The International Songwriting Competition, an annual contest (now in its 12th year) for composers that presents awards in 22 categories, announced its finalists last weekend. Among the 325 names on the list, there is exactly one from the District: tenor saxophonist Elijah Jamal Balbed, a finalist in the Jazz category for his tune “Checking In.”
The competition, which is open to anyone in the world who has written an original song, offers one overall grand prize of $25,000 in cash. In addition, first-, second-, and third-place awards are given in each category, with prizes from the competition’s various sponsors.
Balbed’s entry—-the title track from his CD released last fall—-is a particularly strong one. “Checking In” is so soulful it practically gets up on its own and does the boogaloo. Its melody is, in essence, a collection of funky riffs, but he threads them together beautifully with carefully chosen chord changes and a bouncy, danceable groove. It’s helped by a seamless performance, featuring Balbed and trumpeter Alex Norris trading solos on the front line with the rhythm section (pianist Harry Appelman, bassist Eric Wheeler, drummer C.V. Dashiell III) giddily pushing them along.
Still, Balbed has some tough competition. Among his 13 co-finalists in jazz are the singers Gregory Porter and Rene Marie. The former is a rising star currently garnering a lot of attention in the jazz world; the latter, a remarkable writer who is also a rich musical storyteller. And unfortunately, the public gets no vote on the main awards —- however, there is a “People’s Voice” award in which you can vote for your favorite among the finalists.
Winners will be announced in April or early May. Until then, you can listen to “Checking In” below.