Milwaukee High School of the Arts (MHSA) senior Dystince Robertson not only has won a national jazz competition, she made history doing it. She is the very first winner of the Ravenscroft Jazz Prize for developing musicians, ages 17 to 19.
Ravenscroft, based in Arizona, is a new competition for jazz artists that drew entries from across the country.
Dystince, who said she’s never won anything and never expected to win, was notified of her 1st place prize by email. “Is this a scam?” she asked her MHSA choral director, Raymond J. Roberts.
Roberts, who had encouraged Dystince to enter the competition, assured her it was real.
“I felt so surprised, I couldn’t believe it myself,” Dystince said.
“I encouraged Dystince to submit her videos for the Ravenscroft Jazz Prize because of her innate musical instincts, her exquisite tone, and her extraordinary desire to grow as a musical artist through hard work and practice,” Roberts said.
The honor brings with it a $1,000 prize. Coincidentally, 2nd place ($500) went to another singer with Milwaukee Public Schools roots: Damien Blair, a 2022 graduate of Milwaukee High School of the Arts. The developing musician contest this year was open only to vocalists; next year, it will be open to instrumentalists.
Ravenscroft also selected a 3rd place winner in the developing musician category. A second category awarded prizes to three early professional artists ages 20 to 22.
According to the prize’s organizer, “The Ravenscroft Jazz Prize seeks to recognize and elevate young, American solo artists as they begin their journeys in improvised music.
“The inherently spontaneous nature of jazz allows musicians the freedom to explore and create. And this music provides a wonderful platform through which they can inspire others, even as they themselves are finding inspiration in performance.”
Dystince’s two videos were viewed by the panel of professional jazz musicians who adjudicated the prize. One video was of her performing the classic jazz ballad “Detour Ahead.” In the other, she sang a medium swing tune, “There Will Never Be Another You.”
Dystince, who honed her version of “Detour Ahead” over the course of a month, said the song suits her voice range. And, Dystince said, “I really love the way I’m musically connected to it.”
It’s unusual for her to sing solo, as she did for the Ravenscroft videos. In performances where all eyes are on one singer, “You have to connect yourself. You have to look forward and really connect with what you’re saying, and get the audience ready to receive it,” Dystince said.
That, to her, is the point of performing. “It’s not only to sound good. I just want to connect as much as I can, musically and emotionally,” she said.
In addition to the cash prize, Dystince received personalized comments from the prize’s judges — constructive comments as well as praise. “I feel like this is a time when I need those comments the most,” Dystince said. “I don’t need people to tell me how perfect I am.”
Ultimately, Dystince would like to have a career in music, either performing or teaching, to “help someone find their own talent,” she said.
But first, she hopes to continue her musical education.
“I want to get deeper into learning musical notation and the way songs are composed,” Dystince said.
She’s intrigued by the way a musician can, say, change a song’s beat, “and it completely changes the song.”
“Music is so fascinating,” she said.