It took Harlem church musical director and jazz pianist Aaron Diehl, 25, two tries before winning the 2011 American Pianists Association (APA) – Cole Porter Fellowship in Jazz competition in the city of Indianapolis. He wasn’t even going to apply this time, but for the encouragement and support of 2004 Cole Porter Fellow, pianist Adam Birnbaum.
“Adam showed me how important it was to support each other as developing artists. As a Fellow, I hope to continue in that spirit and find ways to collaborate with some of the many outstanding young musicians out here,” said Diehl, who will benefit from a $100,000 fellowship award that will help him with his burgeoning career for two years.
The APA puts on its Jazz Fellowship Awards every four years. About two years ago, a paneled jury anonymously previewed the CDs of 40 pianist-nominees before narrowing the field down to five finalists. Through last May’s preliminary round, Première Series and the recent Jazz Discovery Week (April 10-16) of performances, the winner was then chosen amongst five finalists.
As a part of the selection process, the five finalists performed traditional standards April 16th with renowned, multi-award-winning (a Tony, two Grammys, a Laurence Olivier) jazz vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater at the Athenaeum Theatre in Indianapolis. WFYI-FM Indianapolis NPR affiliate aired all of the semi-final and final concerts live, the APA website put the finalists’ concerts on its webstream for archive later, and parts of both the semi-finals and finals will be on NPR’s “JazzSet with Dee Dee Bridgewater” and Voice of America‘s “Jazz Hour.”
The 2011 Cole Porter Fellowship winner Aaron Diehl originally hails from Columbus, OH. He quickly found favor with Wynton Marsalis, earning a chance to tour with the trumpet icon’s septet – right out of high school. The hard-working, duty-bound Diehl initially turned Marsalis down [gasp!] because of another gig, but was able to work things out in the end.
The 2007 Juilliard grad – who initially viewed jazz as “old people’s music” (his musician grandfather Arthur Baskerville was a huge influence) – set himself apart early on as a distinctive, contemporary artist with a lot to say. He began amassing high-quality gigs with Jazz at the Lincoln Center Orchestra, the Boston Symphony Orchestra,Wycliffe Gordon, Marian McPartland’s NPR radio show – Piano Jazz, and several big European jazz festivals, as well as amassing notable honors, such as the Martin E. Segal award, Jazz Arts Group-Hank Marr Jazz Competition, and Outstanding Soloist at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Essentially Ellington Competition.
Today, the Manhattan-based piano player still gigs as much as possible while acting as the St. Joseph of the Holy Family Church in Harlem’s music director. He recorded his first CD, “Mozart Jazz,” in 2006 via the Pony Canyon label in Japan. The CD artfully blends jazz with classical music in a trio situation.