On ‘Still Listening,’ Pianist and Herbie-Hancock-Jazz-Competition Winner Jahari Stampley Puts His Stamp on Modern Jazz

With a new album and the top prize from the prestigious Herbie Hancock Jazz Competition, Jahari Stampley is surely an artist to watch | courtesy of the artist

In 2023 one of the quickest ways for an emerging musician to gain recognition – regardless of field or genre – is to participate in competitions, and after three decades, the Herbie Hancock Jazz Competition (formally, the Thelonious Monk Competition) continues to launch the careers of jazz musicians. Participants apply via demo recordings of pre-selected songs. The demo is then reviewed by an all-star lineup of adjudicators who choose finalists from a mere 100 applicants. This year  the event welcomed 11 of the top pianists under the age of 30, where pianists applied from the top colleges, and conservatories nationally, though many of them have international roots. 

On October 16th, after two-days of adjudicated performances, 24-year-old Jahari Stampley emerged from a crop of three finalists and received his award from the legendary Herbie Hancock himself.

Critic Giovanni Russonello, who covered Stampley’s performance for the New York Times, wrote, “With his tall, wiry frame hunched over the piano, {Stampley’s} style arrived like a lightning bolt… His playing felt unforced, as if powered from an internal engine. This was an artist you wanted to hear again, and to know more about.”

The Chicago-born pianist took home a $50,000 prize, scholarship support, and the applause from the jazz industry at-large. He definitely caught my ear, and after digging into his music and bio, I’ve found even more to love. 

Released independently earlier this year, Stampley’s album Still Listening has been a constant in my personal rotation. It is quite different from your classic young-pianist’s first album. Still Listening blends Stampley’s broad influences – from the church to electronica to the avant garde – making it one of the most-modern-sounding jazz records I have heard in the last few years. What also struck me was Stampley’s devout intentionality, a commitment to authenticity, that reigns supreme across the album’s nine tracks. 

And Stampley seems unbothered by the hype. In fact, he fully lives up to it. 

Stampley was introduced to the piano at the age of 14, and within two years of exploring the instrument he began winning various competitions including the Best High School Jazz Soloist Award and the National YoungArts Competition. By 18, he was on the radars of many world-renowned musicians, including Yebba Smith, Jill Scott, Robert Glasper, Cory Henry, Jacob Collier, Stanley Clark and Derrick Hodge. 

Now at 24, Stampley’s pulled some of these talented players into his orbit. Among the contributors to Still Listening, Runere “Bassist” Brooks, emerging saxophonist Emilio Modeste, drumming polymath Jeremiah Collier, drummer Miguel Russell and drummer-composer-electronic-artist Jongkuk Kim – all young, dynamic musicians – are featured, tethered to Stamper’s musicality and delivering on every track. (Grammy Award-winning bassist, producer and composer Derrick Hodge is also featured).

Before crossing the quarter-century mark – when many musicians are walking across the stage with the ink still drying from the degrees and simply desiring to fit into an agreed upon narrative artistically – Stampley defies the jazz norms and musical expectations placed on his generation. He plays from the heart, and you can feel the intrinsic depth in the delivery of notes from everyone on the album. 

Stampley, whose ease with contemporary idioms extends to his design of iPhone apps, says he hopes to model his career on heroes such as Jon Batiste and Herbie Hancock. Still Listening will not only capture your ears. It’s a great introduction to an artist not yet at the apex of a meteoric rise. 

Stream Still Listening on your preferred platform here

In this article: