Aaron Diehl, a 25-year-old Columbus, Ohio native who’s made a career in New York since his graduation four years ago from the Juilliard School, is the new Cole Porter Fellow in Jazz. Diehl came out on top of a field of five young men selected as finalists for a season long contest to see who would get what the sponsoring American Pianists Association believes is the richest prize in the growing world of jazz competitions.
Diehl will receive a $50,000 cash award, plus two years of career assistance by the APA. At the sold-out finals at the Athenaeum, he showed his prize-winning form accompanying guest vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater in Cole Porter’s “Just One of Those Things” and working with the Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra in “Nardis,” a jazz standard by Miles Davis.
Asked afterward what part of the evening, plus Friday’s semifinals, made him feel most satisfied with his performance, Diehl said:
“Probably playing with the big band. Brent Wallarab (co-director of the jazz orchestra and arranger of a tune for each of the finalists) took my solo arrangement off a CD of mine and adapted it for big band, so I felt really comfortable with it.”
In his acceptance speech after being presented with the award, Diehl said:
“I can’t think of anything else greater than to be sharing this music for you to enjoy it. This has been an incredible journey, and I want to acknowledge my colleagues”:
fellow finalists Glenn Zaleski, Jeremy Siskind, Zach Lapidus and Emmet Cohen. Lapidus is a recent Indiana University graduate who has settled in Indianapolis, where he is a musician and teacher.
The judging process also included being assessed by a three-person jury over the course of several months, as each finalist came to town to do a three-day residency and play a trio set at the Jazz Kitchen. The votes of the five-person finals jury were weighed along with its predecessor’s to come up with the selection of Diehl.
Diehl displayed his hand-in-glove rapport with Bridgewater in “Just One of Those Things,” in which the Grammy-winning singer’s prowess unfolded in one ebullient scat chorus after another, with Diehl matching her inventiveness.