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Andrea Keller photo by Natasha Blankfield

The search is on for Australia’s leading young jazz pianists . Australia’s most prestigious jazz performance competition, the National Jazz Awards, returns in 2021 placing the spotlight on young, talented pianists.

Each year the Awards focus on a different instrument – piano, guitar, bass, saxophone, brass, drums or vocals.  The piano was last featured in 2013 with Joseph O’Connor taking out the first prize.

A highlight of the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues, one of Australia’s most significant jazz festivals, the National Jazz Awards provide encouragement, exposure and a financial boost to young musicians.

For over three decades the Awards have played a vital role in developing, showcasing and nurturing Australian talent.  Many past winners and finalists have gone on to achieve both national and international acclaim.

In 2020 vocalist Lauren Henderson took out first prize. Previous winners include Alex Hirlian (drums), James Macauley (trombone), Sam Anning (bass), Carl Morgan (guitar), Zac Hurren (saxophone), Phil Stack (bass), Julien Wilson (saxophone), Scott Tinkler (trumpet), Michelle Nicolle (vocals) and Barney McAll (piano).

Open to high-level pianists aged 36 or younger on or before December 31, pianists are invited to submit their application, including audio recordings of three pieces – a ballad, a blues and a piece by an Australian composer, by Sunday 1st August.  Full details of the Awards and how to enter are available on the Festival website.

Pianist and 1999 NJA winner Matt McMahon will serve as Chair of the judging panel and will be joined by renowned pianists ARIA Award winner Andrea Keller and ‘musician’s-musician’ Stephen Grant.

The judging panel will assess recordings submitted anonymously, with the ten highest ranked entrants invited to perform in the semi-finals at the Wangaratta Festival Festival of Jazz and Blues in October. Each entrant will be accompanied by an elite band and the top three will then vie for first prize in the finals.  The 2021 winner will be announced at the Festival on Sunday October 31.

Prizes for the Awards are as follows:

•1st prize – $7,000 and a recording session with Pughouse Studios (Melbourne)

•2nd prize – $4,000

•3rd prize – $2,000

The Rural City of Wangaratta Council continues its ongoing support of the Festival and in 2021 expands its commitment by sponsoring the National Jazz Awards prize pool.

“The Council has a long history of supporting events that draw on tourism and support the economy. The festival has had a challenging couple of years, but my colleagues and I are happy to see them coming out on top. Supporting these Awards is a great way to help them with their planning and preparation for the 2021 Festival,” said Wangaratta Rural City Council Deputy Mayor, Cr Harry Bussell.

Pughouse Studios also continue their ongoing support through the provision of a recording studio session for the winner of the Awards.

“Pughouse Studios is a long running supporter of the National Jazz Awards and I’m pleased to continue as a sponsor this year. The Awards play an important role in developing and supporting jazz musicians,” said award winning drummer, composer and audio engineer Niko Schauble.

The Australian Jazz Real Book also support the Awards providing free access to their digital edition to help entrants source Australian compositions to record and perform for their application.

“The Australian Jazz Real Book is committed to representing and celebrating Australian composition of creative music. It features an ever-expanding list of more than 1400 tunes by more than 350 composers. We are proud to partner with the Awards and celebrate the next generation of Australian talent,” said Tim Nikolsky, Editor, Australian Jazz Real Book.

“If 2020 taught us anything about the festival sector, it is that in order to survive you need to adapt, be flexible and strive to achieve an outcome. What that outcome might be is never easy to predict in the midst of a pandemic but if you can focus on core ingredients and stick to them, anything is possible.

The National Jazz Awards are a core function of the Festival, and the board is steadfast that these performances will proceed in a COVID-19 safe manner. Through pandemic, adverse weather events and other hiccups, it is imperative for us to support emerging talents. Good luck to all the pianists out there aspiring to be our 2021 National Jazz Awards recipient,” said Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues Chair, Dave Fuller.

The 2021 Festival and National Jazz Award semi-finals and finals will be conducted in strict accordance with the COVID-19 restrictions in place at the time and a full COVID Safe Plan will be implemented with the safety of all participants at the forefront.

The 2021 festival program will be announced in coming weeks.


Friday 28 October  – Sunday 31 October, 2021


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