Young, Promising Jazz Musicians to Compete in DCJazzPrix

Three emerging jazz ensembles will grace Union Stage at The Wharf this Labor Day weekend at the 8th annual DCJazzPrix and compete for a one-of-a-kind opportunity. Up for grabs this year is a $15,000 grand prize, a yearlong DCJazz Festival affiliation, and customized professional development aid. 

The DCJazzPrix is a unique international band competition designed to showcase the talents of young, promising musicians. Each band application must go through rigorous evaluation by a prestigious panel of professionals before being selected to perform live at one of the most notable Jazz Festivals in the nation. Sunny Sumter, president and CEO of the DC Jazz Festival says the “spirited JazzPrix Finals is guaranteed to be a sell-out.” 

Since the competition’s launch in 2016, the DCJazzPrix has been unique in that only fully formed bands and ensembles are allowed to compete; no soloists are permitted. Band cohesion and dynamics are crucial in this competition, and only the most compatible musicians succeed.

“So many jazz competitions involve soloists,” Sumter notes. “However, the DC Jazz Festival recognizes the band as the most exemplary proponent of the true democratic spirit of jazz performance. [It] is the essence of the jazz aesthetic.”

Last year’s winner of the 2022 DCJazzPrix was Julieta Eugenio’s Trio with Matt Dwonszyk on bass, Steven Crammer on the drums, and Eugenio on the saxophone. This past year the band has gone on to perform at many renowned venues across the United States. 

Julieta Eugenio Trio, DCJAZZPRIX Winner will play Sept. 2 at The Wharf. Courtesy DC JazzFest.

“Meeting so many musicians, hanging at The Wharf and hearing amazing bands during that weekend was truly amazing,” Eugenio says. “We are very excited to perform this year at the DC Jazz Festival with the trio again.” This time around, they’ll be performing as winners. 

This year, three bands will perform on September 2 in the competition finals: Birckhead, Ember, and New Jazz Underground. 

Birckhead will be performing at The Wharf Sept. 3.

DMV favorite, Birckhead, is fronted by its namesake Brent Birckhead, a Baltimore native. With Birckhead on the woodwinds, Noble Jolley Jr. on piano, Romeir Mendez on bass, and C.V. Dashiell III on drums, the band is sure to delight its fans. Known for their creative risk, Birckhead takes inspiration from hip-hop, go-go, and traditional jazz. “We’re honored to be in the final three groups,” Brent Birckhead says. “We’re incredibly excited to perform to a hometown crowd at the DC Jazz Prix. It’s going to be one to remember.”

Next is Brooklyn-based band Ember featuring saxophonist/trumpeter Caleb Wheeler Curtis, bassist Noah Garabedian, and drummer Vincent Sperrazza. This leader-less trio enjoys translating their forward thinking, community oriented ideals into music. They also just released their third album titled, “August in March” this past month. According to Curtis, “most of the process of playing together is listening to each other, allowing each other to do what we do and finding a way to fit into that,” he explains. 

Finally, the last band competing in this year’s DCJazzPrix is New Jazz Underground, another cooperative trio from New York City. Saxophonist Abdias Armenteros, bassist Sebastian Rios, and drummer T.J. Reddick make up this band of recent Juilliard alumni. Forced off stages and robbed of live audiences during the pandemic, the group has found success on social media, building an audience for themselves. The band has been reportedly working hard and even rented a theater in New York City to practice before the big competition. They have an exciting year ahead with residencies planned in New York City, St. Augustine, and Miami.

“At the end of the day, we hope the DCJazzPrix will provide a launching pad for emerging jazz bands, encourage the band as a staple in the industry and as a key jazz aesthetic, and have an impact on the band’s professional development,” Sumter says. 

This diverse showcase of budding young talent brings a new face to jazz and will certainly help usher in the next generation of jazz genius. 

Show your support for these finalists at the 19th annual DC Jazz Festival. The festival begins August 30 and will be running through Labor Day weekend. Tickets, schedules, lineups and more can be found at the DCJazz Festival website. 




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