Finalists Named for Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition

In 1942, a teenage Sarah Vaughan won the Apollo Theater's amateur singing competition in a performance that was a launching pad for a career that transformed one of America's original art forms and elevated the craft of jazz vocal music. Seventy years later, Vaughan's legacy continues to resonate and will be celebrated with the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition, part of the TD James Moody Democracy of Jazz Festival at NJPAC and at venues around Vaughan's hometown of Newark, N.J.

A distinguished panel of musicians, music industry executives, NJPAC leadership and online voters culled through nearly 900 submissions from around the globe to choose five finalists and a "Rising Star" for the inaugural Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition, the largest competition of its kind in the world. Online voters listened to songs submitted to the contest nearly 90,000 times. Today, NJPAC, JAZZ ROOTS™ and WBGO Jazz 88.3 announced the five competition finalists who will perform in front of an iconic panel of judges, an NJPAC Victoria Theater audience and viewers around the world through a live stream of the concert on October 21, 2012 at 3pm. The finalists are competing for a chance to win the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition SASSY AWARD, a $5,000 prize, and an opening spot at a 2013 JAZZ ROOTS concert. The first runner-up will win $1,500, the second runner-up $500. The Competition and final performance are produced by award-winning producer Larry Rosen and powered by Indaba Music (, the leading online community of musicians and marketplace for music opportunities.

Judging the finals at the performance will be Grammy and Tony Award-winning jazz vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater, vocalese and scat pioneer Jon Hendricks, vocalist and Executive Director of Jazz House Kids Melissa Walker, WBGO radio host and jazz journalist Michael Bourne, and producer of JAZZ ROOTS and co-founder of GRP Records, Larry Rosen.

Through three preliminary rounds, public voting on the website (with over 21,800 votes cast), jazz vocalists, members of the Jazz Education Network (JEN) and GRP Records co-founder Larry Rosen narrowed down the field to five finalists in an effort to discover vocalists who embody Sarah Vaughan with swinging, thought-provoking and inspiring performances reflecting their own understanding of the work. Contestants were judged on vocal quality, musicality, technique, performance, individuality, artistic interpretation and ability to swing.

The finalists are: 
Alexis Cole (New York, NY) was a winner of the NY Jazzmobile and Montreux Jazz Festival vocal competitions.  She has performed at Dizzy's Club at Jazz at Lincoln Center, The Oak Room, Blues Alley, and at the Kennedy Center, and was a featured soloist at Avery Fisher Hall with the NY Philharmonic Brass.
Ashleigh Smith (Lewisville, TX) was awarded the prestigious Downbeat Student Award for Best Undergraduate Jazz Vocal Performance in 2011 and the Outstanding Undergraduate Vocal Jazz Soloist in 2012. She is a member of the world renowned Jazz Singers 1, with whom she also won a 2012 Downbeat Award. Ms. Smith has traveled and performed as a soloist and chorister in Washington D.C, Northern Ireland, Orlando, Florida, and New York City, and recently shared the stage with The Manhattan Transfer and Jon Hendricks during the Kennedy Center's "Swing, Swing, Swing" concert series.  She is currently on scholarship as a vocal jazz major at the University of North Texas.
Cyrille Aimée (Brooklyn, NY) was a 2007 winner of both the first and public prizes in the Montreux Jazz Festival Competition.  She has released four CDs, recorded songs for feature films, and fronted France's electro-swing/gypsy jazz band Caravan Palace on its European tour, performing in front of crowds of more than 10,000 people.  Ms. Aimée was a finalist in the Thelonious Monk Vocal Competition of 2010.
Hilary Kole (New York, NY) co-wrote and originated the lead female roles in the critically acclaimed, award-winning Off-Broadway musicals, Our Sinatra (2000 MAC Award) and Singing Astaire.  Her debut recording, Haunted Heart (2009) received four stars in Downbeat and the Gold Disc Award in Japan.  Her second recording, You Are There-Duets (2010) was named as a "Record of the Year" by USA Today.  Ms. Kole began her professional career at the Rainbow Room as the youngest singer ever to grace the stage.  She appeared in a sold-out run at the famed Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel, made her concert hall debut at Lincoln Center as part of the "American Songbook Series" with Jonathan Schwartz, and appeared at Carnegie Hall during a Tribute to Oscar Peterson. She was the first singer since Ella Fitzgerald to record a duet with the jazz legend.

Sandra Booker (Sherman Oaks, CA) was the first vocal student to receive the Julian Cannonball Adderley Memorial Scholarship and John Densmore Music Scholarship at UCLA. Her voice has appeared in radio and television commercials for Coca-Cola and Ralph Lauren. 'Wandering Road,' an original composition, co-written by Booker and long-time colleague and producer, John Leftwich, was featured in the 2010 film, Blood Done Sign My Name a biopic chronicling the life of NAACP President Ben Chavis. She has performed with Lalo Schifrin, Wynton Marsalis & The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Ernie Watts, Billy Higgins and many others.

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