- Dominic DiNardo
Style of music, in 10 words or less: "Contemporary jazz-funk with a smooth R&B vibe"
Three artists he owes everything to: George Howard, Jeff Lorber, Ralph Tresvant
Debut performance: 1993
Recordings: Finally (2010), The One (2012)
Why he matters: If the '80s crossover indulgences of Kenny G helped give smooth jazz a bad name, Tony Exum Jr.'s music serves as an overdue opportunity for redemption. A devotee of artists like Grover Washington and Dexter Gordon, the Springs' premier saxophonist is slowly and steadily gathering attention in the outside world, most recently with a trip to San Francisco to play legendary jazz club Yoshi's. Exum's currently finishing up a new CD called 5, this being his fifth year as a recording artist. He's also taking bass lessons — Larry Graham is one of his biggest heroes — and his answer to the why-he-matters question offers a characteristic combination of humility and self-respect: "I matter only because Jehovah God allowed a shy, meek, asthmatic young man with a big heart, and even bigger dreams, a chance to minister through his saxophone."
2nd place: Bob Tudor
3rd place: Wayne Wilkinson