Alexander Bone wins first BBC Young Musician Jazz Award

17-year-old saxophonist wins inaugural ‘jazz category’ in Cardiff, as Neil McKim discovers

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The grand piano has just been wheeled off the stage and a rostrum set up with a stylish silver prize placed on top. The TV cameramen are taking a break and the audience is waiting… and waiting. These were the closing minutes of last Saturday’s final of the first ever BBC Young Musician Jazz Award, as the judges – including UK jazz luminaries such as pianist Julian Joseph, keyboardist Django Bates, and saxophonists Jason Yarde and Trish Clowes – were finding it very difficult to select an outright winner.

Given the incredible standard of the five finalists who had been performing that evening at Cardiff’s Welsh College of Music and Drama, it’s hardly surprising it was such a close contest. The audience had just been treated to a showcase of spectacular teenage jazz talent, as each finalist performed with the backing of the Gwilym Simcock Trio – itself an amazing opportunity for any youngster.

And then the announcement came: ‘The winner of the first BBC Young Musician Jazz Award is… Alexander Bone (above).’ This was well-deserved for the 17-year-old from Darlington, who had opened his set with a confident version of ‘On Green Dolphin Street’, before bringing the hall to a rapt standstill with his heartfelt rendition of ‘My Funny Valentine’. His own composition, ‘Messed Up Shape’, with its propulsive drum groove, raised a huge round of applause.

Of the runners-up, saxophonist Sean Payne opened the evening as the youngest finalist (13). He was clearly at ease playing a range of styles, from Billy Strayhorn to Chick Corea. Next was bassist Freddie Jensen (14), who displayed a formidable technique and resonant tone, with repertoire including Pat Metheny. Meanwhile, trumpeter Jake Labazzi (16) showed incredible mastery of his instrument – and the flugelhorn. Saxophonist Tom Smith (18) played one of the many highlights of night – Michael Brecker’s ‘Delta City Blues’, with it’s complex clucking tune, raising one of the loudest audience responses.

It has been a long journey for the finalists in this new jazz category of BBC Young Musician, which has been running alongside the long-established classical one. From 50 initial applicants, who sent in DVD entries of themselves performing – for last October’s deadline – these were whittled down to 23 who could proceed to the second round. For this each musician performed with a professional jazz trio, before the five finalists were selected. For the final it was stipulated that each must include a piece that they composed themselves.

The lack of many girl entrants is something that has surprised the organisers of this year’s Award and is something they hope to address in the future.

On announcing the winner, Julian Joseph was keen to point out how close the final had been. ‘There can only be one winner and an interesting thing about our adjudication is that every single contestant, at some stage in our discussion was the winner.’ He was clearly delighted with how the first jazz category final has gone. ‘It gives all of us a great pleasure to be here and be a part of a competition based on excellence.’

The final of the BBC Young Musician 2014 Jazz Award will be broadcast on BBC Four on Friday 23 May with further coverage on Radio 3

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