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KC trumpeter Hermon Mehari takes first place in international competiton

Hermon Mehari continues to make big waves outside Kansas City.

On Saturday, the Kansas City jazz trumpeter finished first at the prestigious Carmine Caruso International Trumpet Competition at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. His prize: $10,000.

That honor comes less than a year after Mehari reached the semifinals of the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Trumpet Competition, held in Los Angeles in November.

For the Caruso competition, Mehari submitted a recording of four songs, three that he chose and one that was assigned. His choices: “You Stepped Out of a Dream,” “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” and “Stablemates.”

“They gave us stylistic requirements,” he said, “like straight-ahead swing, a ballad and a Latin-flavored song.”

Mehari was informed early this month that he’d made the finals, something he’d attempted before.

“I’ve known about this competition for a long time,” he said. “It’s a pretty big deal, so I’ve had my eye on it for a while. I’d applied a couple of times so it was really cool to make it to the finals. A lot of guys I really respect and look up to have won it.”

For the finals, all five contestants performed the songs on their recordings plus a piece written for the competition. They were accompanied by a rhythm section -- drums, bass, piano -- featuring faculty members from the University of North Texas. All five rehearsed with the rhythm section the day before the competition.

“I felt good going in,” said Mehari, a 2010 graduate of the University of Missouri-Kansas City music conservatory. “The Monk competition really gave me some confidence. SO I was feeling good about it, not too nervous.”

Each performance was about 20 minutes long and in front of an audience. Mehari went first.

“I didn’t feel good about that,” he said. “I knew I really had to bring my A game. It’s the worst position to go in.”

Saturday night, all five contestants performed with what Mehari called a “Texas big band” at a concert in the same auditorium on the Sam Houston State campus. Before the concert ended, the Caruso winner was announced.

“Yeah, it was exciting,” Mehari said. “I felt like a had a really good chance. There was one guy, Joshua Shpak, who I thought, ‘If anyone beats me it will be him.’ When they announced him as second place, I felt pretty sure I’d got first.”

Mehari can be heard with his trio from 9 to 11 p.m. Oct. 3 at the Art Factory, 5621 W. 135th St. in Overland Park; from 9 to 11 p.m. each Thursday in October at Ca Va, 4149 Pennsylvania in Westport; and at 8 p.m. Nov. 8 at Knuckleheads, 2715 Rochester, for Diverse Plays Michael Jackson.

To reach Timothy Finn, call 816-234-4781 or send email to Follow the Back to Rockville blog on Twitter @kcstarrockville.