Cup Weekend 2024

2021 National Jazz Awards Winners Announced

1st – Matthew Thomson (NSW)
2nd – Matthew Sheens (SA/NYC)
3rd – Steve Barry (NSW)

The Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues is thrilled to announce Matthew Thomson as the winner of the coveted 2021 National Jazz Awards (piano), which includes a $7,000 cash prize and a recording session with Melbourne’s Pughouse Studios. Matthew Sheens took out the 2nd prize of $4,000 and Steve Barry receives $2,000 as 3rd prize winner.

For the second consecutive year in its 31-year history, the Awards were presented in a digital format due to COVID restrictions. The ten finalists – Steve Barry (NSW) James Bowers (VIC), Kade Brown (VIC), Casey Golden (NSW), Harry Mitchell (WA), Matthew Sheens (New York), Max Teakle (VIC), Matthew Thomson (NSW), Wilbur Whitta (NSW) and Alex Wignall (SA) – each recorded their performance in a studio in their home state, which was then broadcast online across the weekend with the winners announced live online yesterday.

1999 NJA’s winner (piano) Matt McMahon, who chaired the judging panel alongside renowned pianists Andrea Keller and Stephen Grant, said on behalf of the judges:

“Andrea, Steve and I were struck by the overwhelming amount of powerful playing that was evident throughout the whole judging process, including some really fine musicians who did not make the final ten.

To make our selections was extremely difficult because all of the ten finalists were not only displaying their experience, fine technique, and improvising prowess, they all showed themselves to be dedicated artists, with creative and original conceptions of how to approach their music-making.

“Matthew Thomson’s commanding playing and rich harmonic language was demonstrated through a beautiful flow of ideas, which took the whole ensemble on an improvised journey – a powerful and assured performance.
Second placegetter, Matt Sheens played with a superb touch and keen sense of polyphony – his attention to nuance and his great control of the whole instrument were at the service of a beautifully cohesive and mature musical concept.
Steve Barry’s mature and complete playing was always focussed on interacting with the accompanying musicians – he revealed a unique harmonic and melodic conception with its roots in the jazz tradition and an exploratory spirit which reached beyond it.

Hosted by MC Frank Davidson, last night’s ceremony closed with a stunning performance from National Jazz Awards 2020 winner (vocals) Lauren Henderson and her band members Alex Wignall (piano), Django Rowe (guitar), Kyrie Anderson (drums) and Bonnie Aue (bass).
The National Jazz Awards have been a launching pad for local musicians with many going on to enjoy national and international success. Previous National Jazz Award winners include Barney McAll (piano), Scott Tinkler (brass), Elana Stone (vocals), Julien Wilson (sax), Carl Morgan (guitar), Phil Stack (brass) and last year’s winner Lauren Henderson (vocals).

“We are immensely proud that we were able to present the Awards again this year, especially in these challenging times. It takes an enormous effort to mount this digital presentation and I would like to thank our staff, sponsors and the artists for providing three days of stunning performance for our audience,” said Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues Chair, Dave Fuller.

“We all at council support the friendship and community spirit for and of the National Jazz Awards and look forward to gathering in person for next year,” said Wangaratta Rural City Mayor, Dean Rees.

The National Jazz Awards are supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria and is assisted by the Rural City of Wangaratta, Wangaratta Performing Arts & Convention Centre, Pughouse Studios and the Australian Jazz Real Book.

The 2022 Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues incorporating the National Jazz Awards will return to Wangaratta in 2022 to its traditional pre Melbourne Cup dates, Friday 28 – Sunday 30 October with the festival program to be announced in April 2022.