Ethan Iverson has an excellent series of posts on the ironically-named Thelonious Monk Piano Competitions and the incentives, perverse and otherwise, they create.

My argument against competitions is basically same thing. To my ears, there had been an astonishing amount of agreement about what jazz really is in most youthful swinging jazz since 1990. That agreement was one reason I rebelled against it. I just couldn’t see it as the jazz tradition — not my jazz tradition, anyway. I was delighted to be lifted out of the discussion entirely by Reid Anderson and David King in 2001.

It is crucial to remember that my writing on DTM reflects my own experience, passions, and blind spots. On Twitter and in the forum, several competition veterans said they played exactly how they wanted to play, in a non-conventional manner, and won anyway.

Kudos. I could have never won a competition. Indeed, my joke about playing “Confirmation” in front of Carl Allen was loaded with my own fears. Even though I’ve recorded “Confirmation” twice, with Billy Hart and Tootie Heath, I still wouldn’t want to play that in front of a bebop jury. Forget it! You couldn’t pay me enough.

I would push him on the basic economics:  as long as there is a scarcity of gigs there will be competition in some form.  Is it better for that competition to be formalized or to play out in the market alone?  If winners gain notoriety and then gigs, and if judges reflect the preferences of audiences then formal competitions can save a lot of rent-seeking.  I suppose the more cynical take is that judges have arbitrary standards and winning a contest merely turns the winner into a focal point around which venues and audiences coordinate attention.  But if audiences’ tastes are that malleable is this really a loss?

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