NEWARK, NJ — At a star-studded, sold-out performance held Nov. 14 on the New Jersey Performing Arts Center stage, G. Thomas Allen, of Chicago, Ill., was announced the winner of the 10th annual Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition. This marks the first time a male vocalist has won the contest. Hosted by NJPAC’s jazz adviser and Grammy-winning bassist Christian McBride, “The SASSY Awards” featured performances by the competition’s five finalists as well as a special appearance by one of today’s top jazz vocalists, Dianne Reeves.
The contenders took to the stage with magnificent performances in front of a live audience. Allen wowed the esteemed panel of judges with his rendition of “Misty,” a standard recorded by Sarah Vaughan in 1964. Andrea Miller, of Costa Mesa, Calif., performed her rendition of “Bye Bye Blackbird”; April May Webb, of Edison, sang “Social Call”; Latvian-born Arta Jekabsone, of Jersey City, sang “Gone with the Wind”; and Vik Gecyte, of Paris, France, performed her rendition of “Lover Come Back to Me.”
As the first-place winner of the SASSY Awards, Allen received a $5,000 cash award. Webb, who was the runner-up, was awarded a $1,500 cash prize, and third-place recipient Arta Jekabsone won $500.
Pulled from more than 160 submissions from 25 countries, the finalists performed before the distinguished panel of judges, including premier jazz pianist Renee Rosnes, of West Orange; WBGO Radio President and CEO Steven A. Williams; past winner of both the Sarah Vaughan and Thelonious Monk International Vocal Jazz competitions Jazzmeia Horn; Paterson-born guitarist and singer John Pizzarelli; and renowned singer and New Jersey City University professor Sheila Jordan.