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The Gilmore Piano Festival announces a "transformative" new award, made possible by brewery founder Larry Bell

Larry Bell, retired founder of Bell's Brewery
The Gilmore Piano Festival
Larry Bell, retired founder of Bell's Brewery
Pierre Van Der Westhuizen, executive and artistic director of The Gilmore
Pierre Van Der Westhuizen, executive and artistic director of The Gilmore

"There is nothing like it in the jazz world," Pierre van der Westhuizen says of the just-announced Larry J. Bell Jazz Artist Award. Like the Gilmore Artist Award, it is a $300,000 prize given to an exceptional jazz pianist nominated by a secret committee who spend four years evaluating the top of the crop. Says the Festival's executive and artistic director: "It gives us one more opportunity to bring world-class jazz talent [to Kalamazoo] and be on the forefront of developing and identifying that talent. You'll see them here first."

Van der Westhuizen and Larry Bell, whose $8 million fund allocation made the award possible, joined Cara Lieurance to discuss the impact they hope it will have on Kalamazoo and the jazz community world-wide. Bell says, "For me, The Gilmore is just the perfect organization to be able to make something like this happen." He adds, "I'm lucky to be able to help out... I feel very fortunate to be able to do that." The Boys and Girls Club of Greater Kalamazoo and Kalamazoo College also received major gifts from Bell in the last month. Will there be similar announcements in the near future? "The answer is yes," says Bell.

Bell also expresses appreciation for the John Stites Jazz Awards, a Kalamazoo-based organization that supports jazz artists and presenters created in 2021. It's partnered with The Gilmore to present jazz legend Herbie Hancock in Kalamazoo on April 24. Van der Westhuizen discusses Hancock's appearance as well as upcoming highlights of the festival: Yuja Wang, Sergei Babayan, Daniil Trifanov, Ingrid Fliter, Kirill Gerstein, Igor Levit and others.

Cara Lieurance is the local host of NPR's All Things Considered on 1021 WMUK and covers local arts & culture on Let's Hear It on 89.9 Classical WMUK weekday mornings at 10 - 11 am.