This morning on the New York Times‘ Arts Beat blog, Nate Chinen reports on this year’s batch of semifinalists for the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition, which focuses on the saxophone. There are 14 musicians headed to the semifinals at D.C.’s Museum of Natural History on Sept. 15; among the semifinalists is “Braxton Cooke, of Boston.”
The young alto saxophonist’s name is actually Braxton Cook, and he’s not from Boston. Cook, who works with trumpeter Christian Scott (aka Christian Atunde Adjuah), lives in New York now, but he grew up in Silver Spring, and was bowling over local jazz fans while still in high school with his powerful, impossibly limber alto playing. (He was a regular and favorite at HR-57’s weekly jam sessions, where he first knocked me off my feet.) That continued while he attended Georgetown University, and Cook has frequently returned to D.C. since his departure for New York to study music at Julliard (he graduated in May). He’s a hometown jazz cat.
This is big news for the local jazz scene, another potential notch in D.C.’s bedpost after Michigan Park native and Ellington School graduate Ben Williams won the bass competition in 2009. (He’s since become one of the fastest and highest rising stars in New York.)
But Cook has his work cut out for him. As Chinen notes, the deck is particularly stacked at this year’s competition: There are no rules about contestants’ level of career accomplishment or visibility, and as such this year fairly established players like Grace Kelly and Melissa Aldana are taking part. Kelly, in particular, is an up-and-coming star and onetime teenage phenomenon who’s received quite a bit of press attention over the years.
Make no mistake, though: Cook is, in jazz technical terms, a badass. He belongs on this stage, and he’s not going to be easy to beat.