Elena Mindru

So this summer while I was in Montreux I had the good fortune to catch the second day of the semifinals in the Sure Jazz Voice Competition, and by the final round it was clear the panel of judges had their work cut out for them.  I’ve been hoping to find the performances online for a while now, and just discovered them today.  For me, this young lady was the most creative and enchanting, and I honestly thought she deserved to win.  This video can’t capture the fullness of her stage presence, but the sound quality is good.  She just has so much fun with the music, and with her musicians, and with the audience.

After the performances, I was surprised to learn this was the talent that captured the judges’ vote for winner.  Her sound just seems thinner to me during the first song, though she gets better as she goes along, and I would even occasionally question her intonation, but apparently Quincy Jones, head of the panel of judges, didn’t have the same impression.  I admit she does have a Diana Krall sort of quality, and clearly that kind of sound has proved artistically and commercially successful.  And she gets points for subtlety and choice of classic arrangements.  Still, I can’t tell you what I wouldn’t have given to be a fly on the wall during that decision-making process.

I think this just goes to show opinion and personal preference do count in music, especially at this stage of the game where all artists are fantastically gifted.  Here I really don’t think it was a question of deciding who was more talented, but who adhered most closely to the judges’ idea of a great jazz artist.  And granted, a panel at Montreux would know.  But I just don’t agree with their decision.  And why?  It’s hard to say.  I just wasn’t taken with Sarah Lancman the way I was with Elena Mindru.  The latter just had “it” for me, and she did win the audience’s vote for favorite finalist.  She took risks, and I admire that a lot.  It’s completely possible, however, that the judges thought she was less strong vocally in spite of her great presence and chose Sarah instead for that reason.  Or it could be that Elena’s artistic choices are less in line with the heart of the jazz tradition and that’s why she didn’t “win”.

I’ll never be completely sure.

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