Bahamian trumpeter Giveton Gelin, by virtue of winning the 2020 LetterOne RISING STARS Jazz Award, has been awarded a 10-city North American tour to play before thousands of fans and the crème-de-la-crème of the jazz music industry.
The award includes a performance at the Blue Note Jazz Festival in New York City where Gelin is currently a third-year student at Julliard School.
“It’s a big deal,” said Gelin who was presented with the award on Wednesday, January 22 in London, and hosted by British pianist Jools Holland. Gelin, who was back in New York on Thursday, was presented with his award by China Moses, another North American jazz talent.
“A lot of opportunities come within winning this award, so it’s very exciting,” he said.
From July to September 2019, artists were able to enter their submissions to the LetterOne RISING STARS Jazz Award.
Gelin made application and sent them the title track “True Design” from his soon-to-be-released debut album with the same name.
The jury selected him amongst the top 25 contenders from an interesting mix of talented musicians, from which Gelin was selected as the winner.
“Gelin’s tone, phrasing and general way of playing remind us of many greats before him,” said the jury, which included jazz guitarist George Benson. “This, combined with his determination to make it from the fringes of jazz into the very heart of jazz in New York, convinced us that he will have a bright future ahead.”
According to the jury members, it was fascinating to see how the level seems to rise every year. The LetterOne RISING STARS Jazz Award was established in 2017 as a Europe-centric event, with 18-year-old French guitarist Tom Ibarra as winner, and has since expanded into North America and presents a golden opportunity for America-based musicians to be catapulted onto the nation’s prestigious jazz scene.
In addition to the Blue Note Jazz Festival in New York City, Gelin’s summer tour will also include performances at the D.C. Jazz Festival, the Seattle Jazz Festival, the San Francisco Jazz Festival, the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival, the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival, the CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival, the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal, the Iowa City Jazz Festival and the Monterey Jazz Festival.
For jazz artists to make a name for themselves on the American jazz scene requires talent and hard work, but also an effective marketing and promotional strategy to stand out from the competition, as well as a dynamic presence on the live scene. The LetterOne RISING STARS Jazz Award seeks to provide the opportunities, commitment, expertise and support to make it happen for young talent. It is open to artists throughout the United States and Canada.
Giveton’s prize package, which includes agreed upon expenses that will be covered and a dedicated promotion and marketing team, will ensure his name is spread far and wide until his final summer show. The LetterOne Rising Stars Jazz Award tour, agent and marketing support equates the win to a monetary value of approximately $85,000.
As he worked on his debut album and prior to his win, Giveton said he had been praying to God to direct him with his project.
“The LetterOne Jazz Award will be a major force in sharing my artistry to the world, and overall trajectory,” said Gelin. “I am truly grateful, honored and thankful for this opportunity.”
As he received the award, Gelin thanked his family and the people in The Bahamas who have supported him in his efforts.
Gelin described his past year as “surreal”. His band, the Giveton Gelin Quintet, has been playing a number of Roy Hargrove tributes in honor of his deceased mentor. Gelin has also played with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and has subbed for the great Wynton Marsalis.
He’s also played on Jon Batiste’s (the music director for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert) last two recordings, which are now streaming. And he’s played the Village Vanguard, a prestigious New York jazz club where all the jazz greats like Miles Davis and John Coltrane played.
“Now I have a recording that’s out with me being featured on it – that’s kind of crazy. The last year has definitely been surreal,” said Gelin. “Definitely, things are coming together, in a way I never thought it would. I definitely dreamed big, but some of the opportunities I never thought would happen so soon, so I never know how to process sometimes. But I’m grateful to play with the musicians and to have the experience is priceless. I’m thankful. I’m definitely living a dream”
Gelin taught himself to play the trumpet at age 10 by simply emulating his favorite records. After years of self-tutelage, Adrian D’Aguilar, a bass player, began to mentor him, providing him with the tools to play jazz.
Gelin would later on study with Dr. Eddie Henderson at the Oberlin Conservatory. That same year, he received recognition at the Young Arts Foundation and Betty Carter Jazz Ahead Program. He is currently continuing his studies at Julliard School.
Having played with pioneers on the New York jazz scene such as Curtis Lundy, Harold Mabern, Winard Harper, Sullivan Fornter, Ben Wolfe and Batiste is a testament to his talent.
He has also received tutelage from some of the world’s greatest, including Marsalis, Nicholas Payton, Ralph Peterson and Hargrove.
Where Gelin finds himself today is a far cry from his youthful days growing up in The Bahamas, in a culture that reveres almost all forms of popular music, and where appreciation for jazz isn’t the norm; the community that loves the music is small, but growing. Despite this, Gelin thrived. But the trumpet wasn’t his first instrument of choice. As a member of the Sadie Curtis Primary School marching band he originally played drums. The band leader asked for volunteers to play trumpet because there weren’t enough. Gelin volunteered, and – to use a cliché – the rest is history.
Gelin has said he likes to play good music – music with substance, music with deep spiritual content and music with a lot of emotion. He says these qualities are important to him, and he hopes people listen to him play without any preconceived notions.
D’Aguilar, The Bahamas’ trailblazer in jazz, was the first person to get Gelin to understand how to play the music the right way.
Gelin began hanging out with D’Aguilar and trying to learn his music as well as that of the greats, by emulating what he heard. He began trying to learn the solos and sound like them on his instrument by understanding their harmonies and rhythms.
He said the years he spent with D’Aguilar were crucial to his development.
D’Aguilar said he was eternally proud of Gelin and that he wasn’t surprised at his win.
“I must say – and I don’t mean this to sound cocky – I’m not surprised; Giveton puts in the work. I’ve seen him put it in and I’ve stood shoulder-to-shoulder with him as he put in the work. And that’s really what it takes. All the greats, in not just music…if you put in the work, you reap the benefits. The work in this case requires focus, work and focusing on the right stuff, which is tough in these parts (The Bahamas) because we don’t have master musicians. But Giveton is just doing it. This is just the beginning for him. This is a little young kid from Lincoln Boulevard with Haitian parents who has his head on right. No ego; his feet on the ground.”
Recalling his first meeting with a then pre-teen Gelin, D’Aguilar said he met a young kid with a beat-up trumpet who didn’t know how to play. He said he was a shy and humble child, but he saw Gelin’s passion.
D’Aguilar also describes Gelin as someone who puts in the work, but who is also open to taking criticism and advice to improve, and always up for the work.
“He always went to the work of the masters, and to play music in the way he’s playing takes a lot of work and practice,” said D’Aguilar.
As far as his music is concerned, Gelin says there are no limits.
“I take music very seriously, and my dreams are very big. I really want to be playing around the world, touring and touching people through the sound of my horn.”
With his LetterOne RISING STARS Jazz Award and 10-city North American tour, Gelin’s touring dreams are beginning to become reality.