The winner of the BBC Young Musician Jazz Award is trumpeter Alexandra Ridout, aged 17.
Jon Turney attended the final in Cardiff. He writes:
Cutting contests are passé but the advent of a jazz strand in the BBC’s venerable Young Musician extravaganza means there is still harmless pleasure to be had watching talented new generation players competing for a title. Jazz, as accompanist Gwilym Simcock stressed, is more co-operative than competitive and – a few passing nerves aside – the five finalists in the biennial contest’s second edition seemed to delight in working alongside Simcock’s trio, with Yuri Goloubev on bass and James Maddren on drums.
The contest is a decorous affair. This is jazz on its way to college, or soon to graduate. It would be a surprise to hear anyone inspired by, say, Peter Brotzmann. The form is a standard or two, probably including one from the American songbook. Add an original piece – a demand not made of the classical players – the expectation to improvise, TV lights, and the distractions of cameras on booms sidling in for close- ups, and it seems a stern test.
Happily, all five players who presented brief sets to a capacity crowd in the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama’s beautiful concert space were as self-possessed as they are talented. Tom Ridout, first up, began boldly on unaccompanied soprano sax, then switched to authoritative tenor mid-set, (“Stella by Starlight’s a ballad but I’m going to play it up… because I feel like it”). A second switch, to recorder, for his last tune, perhaps dissipated the strong impression he made at the outset.
Pianist Elliot Sansom, like Ridout at the upper end of the contest’s age range at 21, meshed with the trio like a seasoned pro while Simcock sat out. He didn’t offer new insights into Miles’ Solar, but a beautiful treatment of Ralph Towner’s Tramonto and the dramatic ending of his own Prelude held the attention.
Alexandra Ridout, just 17, showed her poise, shining tone, and instrumental command with an unaccompanied trumpet intro on Yesterdays, moved on to a jolly composition of her own, Buttons, and a sparkling duet with Simcock on Herbie Hancock’s Sonrisa. Stevie Wonder’s Golden Lady to finish grooved convincingly.
An interval gave audience, and rhythm section, a break, then 15 year-old pianist Noah Stoneman opened with confident, unflashy maturity on Elsa, a tune associated with Bill Evans. Two more pieces maintained that mood, then he brought on Simcock to play piano while he switched to organ: a bold move, and great fun.
Saxophonist Tom Smith, now 20, was a returning finalist from 2014, and really went for it this time, from a confidently funky opening on Groove Merchant to some Coltrane-inspired flights on Cedar Walton’s wonderful Fantasy in D.
Five fine musicians, but how to choose between them? All inescapably subjective, but I was reserving my vote for anyone who could go beyond super-competence, which after all our various conservatories mass-produce these days, to offer at least one of those moments that turn an averagely enjoyable gig into something really special. For me, that was Tom Smith. He fluffed a couple of notes on tenor when his solo inspiration took off, but his own splendidly moody Blackout seemed to me the best realised single performance of the evening, with an acrid alto solo that really marked him out as a player to seek out again.
The judges’ winner, though, was Alexandra Ridout, younger but obviously a player of huge promise. You can judge for yourself when the final is shown on BBC4 television on 13th May, or on BBC Radio 3 who are devoting a special programme to the Jazz Award on Saturday 26 March.
– The judges were Tim Garland, Gwyneth Herbert, Zoe Rahman, Byron Wallen and the Jury was chaired by Julian Joseph.
– Commenting on her win, Alexandra said: “The whole thing has been an amazing opportunity! I can’t believe I even got this far. I wasn’t expecting to win but now that I have, it’s incredible, and playing with the trio was the best bit, they are just so good!”
– BIOGRAPHY: Alexandra Ridout wrote her own brief autobiography in a Kickstarter last summer: “I come from a musical family and started playing the trumpet when I was 8. I’ve always enjoyed playing both classical and jazz and still do at The Junior Department at The Royal Academy of Music. I play in the National Youth Jazz Collective and we have performed all over the country, recently performing in The London Jazz Festival and at The House of Commons with the legendary Dave Holland. I will be starting my sixth form studies in September at The Purcell School of Music.”
LINK: Report on the 2014 Final