Rising Stars at Mingus Festival

February 1, 2023

There are lots of familiar names among the local winners in the 15th annual Charles Mingus High School Competition & Festival, held February 18-19 at The New School of Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York.

Among the Outstanding Soloists: Combo Categories were three student musicians who appeared at the New Jersey Jazz Society’s Jersey Jazz LIVE! concert in August: Ginger Meyer, Mendham, alto saxophone; Alvaro Caravaca, Mount Olive, trumpet; and Mecadon McCune, Newark, drums. (See photo above of Caravaca (at the piano) and Meyer. The fourth member of the quartet that played that day, bassist Sam Konin, also won an award, The Charles Mingus Electric Bass Award, for his performance of Mingus’ “The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines”, performed by Mingus with lyrics by Joni Mitchell on Mitchell’s’1979 Asylum album, Mingus. Konin is from Lawrenceville.

All four of these award winners are members of the Jazz House Kids Ambassadors Combo. Two other members of that group – violinist/vocalist Jacquie Lee of Montclair and bassist Riley Ying of Verona also won Outstanding Soloist Awards. And, Lee was one of three New School of Jazz Scholarship Winners.

Four Members of the Newark Academy Jazz Combo were named Outstanding Soloists: Combo Categories at the Mingus Competition: pianist Ben Collins-Siegel and drummer Ben Schwartz, both from Maplewood, and trumpeters Shivan Kundra and Jacob Tolentino. Tolentino is from Roselle Park and Kundra is from Montclair.

Schwartz and Collins-Siegel played at the NJJS 50th Anniversary Concert last October in Morristown. Collins-Siegel also performed at the June 2022 Jersey Jazz LIVE! concert (see photo below), and he and Schwartz, along with bassist Ryoma Takenaga – known as the Baker Street Trio – headlined a virtual NJJS concert during the pandemic. Schwartz and bassist Laura Simone-Martin of Lawrenceville were featured in the July/August 2022 issue of Jersey Jazz as the two New Jersey high school students invited to play in the 2022 edition of Carnegie Hall’s NYO Jazz Program. Simone-Martin also won a Mingus Outstanding Soloist Award as part of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Jazz Collective Combo.

Collins-Siegel first appeared in the pages of Jersey Jazz in the May/June 2020 issue when he won a Mingus Outstanding Soloist Award as a 12-year-old member of the New Jersey Youth Symphony Jazz Orchestra. 

Other awards included:

Outstanding Soloists Big Band Category: Newark Academy trombonist Charlies Kunzweiler and tenor saxophonist Anirudh Chakravarthy; and Jazz House Kids trumpeter Nick Mikhail and pianist James Pakjhomou 

Outstanding Combo: Newark Academy Jazz Combo

Outstanding Big Band: Newark Academy Chameleon band

Mingus Spirit Award Combo Categories: Jazz House Kids Ambassadors Combo

Outstanding Rhythm Section: Jazz House Kids Big Band

Outstanding Student Arrangements: “Girl of My Dreams”, arranged by Ben Collins-Siegel.

The Newark Academy Band Director is Julius Tolentino. Jazz House Kids Band Directors are Nathan Eklund and Mike Lee 

The Charles Mingus Festival & High School Competition is organized and presented by Dr. Keller Coker, Dean of The New School of Jazz and Contemporary Music and by Let My Children Hear Music/The Charles Mingus Institute. Twelve finalist ensembles from all over the country were featured in this year’s festival. In addition to New Jersey and New York, finalists were from California, Massachusetts, and Texas.


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