2013 Thelonious Monk Jazz Saxophone Competition

I wanted to share this video that is on Youtube of the 2013 Thelonious Monk Saxophone competition.  I first heard of the Thelonious Monk competition in the early 90’s.  I believe the competition started out in the late 80’s as a piano competition and then started including other instruments in the early 90’s.   1991 was the first saxophone competition.  The winners were:

1991 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition
Smithsonian Institution’s Baird Auditorium
Washington, DC

First Place: Joshua Redman, California
Second Place: Eric Alexander, New York
Third Place: Chris Potter, New York and Tim Warfield, Pennsylvania

Needless to say,  if you follow jazz saxophone you know who these three guys are. (I would love to see a video of this competition!)

There have been 4 saxophone competitions since 1991 with first prize winners like Jon Gordon, Seamus Blake, Jon Irabagon, and last year Melissa Aldana.  I’m personally not a big fan of judging 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners in a competition of players at this level.  At this stage of playing,  each player has their own voice and concept.  When it comes to judging who comes in which place it seems kind of silly to me.  If you looks at the names from 1991 (Joshua Redman, Eric Alexander and Chris Potter) you can’t really say who is the best or who is first.  (Although we all have a right to our personal opinions…….)


2013 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition
Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater
Washington, D.C.

First Place: Melissa Aldana, Chile
Second Place: Tivon Pennicott, Georgia
Third Place: Godwin Louis, Connecticut

That being said, I still think the Thelonious Monk competition is a great way to keep apprised of the current upcoming young players on the scene……….   The truth is, I will be buying new music as long as I am alive.  The young and fresh players that pop up on the scene year after year are the ones who keep the music interesting and active.   Watch this 4 and a half hour video yourself and check out some of the new voices and passions on the scene today.  As long as these young players keep playing jazz is alive!  Support them by buying their music and going to their shows………….Great job to everyone who participated last year!!

As an addition to this post, I thought I would list the names of the finalists and the time mark where they start playing in case you want to jump around or listen to someone specific.

Clay Pritchard  16:29

Danny Janklow  31:00

Tivon Pennicott  52:15

Ben Van Gelder  67:00

Andrew Gould  86:00

Braxton Cook  103:00

Mike Lebrun  118:35

Michael Griffin  160:51

Dean Tsur  177:56

Godwin Louis  190:06

Sam Dillon  207:04

Melissa Aldana  225:30

Lukas Gabric  241:56

Steve About Steve

Steve Neff has been playing and teaching saxophone and jazz improvisation around the New England area for the last 30 years. He is the author of many effective jazz improvisation methods as well as founding the popular jazz video lesson site Neffmusic.com.


  1. Wow, thank you Steve. this super interesting I will have a look to it.

    I also wish I could see that competition in 1991 and see the performance from those three Sax Lions, Joshua, Eric and Chris. It is funny to see that Chris Potter at that time endend on the third position. In my humble opinion he has grown into an incredible player setting new milestones for the saxophone just like his predecessors Michael Brecker, John Coltrane or Charlie Parker. Eric and Joshua are monster players but Chris is just thinking the horn like an alien….

  2. Avatar James Adams says

    Hi Steve. I’m a big fan of the site and all the work you do. I was intrigued about the Thelonious Monk competition and some of the really great players that have played at it- like you though I have reservations about these types of competitions and how they are assessed- judging players who are forming or have largely formed their identity and voice- but I do understand that a competition like this can give invaluable exposure to players. I was happy in many ways to also see a female winner and imagine it will encourage and enthuse many younger female players. I was interested though to see an article discussing the absence of Grace Kelly and Noah Preminger which I will link here for anyone that is interested to read.

    Thanks Steve and all the best.

  3. I went to that Monk competition in 1991. Tim Warfield was arguably the fan favorite that night. Melissa Aldana’s dad was also in that competition! Victor Goines [Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra] and Todd Williams who used the tenor player in Wynton’s quintet at the time were also involved. Trust me, Joshua, Eric, and Chris were not head and shoulders above the others. This was as serious as it gets as far as competitions go.

  4. I was part of the 1991 competition, scariest gig in my life. I was on after Chris who I think was 19 at the time…he played Moment’s Notice (on alto) and the jury stopped him half way through the song. He came off stage seething. He thought he had been kicked out but the jury had heard enough to pass him on to the final.
    It was such a strange situation, everyone was so young and played so well. I had never experienced anything like that. I was one of the top young players in Holland at the time. I got my ass kicked so hard, that competiton was the best saxophone lesson in my life.

    If I remember correctly there were 26 particpants. Six went to the semi-finals. I didn’t make it but that contest changed my life. Standing in the elevator with Benny Carter and shaking hands with Jackie McLean was already worth the trip from Holland.
    Needless to say Joshua, Eric, Chris and Tim were absolutely mind-blowingly incredible and deserved to win.

    • Wow! I can’t imagine being in a competition and having to go on after Chris Potter! I think I have had nightmares like that!! Thanks for sharing!

Speak Your Mind