Rising Vocalists Take the Spotlight for 2018 Sarah Vaughan Competition

Every year since 2012, rising vocalists from around the globe have been competing for a chance to perform in the finals of the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition, also known as “The Sassy Awards.” This esteemed event provides a platform for today’s outstanding jazz singers and gives audiences an early glimpse at tomorrow’s jazz stars.

This year’s jazz festival will take place on November 18 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, as part of the TD James Moody Jazz Festival. The competition gives five finalists a platform to exhibit their skill and musical aptitude in front of a panel of special judges, who will rate the singers for vocal quality, musicality, technique, performance, individuality, artistic interpretation, and ability to swing.

This year’s finalists are Oleg Akkuratov (Russia), Gabrielle Cavassa (San Francisco), Olivia Chindamo (Australia), Toscha Comeaux (Hartford, Connecticut) and Laurin Talese (Cleveland). The contestants will perform at NJPAC’s stunning 2,868-seat Prudential Hall.

Judges include vibraphonist and NJPAC Artistic Advisor of Jazz Education Stefon Harris; jazz vocalist-composer Nnenna Freelon; Jazz Tree Inc. President Mary Ann Topper; WBGO Jazz 88.3FM radio personality Sheila Anderson; and trumpeter, conductor and composer Jon Faddis.

The grand prize winner will receive a $5,000 cash prize. Previous winners include Cyrille Aimee, Jazzmeia Horn and Arianna Neikrug.

The “SASSY Awards” will cap a 2018 TD Moody Festival that also includes upcoming performances by The Count Basie Orchestra featuring Kurt Elling, Stefon Harris, Jon Faddis and Catherine Russell on November 15; vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant and her new project Ogresse on November 16; and saxophonist Eric Alexander’s quartet on November 18 at Dorthaan’s Place. Tickets are available here.

Want a sneak-peak at this year’s SASSY Award finalists? Check out the videos below and get acquainted with the future of vocal jazz.

Oleg Akkuratov


Gabrielle Cavassa


Olivia Chindamo


Toscha Comeaux


Laurin Talese

For more information on the Sarah Vaughan Competition, visit the NJPAC website.

For tickets to upcoming performances at the TD James Moody Festival, click here

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