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American Pianists Association Five Finalists Set to Conclude Unique 13-month Competition Process April 21-22

Finalists Caelan Cardello, Esteban Castro, Paul Cornish, Thomas Linger and Isaiah J. Thompson

American Pianists Association Five Finalists Set to Conclude Unique 13-month Competition Process

April 21-22 Featuring Three-Time Grammy® Award-Winning Vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant

2023 American Pianists Awards Finals in Indianapolis — Each Guaranteed $25,000

Caelan Cardello, Esteban Castro, Paul Cornish, Thomas Linger and Isaiah J. Thompson will conclude their 13-month competition process for the prestigious Cole Porter Fellowship, given every four years to an American jazz pianist on Discovery weekend, April 21-22, 2023, in Indianapolis, Indiana. The American Pianist Association will produce the concluding two programs at The Cabaret and Hilbert Circle Theatre.

By virtue of their selection, each of the five finalists has already won a cash prize of $25,000, exceptional performance opportunities and the publicity gained from advancing in the world’s largest jazz competition. Further, the winner of the 2023 American Pianists Awards will receive a prize valued over $200,000, including: cash; two years of career assistance; a winner’s media and performance tour; the opportunity to work with Mack Avenue Records; the opportunity to work with B Natural—a New York-based artist booking agency; publicity support through DL Media and Bucklesweet; and other opportunities worldwide.

From September 2022 to February 2023, each finalist has been invited to Indianapolis for the Premiere Series–the first live-juried performances of the Awards, consisting of a high school residency, community outreach events and solo and trio sets at the Jazz Kitchen.

Note: Isaiah J. Thompson will conclude the series February 20-25, 2023.

All five finalists return to Indianapolis for the Club Finals at The Cabaret on April 21, 2023 and the Gala Finals at Hilbert Circle Theatre on April 22, 2023. Each finalist will perform a new arrangement with the Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra and accompany three-time Grammy® Award-winning vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant. Confirmed Club finals and Gala Finals emcees are Sylvia McNair and Bill Charlap respectively.

Jurors for the 2023 Awards include:

  • Lynne Arriale, pianist and composer; Professor of Jazz Studies and Director of Small Ensembles at The University of North Florida
  • 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
  • Tamir Hendelman, pianist; Lecturer at UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music
  • Jim Pryor, pianist; winner of the 1992 American Pianists Awards
  • Ted Rosenthal, pianist and composer; Faculty member at Juilliard School and Manhattan School of Music
  • Scott Routenberg, pianist and composer; Associate Professor of Music Performance at Ball State University
  • Ellen Rowe, pianist and composer; Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation at the University of Michigan
  • Rio Sakairi, Artistic Director and Director of Programming at The Jazz Gallery
  • Reggie Thomas, pianist and organist; Professor and Head of Jazz Studies at Northern Illinois University
  • Will Wakefield, Senior Director of A&R at Mack Avenue Records
  • Brent Wallarab, trombonist; David N. Baker Associate Professor of Jazz Studies at Indiana University Jacobs School of Music

All juried performances will be livestreamed at and on APA’s YouTube ( and Facebook (

Dizzy’s Club at Jazz at Lincoln Center welcomed the American Pianists Association official national Sneak Preview with solo performances by all five finalists. Dee Dee Bridgewater and Sirius XM Radio Program Director, Mark Ruffin co-hosted. The satellite radio network curated a one hour special that aired on Real Jazz XM Channel 67 on September 16 and 17 with a rebroadcast this Spring. The performance was and will be streamed jointly by Jazz at Lincoln Center and the American Pianists Association.

“It’s perhaps the most rewarding part of our work to see these already accomplished pianists take their talents to greater heights,” says APA’s interim CEO Joanne Bennett. “By arranging performance opportunities in multiple venues with world-class collaborators and livestreaming each performance, all of the finalists – not just the winner – grow as artists.”

The Five Finalists (more at

Caelan Cardello, 22

Born into a musical household in Teaneck, NJ, Caelan Cardello began playing piano at the age of five. By the age of ten he was studying both jazz and classical separately with jazz pianist/arranger Allen Farnham and Juilliard alum, Steven Masi. Throughout his middle and high school years, Caelan had the opportunity to perform for or play with jazz idols such as Christian McBride, Jimmy Cobb, Ravi Coltrane, Ingred Jensen, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Brad Mehldau, Wynton Marsalis, and Teanecks own Jon Faddis and Freddie Hendrix. He was a part of the organization Jazz House Kids for seven years, where he learned from the greatest jazz masters and perform at venues such as Dizzy’s Club and the Montclair Jazz Festival. Caelan has also performed at venues in NYC such as Smoke Jazz Club and The Jazz Standard, as well as the Detroit Jazz Festival, Bahrain Jazz Festival and Montclair Jazz Festival. Other accolades include 2021 winner of the BMI Foundation’s Future Jazz Master award, 2018 recipient of the prestigious James Moody Scholarship, winner for regional National YoungArts, and 2016–17 All State Jazz Band pianist.

Caelan is currently in his second semester of his senior year as a Jazz Performance major at William Paterson University. He studies privately with saxophonist Vincent Herring, guitarist Russell Malone and pianists David Kikoski and Bill Charlap, and has previously studied with Mike Ledonne, Geoff Keezer, Harold Mabern and Kevin Hays.

Esteban Castro, 20

Esteban is a pianist and composer from New York who captivates audiences and critics with performances that are intimate and sophisticated beyond his years. He attends the Juilliard School on a full-tuition Thomas Dubois Hormel Memorial Scholarship, studying with Ted Rosenthal, and he also studies privately with Fred Hersch. Esteban is a Young Steinway Artist.

At age thirteen, Esteban was the First Prize Winner in the Montreux Jazz Piano Solo Competition in 2016, making him the youngest ever to receive this prestigious award. At fourteen, he was the youngest First Prize recipient at the 2017 Jacksonville Jazz Piano Competition.

With over forty compositions to his name, Esteban has garnered three ASCAP Foundation Young Jazz Composer Awards and has won fifteen Downbeat Student Music Awards. He was selected as a pianist for the Grammy Band in 2017 and 2018, as a 2019 YoungArts Finalist, and as a member of the 2019 Next Generation Jazz Orchestra. He has won a variety of classical piano competitions, including the 2019 MSM Precollege Philharmonic Concerto Competition, playing Prokofiev’s First Piano Concerto. Esteban was commissioned for a big band arrangement by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra for the Thelonious Monk 100th Birthday Celebration in 2018.

Esteban has played to sold-out audiences in venues such as The Blue Note, The Montreux Jazz Club, The New Jersey Performing Arts Center, and Dizzy’s Club. He’s also performed in Switzerland, Italy, France, Peru, Canada, and Puerto Rico.

Esteban routinely donates his time and performances to charitable causes such as the Jazz Ambassadors, the American Cancer Society, Haiti Disaster Relief, Aid to Victims of Hurricane Maria, and to provide musical instruments for needs-based students.

Paul Cornish, 25

Los Angeles-based pianist and composer Paul Cornish strives to inspire freedom and collaboration in his music and community. Hailing from Houston where he was a student at the prestigious High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Cornish was one of seven jazz prodigies worldwide selected to be awarded a full fellowship to attend the esteemed Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz at UCLA. Here, he completed his master’s degree and studied and performed with such renowned artists as Carl Allen, Jerry Bergonzi, Billy Childs, Herbie Hancock, Bob Hurst, Geoffrey Keezer, Dick Oatts, Chris Potter, Walter Smith and Terell Stafford.

Cornish received the Los Angeles Jazz Society’s 2020 New Note Commission and recently was awarded First Place in the Jacksonville Jazz Piano Competition and the 18th Street Arts Center’s 2021 Make Jazz Fellowship. Cornish was also awarded the Grand Prize in the 2018 American Jazz Piano Competition. Currently residing in Los Angeles, Cornish has performed extensively across the globe with such notable artists as Herbie Hancock, Louis Cole, Theo Croker, Snoh Aalegra, Terrace Martin and Kanye West.

Thomas Linger, 29

Thomas Linger, New York-based pianist, originally hails from Waynesville, North Carolina. Winner of the American Jazz Pianist Competition, he is a primarily self-taught performer, composer, and teacher, having performed in some of the most prestigious venues such as the Village Vanguard, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Dizzy’s Club, Smalls, Mezzrow and many more.

Thomas leads his own trio in addition to engagements alongside current luminaries such as Peter Bernstein, Francisco Mela, Joe Farnsworth, Yasushi Nakamura, Stacy Dillard, Sylvia Cuenca, Brandon Lee, and many others. Thomas’s debut album featuring many of his original compositions will be released on Cellar Live in 2022.

Isaiah J. Thompson, 25

Isaiah J. Thompson is a jazz pianist, composer and bandleader 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 received both his bachelor’s and master’s from The Juilliard School, was awarded the 2018 Lincoln Center Emerging Artist Award and earned Second Place in the 2018 Thelonious Monk (now Herbie Hancock) Institute of Jazz International Piano Competition. Isaiah has since performed with major artists including Ron Carter, John Pizzarelli, Christian McBride, Steve Turre and Buster Williams. He was featured on the Golden Globe-nominated soundtrack for Motherless Brooklyn and was named a Steinway Artist. Isaiah made his recording debut on Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Blue Engine Records’ release, “Handful of Keys” with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, and he released his debut album as a leader, Isaiah J. Thompson Plays the Music of Buddy Montgomery in 2020.

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. For more information on the American Pianists Association visit

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