Published: Oct. 30, 2009

MSU grad wins 2009 Thelonious Monk jazz competition

Contact(s): Kristan Tetens College of Music office: (517) 353-2043, Angela Minicuci University Relations student writer office: (517) 355-2281

EAST LANSING, Mich. - Ben Williams, a 2007 graduate of the Michigan State University College of Music, has won the 2009 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition at the age of 24, marking him as one of the finest young jazz players in the world.

The competition is one of the most prestigious in the world for young jazz musicians. Fifteen competitors came from all over the world for the semifinals at the National Museum of Natural History's Baird Auditorium in Washington D.C. on Oct. 10. Six judges narrowed the field to three and on Oct. 11, Williams was named the winner. Originally from Washington D.C., Williams began playing bass at the age of 12 and won the Thelonious Monk competition in this hometown.

As winner of the competition, he will receive a $20,000 scholarship and a recording contract with Concord Records.

This year, the competition's featured instrument was bass, which Williams studied with Director of Jazz Studies Rodney Whitaker as a student.

Williams, now a master's student at the Julliard School of Music in New York, expressed an interest in participating in the Thelonious Monk competition to Whitaker while attending MSU.

"Ben Williams is a natural musician. Our faculty knew he was destined for great things the first time they heard him play at his audition," Whitaker said. "He has a natural gift. There is something special about him when he plays- more than charisma - he has so much passion; he has the same kind of charisma that Obama has when he speaks, only Ben has it when he plays."