Jazzmeia Horn wins Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition
(Published: November 11, 2013)
When Jazzmeia Horn took the stage at last year's Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition as the winner of the Rising Star award (for younger performers) she sounded ready to go head to head with the singers aiming for the top $5,000 prize.
This year, she was back - and that first-place award was hers.
A student at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in Manhattan, Horn gave an unpredictable, uninhibited and thrilling performance at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center yesterday.
After an exuberant, rhythmically charged "I Remember" complete with brassy solos, she worked her voice into spirals as she described the dizzy "spinning around" of love in "You Go to My Head." In "East of the Sun" she mined her voice for new colors, with some explosive top notes, a siren wail and occasional deliberate rawness.
She had at her disposal lovely, smoky low notes as well as a full-on power belt. She gave highly personal, deeply felt performances as she plied her arsenal of tempo, dynamic and timbre choices.
Her presence was strong as well, as she confidently called out to the accompanying Mike Renzi trio and audience as though this were her regular band and crowd.
She kicked up a heel or two from beneath her long white gown as the stage lights caught the glitter strewn throughout her hair. Aptly named as a tribute to her parents' love of music, she received a standing ovation for her performance.
The first runner-up, Barbra Lica gave polished performances of "Honeysuckle Rose," "P.S. I Love You" and "Graduation Blues", with a playful, conversational stage presence - in the last song, she even improvised a lyric about singing in the competition.
Her sweet, cool tone had the retro allure of a pin-up image. In a pre-performance video, she spoke of being drawn to the romance of standards, and it showed. She received an award of $1,500.
Camille Thurman, the second runner-up, pulled out all the stops that could be expected of a vocalist, and then some, as she also played saxophone. Her virtuosic scat solos seemed limitless in speed, shape and range - with a heavy (maybe too heavy) reliance on sky-high whistle tones. She sang "Skylark," "Bye Bye Blackbird" and "I Thought About You" and received $500.
The other finalists included the accomplished Lydia Harrell and the bright-voiced Teira Church.
The competition, also known as the SASSY Awards - named after the beloved, Newark-born jazz singer (and her nickname) - took place for the second time at NJPAC as part of the TD James Moody Democracy of Jazz Festival. The judges were vocalist Al Jarreau, The Manhattan Transfer's Janis Siegel, vocalist Gretchen Parlato, WBGO host Gary Walker and musician and producer Larry Rosen. Rhonda Hamilton, also of WBGO, hosted. Vocal quality, musicality, technique and interpretation were among judging criteria.
Last year's winner, Cyrille Aimée, recently performed at NJPAC and is also part of an upcoming off-Broadway revue of Sondheim songs, "A Bed and a Chair," co-starring Bernadette Peters, Norm Lewis and Jeremy Jordan.
This year's "Rising Star" winner was Kate Davis. A stylish singer and bassist, in "Sometimes I'm Happy" and the group's final tribute medley of songs associated with Vaughan, like Horn last year, she seemed on par with the finalists.