2018 Performer Bios

Baldori & Migliazza


Bob Baldori and Arthur Migliazza come together to perform as The Boogie Kings. Their music has been called a lot of things; blues, jazz, boogie woogie, swing, stride, R&B, and rock-n-roll among them. Baldori and Migliazza bring a refreshing approach to classic American piano music. The Boogie King’s performance will make it obvious that this music is alive, original, timely, powerful and still thrilling to audiences all over the world.

Barbara Ware


Barbara was born and raised in Detroit. Music has been her language of choice since she can remember. She chooses songs that tell a story or express a mood and delivers the lyrics with feeling and finesse, sophistication and dignity, always tempered with sly smiles and a touch of sass. Jazz Beat says, “Barbara is one of Detroit’s premier song stylists, combining an elegance and easy grace with more than a touch of class. Jazz aficionados in the Motor D and other music centers have long loved her elegantly restrained renderings of timeless jazz standards.”

BBSYM Orchestra

Under the direction of Professor Rodney Whitaker, the MSU Big Band Symposium Orchestras are made up of middle and high school students who are a part of this residential camp. Students have spent the week working with the MSU Professors of Jazz, taking private lessons, playing in student combos, and rehearsing in various ensembles in preparation for their performance at SSJF.

Benny Benack III


At the age of 27, Pittsburgh-born, New York-based Jazz trumpeter & singer Benny Benack III has quickly established himself as one of the most versatile and virtuosic voices of his generation. Hailed by the New York Times as “a charismatic young trumpeter who maintains an earnest sideline as a singer.” Benack has a knack for delighting audiences with panache, in a spirit of classic crooners like Sinatra & Mel Tormé, with a nod to legendary trumpet showmen Louis Armstrong & Dizzy Gillespie. Equally comfortable in both Jazz and Pop settings, Benack has worked with some of the greatest acts in music today, such as Josh Groban, Ben Folds, Christian McBride, Ann Hampton-Callaway, Pittsburgh Symphony Pops Orchestra, the Columbus Jazz Orchestra and many more.

Deon Yates

Deon Yates holds a Masters in Communication and Public Relations and is a featured lecturer on media Writing and Design, Video Storytelling and the History of Jazz Music in Detroit. A longtime innovative presence on his hometown’s jazz scene and two time Emmy Award nominee, he brings a fresh and unique perspective on the subjects, but that’s just the start of the curriculum for the multi-talented composer and saxophonist.

Detroit Jazz Festival Generations Band


The Detroit Jazz Festival All-Star Generations Band is a band that is comprised of multiple generations of artists, with commiserate levels of experience, rehearsing and performing jazz music together. This group is formed on the tradition of passing on language and knowledge through a mentor-disciple relationship that has been a part of the jazz art form since its beginning. This group not only focuses on having the different generations of artists, but also how they can combine and learn from the wisdom of other members of the band.

JAMM Scholarship Quartet

Four prior recipients of the Jazz Alliance of Mid-Michigan’s Sandy Izenson Scholarship unite. These four recipients come together to collaborate, rehearse, and perform as the JAMM Scholarship Quartet.

Lansing Symphony Big Band


Originally formed in 2001, the Lansing Symphony Jazz Band has the distinction of being one of a handful of jazz groups associated with an established classical orchestra, Performers come from all over the state of Michigan and include jazz musicians who have worked with the famous bands of Count Basie, Buddy Rich, Maynard Ferguson and many others. The entire spectrum of jazz is showcased by this outstanding band, from the classic pieces made famous by Duke Ellington and Fletcher Henderson, to the contemporary sounds of Woody Shaw and Bob Mintzer.

Orquesta Ritmo

Prepare yourself for some red-hot salsa dancing courtesy of mid-Michigan’s premier salsa orchestra. The band has been performing all over the Mid-West for many years. They have opened for a number of national and international acts, including such artists as Salsa great Oscar D’Leon, recording artists Los Lobos, and most recently, The Bangles at the Common Ground Festival in Lansing, Michigan. Along with this great success Ritmo’s 10 members have a dedication to introduce, educate and entertain the American public in the electrifying genre of Latin music. ¡Ven y baila!

Phil Denny


The Phil Denny surge has become a topic of conversation and interest among an international audience spawning loyal and borderless fanfare. Impressive artistry, presence and passion combined with a unique ability to connect with people on and off the stage have earned Denny a resume of notable achievements in just a short time. A few of Phil’s performances of note include; 2012 Dubai International Jazz Festival, Jazz Under the Stars 2013 in Nairobi, Kenya (Headliner), and appearances at the 2013 and 2014 Arizona Jazz Festival.

Rene Marie


In a span of two decades, 11 recordings and countless stage performances, vocalist René Marie has cemented her reputation as not only a singer but also a composer, arranger, theatrical performer and teacher. Guided and tempered by powerful life lessons and rooted in jazz traditions laid down by Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington and other leading ladies of past generations, she borrows various elements of folk, R&B and even classical and country to create a captivating hybrid style. Her body of work is musical, but it’s more than just music. It’s an exploration of the bright and dark corners of the human experience, and an affirmation of the power of the human spirit.

Root Doctor

Root Doctor, born of the fertile Lansing, Michigan music community, had its humble beginning in the open mic scene of the late 1980’s. Root Doctor plays a diverse mix of classic soul and R&B alongside traditional blues and inspired original material. Along with over 20 years of club, concert and festival performances, they have released four recordings to local and national acclaim. The Root Doctor resume’ also includes appearances with Tab Benoit, Ray Charles, Macy Gray, Buddy Guy, Koko Taylor, Little Richard, Bobby Rush, and many more.

Sunny Wilkinson

The child of a Methodist minister, Sunny Wilkinson grew up singing in church and around the piano in four-part harmony with her family. She earned her degree in Choral Education from Arizona State University, and during that time delved into diverse styles of music. After college, Sunny spent fifteen years in Los Angeles, honing her professional chops as a jazz recording artist, session singer, performer and teacher. Over the years, Sunny has sung with The Count Basie Band, Rob McConnell and the Boss Brass, Mark Murphy, Milt Hinton, Clark Terry, Bill Watrous, Ron Carter, Curtis Fuller and Gene Bertoncini among others. A busy travel schedule has her presenting clinics and performances at universities and jazz festivals, as well as jazz clubs across the United States.

The Gathering Orchestra


Under the direction of Rodney Whitaker, The Gathering Orchestra founded in 2017 is a select group of young musicians teamed up with seasoned professionals rehearsing and working together to produce and perform an array of jazz music.

Thornetta Davis


Crowned “Detroit’s Queen of the Blues” in 2015, Thornetta Davis is a multi-talented International Singer and Songwriter from Detroit, MI. Thornetta’s strong, commanding, melodic, smooth voice has been exciting and wowing audiences all over the world. Her history is extensive and her performances are memorable. Thornetta has not only opened for legendary blues and R&B greats such as Ray Charles, Gladys Knight, Smokey Robinson, Etta James, Buddy Guy, Koko Taylor, Junior Wells, Lonnie Brooks, and Johnnie Johnson, but has also proudly accepted two Music Awards, “Best R&B/Blues vocalist” and “Best R&B Group.” As a winner of over 30 Detroit Music Awards, Thornetta has also won eight 2017 Detroit Music Awards which include Outstanding Record Producer, Outstanding Blues Recordings, Outstanding Blues Vocalist and Outstanding Live Performance.