Jun 08, 2012 - Seeking Jazz Pianists for the Young Artists Competition


          For the first half-dozen years of its existence, the Young Artists Competition presented by the Oklahoma Israel Exchange, or OKIE, gave classical pianists between the ages of 21 and 28 the chance to play a series of concerts in Israel, with travel and accommodations provided. The winner was also spotlighted in a special Oklahoma performance.

            This year’s contest offers the same chances to perform. However, the genre has shifted. Now, the musicians will be playing jazz.

            “When we first started it, we went to classical music because, for the first three years or so, our host was the OK Mozart Festival [in Bartlesville],” explains Manuel Prestamo, the chairman of cultural programs for OKIE. “Then, the festival was much more classical than popular music, although that’s shifted in recent years.”

             “I had the good fortune of running into [the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame’s] Jeff Kos at the Oklahoma Arts Council’s annual meeting, which was being held in Tulsa. He said, `I’m interested in what you’re doing,’ and I said, `Well, I’m interested in what you’re doing.’

            “We got together, and out of that, we decided it would be a very positive thing to highlight jazz and make known in Israel a jazz artist from Oklahoma. We connected the dots rather quickly after that.” 

            “Our historian and chief archivist, Jeff Koss, brought it all together,” adds Jazz Hall CEO Jason McIntosh. “We saw right away that it fit with our commitment to community involvement and participation in different cultural activities. It is an incredible opportunity for young musicians. How often do you get to tour and play in Israel?”

            A series of meetings among Prestamo, Kos, and McIntosh led to the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame hosting the annual event, which means that both the semifinals and the concert introducing the 2012 winner will take place there. The Jazz Hall joins the Jewish Federation of Tulsa as a co-sponsor of the competition.

            This year, the semifinals are scheduled for Sunday, June 17, and Monday, June 18.

            “They’re open to the public, and we make a very strong effort to try to let students and teachers know about them,” says Prestamo. “A large part of our audience during the competition events is made up of students and teachers. We’ll have teachers come in with 20 students or so, and sometimes they’ll often rate the competitors themselves and then see how their ratings compare with what the judges say.

            “This year’s winner will then be publicly presented to an audience at our grand finale concert,” he adds. “Usually, the winner plays the first and then it’s turned over to the person who won the year before.”

            The latter performer happens to be Tulsa’s Barron Ryan, winner of the 2011 OKIE Young Artists Competition. Although he took the honor when the musical form was still classical, Ryan is well known to audiences for his facility as a jazz player – giving further credence to the oft-expressed notion that jazz is America’s classical music. The 2012 champion will be introduced at Ryan’s July 22 concert at the Jazz Depot, prior to the ten-day tour in Israel.

            “When the winner first goes to Israel, he or she will spend the first two or three days in Tiberius, which is Tulsa’s sister city, with a family that will help with cultural adjustment,” notes Prestamo. “Then, from there, it’s off to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.”

            Those interested in participating can find application materials at or Applicants must be between 21 and 28 years old and either currently attending or a graduate of an Oklahoma college, university, or community college. For more information, contact or call 918-245-2982.

            The mission of the Oklahoma Israel Exchange, according to Prestamo, “is to develop cultural, educational, and business relationships between the people of Oklahoma and the people of Israel.” 

            “We’re delighted to collaborate with Jazz Hall of Fame for the Young Artists Competition,” he adds. “I’m very excited about it and looking forward to hearing the competitors this year.” 

            The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural and educational organization, with a mission to inspire creativity and improve the quality of life for all Oklahomans through preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.