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Relive the 2023 American Pianists Awards from Indianapolis

Finalists of the American Pianists Awards
American Pianists Association
Finalists of the American Pianists Awards

For an American jazz pianist on the rise, there may be no greater honor than the Cole Porter Fellowship. Bestowed every four years by the American Pianists Association, it's the prize at the end of a rigorous competition, and an excellent boost for an artistic career. In fact, each of the last four Cole Porter fellows has been featured on Jazz Night in America — including Sullivan Fortner, who returned to serve on the competition jury this year.

In this episode of Jazz Night, we'll spend an hour at the competition finals, hearing from Fortner and others. The main attraction, of course, would be the five extraordinary young pianists vying for the prize. We'll get to know each of them, and hear highlights from their trio performances during the Club Finals this past April at The Cabaret in downtown Indianapolis.

Finalists of the American Pianists Awards in Indianapolis, Ind.
/ American Pianists Association
American Pianists Association
Finalists of the American Pianists Awards in Indianapolis, Ind.

Three of the finalists — Caelan Cardello, Esteban Castro and Isaiah J. Thompson — came up together through the jazz education pipeline in New Jersey, via organizations like Jazz House Kids (where our host, Christian McBride, serves as artistic director). So they relate more as friends than competitors. The same is true of Paul Cornish, who was born and raised in Houston, and Thomas Linger, who hails from Waynesville, N.C. As Castro aptly puts it: "This really feels like a family."

Of course, it's also still a competition. If you don't already know who emerged as the latest Cole Porter Fellow, we won't spoil the results until the end of the show. So you can listen and judge for yourself. The sky-high quality of the music is sure to make that a tough call — even as it brings glad tidings that the future of jazz piano is in capable hands.


Rhythm section: Nick Tucker, bass; Kenny Phelps, drums

Pianists: Caelan Cardello, Esteban Castro, Paul Cornish, Thomas Linger, Isaiah J. Thompson

Set List:

  • It's All Right With Me (Cole Porter)
  • Rakin' and Scrapin' (Harold Mabern)
  • You Go to My Head (J. Fred Coots, Haven Gillespie)
  • In Walked Bud (Thelonious Monk)
  • A Star is Born (Paul Cornish)
  • Funky Blues (Johnny Hodges)
  • Credits:

    Nate Chinen, writer; Trevor Smith, producer; Lee Mergner, field producer; Ron Scalzo, episode mix; Suraya Mohamed, project manager; Keith Jenkins, vice president of visuals and strategy at NPR Music; Anya Grundmann, executive producer; Christian McBride, host.

    Special thanks to Lee Clifford and Don Lucoff

    Copyright 2023 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

    [Copyright 2024 WRTI Your Classical and Jazz Source]
    Trevor joined the WBGO Development Department in April of 2017 and currently handles grant writing and institutional giving initiatives as the Coordinator of Corporate and Foundation Relations.