2023 Performer Bios

Founders’ Stage

Melissa Morgan: Melissa Morgan is a soulful singer that tells her story with a vulnerability that endears the audience to go along the journey with her. Her voice is a painting with many colors and textures. “Melissa Morgan is a contagious true jazz singer and she simply grows on you with intoxication. She fulfills prerequisites for the status of an extraordinary and refreshing authentic jazz singer. I predict she is the one we’ve been waiting for”. - Dr. Herb Wong.

Niki Haris: Niki Haris is a multi-talented singer, dancer, actress and choreographer. Best Known as “The BIG VOICE” behind Madonna for over 18 years, appearing alongside her in the movie “Truth or Dare” and many of her videos. Her vocal collaborations reads like a “Who’s Who” of the music business. From working Jazz greats like Stanley Turrentine, Joe Sample and the Jazz Crusaders to recordings with Ray Charles to Mick Jagger; and from Whitney Houston to Sheryl Crow, and many others. Besides being called to sing for the Inauguration of President Barrack Obama (performing with WILL. IAM) and not one to shy from a challenge, Niki continues to share her gifts for a multitude of benefits for AIDS Research, The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) as well as Camp Harmony, benefiting the lives of inner-city children. NikiHaris.com

Randy Gelispie: Randy Gelispie has traveled on the road with Wes Montgomery, Sonny Stitt, Dinah Washington, Etta Jones, Lou Donaldson, and Gene Ammons. He has performed with Joe Williams, Nancy Wilson, Dizzy Gillespie, Tommy Flanagan, Barry Harris, Oliver Jones, O. C. Smith, Al Hibbler, and most recently with Geri Allen, Jimmy Witherspoon, John Lee Hooker, Big Maybelle, Donald Walden, Marcus Belgrave, Perry Hughes, Rodney Whitaker, Gary Schunk, Rick Roe, Marian Hayden, Bill Heid, Andrew Speight, and Wycliffe Gordon.

Salsa Verde: Salsa Verde was founded in 2008 as an opportunity for MSU College of Music students to play salsa music. Since that time, Salsa Verde has played concerts, festivals, dances, recitals, benefits, cultural events, and outreach throughout Michigan. Salsa Verde plays styles including salsa, chachacha, bolero, bomba, rumba, and more, inspired by Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, Spanish Harlem Orchestra, Gloria Estefan, Tony Succar, Poncho Sanchez, Issac Delgado, Los Van Van, Marc Anthony, Los Hermanos Rosario, and many others.  The members of Salsa Verde are students or faculty of MSU representing different programs within the College of Music and the University. Salsa Verde is directed by Jon Weber. 

Keller/Kocher & Company: Swinging string bassist Paul Keller and vibraphone wizard Cary Kocher co-lead their well oiled-quintet jazz featuring the massive talents and skills of vocalist clarinetist Sarah D’Angelo, pianist Adam Mosley and guitarist Ralph Tope. Keller/Kocher and Company enjoy entertaining their appreciate audiences with fun and familiar songs from the Great American Songbook, all jazzed up and Keller-ized for maximum pleasure and delight.

Randy Napoleon Quintet: Currently an Associate Professor at Michigan State University and Associate Director of Jazz Studies, guitarist Randy Napoleon cut his teeth touring with pianist Benny Green, The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, Michael Bublé, and a thirteen-year tenure with Freddy Cole. Napoleon has performed or arranged on over seventy records including the Grammy-nominated releases, Freddy Cole Sings Mr. B and My Mood Is You. He performed on The Clayton Hamilton Orchestra: Live at MCG. Napoleon is featured on Buble’s Grammy-nominated CD/DVD Caught in the Act. Guitarist George Benson calls Napoleon “sensational.” Detroit Free Press critic Mark Stryker says Napoleon “plays with a gentle, purring tone that makes you lean in close to hear its range of color and articulation.”

The Gathering Orchestra: The Gathering Orchestra is a two-year fellowship program, under the artistic direction of renowned bassist Rodney Whitaker, member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Director of Jazz Studies at Michigan State University and Carr Center Resident Artist. The Gathering is comprised of 4 seasoned jazz veterans and 20 emerging and highly talented young musicians, (ages 18 – 30). Fellows rehearse and perform with their mentors on standards, large ensemble classics, new music, and original compositions by members of the ensemble. The fellowship also includes serving as The Carr Centers house band throughout the season, as well as headlining their own concerts in venues across the city of Detroit.

Michael Dease Quartet: Michael Dease is one of the world's eminent trombonists, lending his versatile sound and signature improvisations to over 250 recordings with artists as diverse as David Sanborn, Christian McBride, Michel Camilo, and Alicia Keys. Dease, the winner of the 69th and 70th Annual DownBeat Critics Poll for Trombonist of the Year received full scholarships to The Juilliard School in New York City where he completed two degrees. Dease is a proud member of the MSU Professors of Jazz and serves as Professor of Jazz Trombone at Michigan State University where he directs an award-winning jazz trombone studio. The Other Shoe (Origin Records, 2023), Dease’s 17th and latest release explores the songbook of composer Gregg Hill and has received universal critical acclaim from journalists and radio stations alike.

Rodney Whitaker: Innovative, internationally renowned bassist, and Mack Avenue recording artist Rodney Whitaker is a Michigan State University distinguished professor of jazz double bass and director of Jazz Studies. He is one of the leading performers and teachers of jazz double bass in the United States.  Professor Whitaker is a life-time member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and director of the Geri Allen Fellows Gathering Orchestra-Detroit, MI. Whether you find life-long pioneer, bassist, composer, recording artist, educator and mentor Rodney Whitaker performing on stage, conducting a master class, recording in a studio, or mapping out plans for the future of jazz with members of the global Jazz community, he has whole-heartedly embraced the JAZZ legacy life-force with an integral pledge of distinction, integrity, mentorship, and great promise.

Education Stage

Emma Wilburn Quartet: Emma Wilburn was born in Seoul, South Korea but raised in Sacramento, California. She had recently this year graduated from Michigan State University receiving her degree in Jazz Studies. Emma has previously studied with bassists Geri Pineda, Molly Redfield, and saxophonist Patrick Langham. Emma has played with jazz musicians such as Helen Sung, Dwight Adams, John Clayton, Vanessa Rubin, Carl Allen, Steve Wilson, Lewis Nash, Mark Armstrong, Marion Hayden, and Patrick Langham. Her main bassist influences include Ron Carter, Oscar Pettiford, and Linda Oh.

Jordan Anderson: Jordan Anderson is a multifaceted musician and keyboardist from Minneapolis, Minnesota. His upbringing was largely influenced by the diverse array of music his parents exposed him to and at age 7 he chose the piano to further express his musicality. Jordan attended Walker West Music Academy, in St. Paul, Minnesota, earned a BFA in Jazz Studies at University of Michigan, and a master’s degree in jazz studies at Michigan State University. He is currently a member of the Vincent Chandler Collective, the Ann Arbor-based funk band Sabbatical Bob, and the Gathering Orchestra.

Dwight Adams & Friends: Trumpeter Dwight Adams is now one of the brightest stars on the Detroit jazz scene. Adams earned a full scholarship to Kentucky State University, where he majored in music education and performance. He has since played and recorded with musicians including Marcus Belgrave, Rodney Whitaker, James Carter, Shawn Wallace and Donald Walden, and tours with Stevie Wonder. He has served as a jazz trumpet instructor at both The Ohio State University and Michigan State University and performs with the Columbus Jazz Orchestra.

JAMM Scholarship Band: The Jazz Alliance of Mid-Michigan (JAMM) was formed in 2009 to explore possibilities for preserving and promoting live jazz in Mid-Michigan. As a part of JAMM’s mission, the organization awards a music scholarship annually to a deserving young jazz musician. The JAMM Scholarship Group is formed with past and present scholarship winners, and is led by local pro Doug Fritch, on guitar. jazzjamm.com

The Sofiela Social: Sofia Rabiela is an Arab/Latina bass player from the southwest side of Chicago. A recent graduate of Michigan State University, Sofia has been able to study with influential musicians such as Rodney Whitaker, Diego Rivera, Michael Dease, Xavier Davis, and Randy Napoleon. Being a resident of Chicago, she has played venues such as Andy’s Jazz Club, the Jazz Showcase, and the Ravinia Festival alongside renowned musicians such as Bobby Broom, Pharex Whitted, Ernie Adams, Pat Mallinger, and Willie Pickens. Along with her bass playing, Sofia is also an aspiring composer and arranger. Rabiela is currently pursuing a master’s degree in jazz at Michigan State University.

REDWOOD: Sequoia Snyder (REDWOOD) is a musician, composer, producer, and recording artist native to Washington D.C, currently completing her graduate studies at Michigan State University. Most recently she has performed with the New York City Ballet as well as Teri Lynne Carrington, Patrice Rushen, and Jazzmeia Horn as a Geri Allen Gathering Orchestra Fellow. Her multi-media piece “Delight” on Black joy won the Most Inspiring Performance Art Award at Michigan State University’s 2021 Social Justice Festival.

496 West: Based in Lansing Michigan, and formed by guitarist Charlie Wilson, 496 West has continued firing up stages since their debut performance in 2008. As a collective, 496 West has garnered a reputation of being one of the best live bands based in mid-Michigan. 496 West offers soulful vocals, a powerhouse horn section, killer keys, silky strings, and indispensable percussions grounded in the soul, smooth jazz, and R&B genres with a sprinkling of the blues and gospel jazz. The band recently released a new CD project in 2022 titled, Rules of Engagement. The new album is a follow-up to the self-titled debut CD (496 West), sophomore release (Auxiliary Lane), and third album, Key Change.

Gayelynn McKinney & McKinney Zone: Gayelynn is one of America’s great drummers. She has performed at the 1996 Olympic Games and at The Kennedy Center. She has received a Grammy Nomination, a Kresge Arts Fellowship, a Motor City Music Award, and a Detroit Black Music Award. Gayelynn has performed on the CBS, CNN, PBS, and BET television networks. She has also been featured in magazines like Billboard and Elle. Gayelynn has played for Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Martha Reeves, Freda Payne, Roy Ayers, Marcus Belgrave, Sonny Fortune, Stanley Turrentine, Barbara Morrison, and Benny Golson. And her band has opened for music legends like Ray Charles, Tony Bennett, Nina Simone, and Nancy Wilson. Whether she’s performing at a Jazz festival in Switzerland, playing at a local nightclub or recording in the studio, Gayelynn McKinney is a drummer extraordinaire.

After Glow

Hugh Downs: Hugh Downs, guitarist, composer, and educator is a coveted musician who was recently honored at the 2023 Jack Rudin Jazz Championship for his performance on guitar. In 2022 Hugh was awarded the GEMS Composer Scholarship Award to attend the GEMS Film Scoring Program in Spain, where he studied with Hollywood composers Christopher Young and Garry Schyman. He has completed field research and presented on jazz musicians working in film scoring. As an educator, Hugh carries out workshops and performs with middle and high school students at public schools and music academies. Hugh completed his undergraduate studies with Randy Napoleon, a jazz guitarist of the late Freddy Cole, at Michigan State University’s top-ranked Jazz Studies program in the nation, led by Rodney Whitaker

Michael Reed & the Revelation: Innovative Jazz drummer extraordinaire, Michael J. Reed is a native of Toledo, OH, currently based in East Lansing, MI. Michael maintains an active career performing nationally and internationally. With a sophomore CD release, Remove All Fear, Michael is well on his way to becoming a stronghold in the music industry. His first album, entitled A Walk of Perspective, was released in 2018. After completing a master's degree at Michigan State University, Michael continues to expand his career as a mentor, performer, and educator, teaching at the Michigan State University Community Music School-Detroit’s Spartan Youth Jazz Program and Saginaw Valley State University as an adjunct professor, while maintaining a healthy touring schedule with Jazzmeia Horn.