Radio, Inc.) is a publicly supported cultural institution that champions jazz at WBGO 88.3 FM in Newark, New Jersey and worldwide via WBGO is the recognized world leader in jazz radio and one of the most respected jazz presenters in the country, and offers award-winning news and innovative children’s programs. Beyond reaching 350,000 weekly listeners (including 17,000 contributing members) on air, online and via mobile devices, WBGO presents live broadcasts from prestigious jazz venues and produces acclaimed programs for NPR heard by millions.


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Indaba Music Indaba Music is a technology platform and marketing services company home to a community of over 850,000 musicians worldwide, from emerging artists to Grammy Award winners. Indaba expanded into the Licensing realm with Indaba Sync (, a portal for licensing the best emerging content from the Indaba Music community. Indaba Music pioneered the online music collaboration and community space when it launched in 2007, enabling anyone with internet access to create, edit and mix studio-quality music online.

Indaba Music now provides musicians with opportunities ranging from remix contests to sync and licensing opportunities to branded marketing programs. Indaba Music currently boasts musicians from 205 countries and territories. To date, Indaba Music contests have featured artists and brands including Daft Punk, Red Bull, Snoop Dogg, Peter Gabriel, Linkin Park, Yo-Yo Ma, Microsoft, Paul Simon, Converse, Foster The People, Bacardi and Usher.


Jazz Education Network The Jazz Education Network is dedicated to building the jazz arts community by advancing education, promoting performance, and developing new audiences. With a home base in the United States, and members in more than 22 countries, this thriving organization hosts a popular annual conference that serves teachers, students, artists, performing arts presenters, music industry partners, and more. It runs ongoing programs of scholarships for students and educators, student composition showcases, community outreach, virtual workshops, music and instrument donations to schools in need, and mentoring with jazz pros and students.