Announcing the Larry J. Bell Jazz Artist Awards

February 15, 2022

Pierre van der Westhuizen, Executive and Artistic Director of The Irving S. Gilmore International Piano Festival, today announced the establishment of the Larry J. Bell Jazz Artist Award for jazz pianists. As with the internationally renowned Gilmore Artist Award for classical pianists, the recipient of the new award will be chosen every four years by an anonymous committee and will receive $300,000—a $50,000 cash grant to be used at the artist’s discretion, and $250,000 disbursed over a four-year period for projects and activities that will enhance the artist’s musicianship and career. The first Larry J. Bell Jazz Artist will be announced in 2026. 

Mr. van der Westhuizen also announced that the next Gilmore Artist Award—scheduled for 2022—will be delayed until 2024 because the selection committee has been unable to travel and attend live performances of nominated pianists during the pandemic. The most recent Gilmore Artist to be named was Igor Levit in 2018.

The Larry J. Bell Jazz Artist Awards will be established with an $8 million gift to The Gilmore endowment and will be named for Kalamazoo businessman and President of the Gilmore International Piano Festival Board of Trustees Larry J. Bell, the founder of Bell’s Brewery. In addition to the $300,000 award, a new Larry J. Bell Young Jazz Artist Award will be established bestowing $25,000 every two years to the most promising of the new generation of American jazz pianists age 22 and younger, beginning in 2026. This mirrors the Gilmore Young Artist Award that between 1990 and 2022 has supported 38 young pianists, including most recently Janice Carissa and Clayton Stephenson.

Mr. van der Westhuizen said: “Jazz has been part of The Gilmore since the first festival, with guests over the years having included such greats as Chick Corea, Ray Charles, Bruce Hornsby, and—coming soon in 2022—Herbie Hancock and Fred Hersch. It has long been our dream to recognize the great jazz piano traditions and celebrate the next generation with an award that is on par with the Gilmore Artist Award for classical pianists. It’s incredibly exciting to have support in this venture. We are so grateful, and we know the gift will allow The Gilmore to make an enormous impact in the world of jazz for years to come.”

Mr. Bell said: “I believe that The Gilmore is the perfect organization to bring this gift to life. I foresee this endowment sustaining, strengthening, and broadening the great jazz repertoire. I am happy to see the strong arts community of Kalamazoo grow and put it on the world stage. It is also my hope and belief that this new project will help to expand and diversify the audience for the musical offerings of The Gilmore.”

The inaugural Gilmore International Piano Festival in 1991 included performances by Chick Corea and Gary Burton. Other jazz artists who have performed at the festival include Branford Marsalis, Hank Jones, Diana Krall, Fred Hersch, Dave Brubeck, Harry Connick, Jr., Brad Mehldau, Bill Charlap, Emmet Cohen, James Francies, Christian Sands, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Snarky Puppy, Aaron Diehl, Robert Glasper, and Ethan Iverson. The Gilmore has also commissioned works by Chick Corea, Fred Hersch, and Brad Mehldau. This year’s festival (April 24 – May 15) will open with a concert by Herbie Hancock and features jazz pianists Fred Hersch, Emmet Cohen, Sullivan Fortner, Dan Tepfer, and Pablo Ziegler, as well as 3Divas, Donal Fox, Svetlana and the Delancey Five, and TRI-FI piano trio. The 2022 festival will also include performances by the most recently named Gilmore Artist, Igor Levit, and fellow Gilmore Artists Ingrid Fliter (2006) and Kirill Gerstein (2010). 

The same nomination and selection process for the Gilmore Artist Award will be established for the Larry J. Bell Jazz Artist Awards. Candidates will be nominated by a large and diverse international assemblage of music professionals. The finalists among the award candidates are then each evaluated for their career potential and musicianship in live concert performances over a two- to three-year period by members of an anonymous committee representing a variety of music professions and viewpoints. This committee—which will remain anonymous until after the awards are announced—travel all over the world assessing the candidates’ concert performances and recordings over a sustained period of time, rather than judging their achievements during a concentrated period under tightly controlled conditions, as in a public competition.

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