Arts Desk

Isabelle De Leon Wins WWJF Young Artist Contest

Isabelle De LeonTwenty-one-year-old Isabelle De Leon already has an eye-popping musical résumé. The University of Maryland senior is the drummer in her family band Ivy Rose, opening for Weezer and making the semifinals of last season's America's Got Talent. She's also won scholarships from the Washington Post and the DIVA Jazz Orchestra; participated in the Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Jazz Orchestra, an honors jazz band for students; and, currently, is one of this season's artists-in-residence at Strathmore.

Well, add another entry to that list. She's the winner of the Washington Women in Jazz Festival's Young Artist Contest, held last Saturday afternoon at HR-57.

De Leon was one of six finalists who performed in the contest on Saturday, and its only drummer. (Three contestants—Theresa Watson, Samantha Law, and Amelia Brown—were vocalists; Rachel Winder, an alto saxophonist; and Nia Harris-Burnley, a pianist.) All were impressive players, with firm command of the music's technical nuances and smart improvisational choices. But De Leon, who was the third performer, was the only one to be unstoppably riveting. Part of that was surely her ferocity, which caused the three-year-old on my lap to cover her ears throughout the two tunes. But she also was the most individual of the contestants, with a startlingly personal sound. In particular she focused her rhythmic accents on the toms, as opposed to the standard snare, a pretty neat trick.

The other contestants impressed, too. Two of the three vocalists, 17-year-old Watson and 20-year-old Law, showed some formidable rhythmic instincts, and Watson has a tender delivery that will take her a long way. Harris-Burnley, who's only 12, gave remarkably insightful readings of two tunes by tenor saxophone legend Eddie Harris, on solo piano and with the house rhythm section (bassist Karine Chapdelaine and drummer Lydia Lewis). She comes by that insight honestly: "Why did you choose his songs?" Pianist and festival director Amy K. Bormet asked her between tunes. Replied Harris-Burnley: "Because he's my grandfather."

De Leon was jaw-dropping. Keep your eye on her.

Photo: Keisuke Hoashi

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