Isaiah J. Thompson Wins 2023 American Pianists Awards

Isaiah J. Thompson Wins the 2023 American Pianists Awards

Isaiah J. Thompson and Cécile McLorin Salvant
Isaiah J. Thompson and Cécile McLorin Salvant

April 22, 2023

American Pianists Association is proud to announce Isaiah J. Thompson as the winner of the 2023 American Pianists Awards. The announcement was made after the final round of performances on Saturday, April 22 at Hilbert Circle Theatre in Indianapolis. Thompson joins illustrious past winners including Emmet Cohen, Sullivan Fortner, Aaron Diehl, Dan Tepfer, Adam Birnbaum and Aaron Parks.

Selected from a field of five finalists, including Caelan Cardello, Esteban Castro, Paul Cornish and Thomas Linger, Thompson will receive career support valued at more than $200,000 including a cash prize, two years of career assistance, a media and performance tour and an artist residency at University of Indianapolis, making this one of the most coveted prizes in the music world and the largest for American jazz pianists.

Through the prize, Thompson will also have the opportunity to record for Mack Avenue Records and leverage services provided by B Natural artist booking agency, and publicity firms DL Media and Bucklesweet, which have been promoting all finalists throughout the unique 13-month competition.

“I was so honored when they announced the winner,” said Thompson. “To see my family in the audience brought me so much joy. I never thought of myself as a pianist, I think of myself more as a jazz musician whose instrument just happens to be the piano, so to win an award as a pianist, meant a lot."

During this past week the five finalists participated in a variety of adjudicated and non-adjudicated events in Indianapolis, including a community concert at Christ Church Cathedral, the Club Finals at The Cabaret and the Gala Finals at Hilbert Circle Theatre. Jury members for the Finals included:

  • Cyrus Chestnut, pianist, composer and producer; Master Instructor at Howard University
  • Bill Cunliffe, pianist and composer
  • Sullivan Fortner, pianist and composer; winner of the 2015 American Pianists Awards
  • Rio Sakairi, Artistic Director and Director of Programming at The Jazz Gallery (NYC)
  • Will Wakefield, Senior Director of A+R at Mack Avenue Records

Finals jury votes were combined with the results of Premiere Series votes to determine the winner. The Premiere Series jury consisted of pianists Lynne Arriale, Scott Routenberg and Reggie Thomas.

The Club Finals were hosted by GRAMMY® Award-winning singer Sylvia McNair and featured two sold-out sets on Friday, April 21, with each finalist performing with Kenny Phelps on drums and Nick Tucker on bass. The Gala Finals were hosted by GRAMMY® Award-winning pianist Bill Charlap. Each finalist performed with three-time GRAMMY® Award-winning vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant in the first half of the program and played a new arrangement with the Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra in the second half. The full program book can be found at All adjudicated events during the 2023 Awards were livestreamed and remain available for viewing at

“It has been an amazing year to watch and hear Caelan, Esteban, Paul, Thomas and Isaiah,” said American Pianists Association Interim CEO Joanne Bennett. “Each of them were supported and encouraged by a full entourage of supporters from the collaborating artists, to the host families, our staff and board. The entire process was made possible by the financial support of our corporate, foundation and individual sponsors and donors.”

The 2023 American Pianists Awards were presented by REI Real Estate Services. The Club Finals were presented by Gary and Kristin Geipel, and the Gala Finals were presented by Goelzer Investment Management.

About Isaiah J. Thompson

Isaiah J. Thompson is the winner of the 2023 American Pianists Awards and Cole Porter Fellowship in Jazz. Originally from West Orange, New Jersey, he began studying at The Calderone School of Music at an early age, and soon after continued his studies with Jazz House Kids and NJPAC Jazz For Teens. He was later admitted to The Juilliard School at the age of 18, and graduated with his B.M. in 2019 and his M.M. in 2020.

Isaiah has performed with major artists, including Ron Carter, John Pizzarelli, Christian McBride, Steve Turre and Buster Williams. His recording debut was featured on Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Blue Engine Records’ Handful of Keys album with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, and he has since released several recordings as a leader.

He worked on the Golden Globe nominated soundtrack for Motherless Brooklyn, was named a Steinway Artist and has been awarded accolades including, the 2018 Lincoln Center Emerging Artist Award, and second place in the 2018 Thelonious Monk Competition. Isaiah believes that artistry is a direct channel into the mind and soul of an artist, and as such, feels that it is important to not lose sight of one’s individuality or that of others. As a performer, he tries to emit a feeling of joy and convey his personal experiences through the music, and through his everlasting love of jazz.

About American Pianists Association

The American Pianists Association has been supporting aspiring young artists for over 40 years and has been based in Indianapolis since 1982. It has a professional staff of seven, headed by Ms. Joanne Bennett. The American Pianists Awards, held for both classical and jazz artists, offer significant opportunities for American pianists, ages 18–30, to advance their careers. Each winner receives a two–year fellowship, valued at over $200,000 including cash awards, fees, publicity and recording opportunities. The organization greatly values the individual artistic sensibilities of each pianist, nurtures such individuality and does not impose any repertoire requirements during the competitions other than those necessary for the different genres. It is the intent of the American Pianists Awards to focus on artistic expression and not on competitive prowess. Further, the organization tailors its career assistance to suit the particular needs of the winner, offering an array of opportunities appropriate to the winner's current career development and status. American Pianists Association strives to be the bridge between professional training and a full–fledged professional career.


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