2021 Performer Bios
Arlene McDaniel is a jazz pianist/educator who has been active in the Mid-Michigan area since 1981. She has a bachelor’s degree in Music Theory and Composition from Michigan State University (1984). Jazz compositions range from piano solo to full jazz ensemble. Arlene was on the Adjunct Faculty at Hillsdale College (2013 – 2020), where she taught private jazz piano, jazz combo and performed with the faculty jazz group The Hillcats. She is also on faculty at the Michigan State University Community Music School (2008 – present), and continues to teach out of her home studio.
Locally, Arlene has performed at venues such as Moriarty’s Pub and Urban Beat, and at GRNoir and the Speak EZ Lounge in Grand Rapids. She worked regularly with a trio and numerous ensembles at The Cappuccino Café, Coral Gables, and The Exchange. Additional appearances include the Summer Solstice Jazz Fest (East Lansing, MI), Old Town Jazz Fest (Lansing, MI) The Soaring Eagle Casino in Mt. Pleasant, MI (Water LilyLounge), Montreux/Detroit Jazz Fest, and the East Lansing Art Festival. Regionally and nationally, Arlene has appeared with The Dave Bennett Quartet.
Arlene’s trio of many years with Gene Rebeck (bass) and Ian LeVine (drums) released their recording ‘Timeless’ in 2009, which contains mainly original material.
McDaniel has long time musical relationships with bassists Nick Calandro, & Ed Fedewa; drummers Randy Gillespie & Larry Ochiltree; and vocalists Sheila Landis & Sunny Wilkinson. Miscellaneous appearances include The Lansing Symphony Orchestra Big Band, The Truth in Jazz Orchestra (Grand Rapids), The Pied Pipers, and The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Arlene has recently begun performing with the Latin/Salsa group RITMO, led by Mike Eyia.
During the pandemic in the summer of 2020, Arlene was inspired by the raising of Monarch butterflies, and has written a suite of 4 movements, titled The Monarch Suite.
Ed Fedewa is a Lansing, MI native, active in pop, rock and jazz, as well as the principal bassist for the Lansing Symphony Orchestra. Fedewa currently performs with The Dave Bennett Quartet and Sunny Wilkinson. Ed is also on faculty at Central Michigan University as a bass instructor. In high demand, Fedewa’s versatility allows him to lay down a beat in virtually any genre of music, as well as being a creative improviser and collaborator.
Percussionist Pete Siers is based in the Ann Arbor, MI area. In addition to his expansive performance career, Siers has played on over 50 recordings He recently played Carnegie Hall, has toured Europe several times, and is a long-time favorite at many jazz parties and festivals across the U.S. Pete has taught percussion and jazz drumming for over 25 years. He teaches privately as well as having taught at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor School for Performing Arts, Emory University, Purdue University and Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp. He was also an artist-in-residence at Interlochen School of the Arts.
Jon Gewirtz currently serves on the music faculties of Lansing Community College, OlivetCollege, and Hillsdale College where he teaches a variety of classes including private saxophone lessons, jazz band, music appreciation, music theory, ear training, and blues, jazz, and rock history. An active performer, he has performed throughout the United States, Europe, and Brazil in various styles including classical, jazz, funk, salsa, R&B, blues, and pop. He is a member of faculty jazz ensembles from LCC and Hillsdale College. Jon has performed with the Michael Dease Big Band, Jimmy Dorsey Big Band, the Midland Symphony Orchestra, and the Lansing Symphony Big Band and currently performs regularly at venues and music festivals throughout Michigan.
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, singing the operatic roles of Marcellina in the Marriage of Figaro, the Wicked Witch in Hansel and Gretel, as well as the role of Winnifred in the musical comedy Once Upon a Mattress. She also played trombone and sang in the ASU jazz band. Weekend nights, she played and sang in a jazz fusion band called Goldmine.
Sunny’s most recent CD, “Into The Light” (2018) recorded with her quartet (Ron Newman, Larry Ochiltree, and Ed Fedewa) reached #26 on the Jazz Week’s Jazz Album Chart.
After college, Sunny spent fifteen years in Los Angeles, honing her professional chops as a jazz recording artist, session singer, performer, and teacher. She sang on the theme and numerous episodes of “Saved By the Bell,” and was a “Solid Gold” singer, backing Marilyn McCoo and Dionne Warwick, both on screen and in the recording studio. For twelve years, Borrowed Time, an eclectic jazz vocal group with Sunny on alto, performed in LA clubs and jazz festivals.
Over the years, Sunny has sung with The Count Basie Band, Rob McConnell and the Boss Brass, Mark Murphy, Milt Hinton, Kenny Wheeler, Clark Terry, Bill Watrous, Ron Carter, Curtis Fuller, Edgar Winter, 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.
Sunny has also made significant contributions in jazz education. She has been on the jazz faculty at Michigan State University, Western Michigan University, Cal State Northridge, Fullerton College, and the Dick Grove School of Music, as well as teaching numerous private voice students. Presently she is adjunct faculty at Western Michigan University and an artist in residence at the University of Michigan. She served as a President of the Michigan chapter of the International Association of Jazz Educators and the past chairperson for IAJE’s Women’s Caucus. Many of her former students are now the heads of vocal jazz programs at universities around the country and have successful careers as jazz performers and recording artists.
A world-class musician, composer, arranger and educator, Diego Rivera has entertained audiences for over 20 years. Rivera is known for his muscular tone and unique blend of straight-ahead jazz fused with music inspired by his Latino background and heritage. He is a tenured Associate Professor of Jazz Saxophone at Michigan State University where he also serves as Associate Director of Jazz Studies.
Rivera was born in Ann Arbor, MI and raised ‘just up the road’ in East Lansing, MI. Born into a Mexican-American family, his Chicano heritage has always been important to him and shaped his creative endeavors. His parents named him after the famed muralist, Diego Rivera. A trip to the Detroit Institute of Arts at a young age inspired him to make his own mark with the Saxophone rather than the brush. He attended Michigan State University where he studied with Andrew Speight, Branford Marsalis, Ron Blake and Rodney Whitaker.
In 1999, he began his professional and touring career with the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra on their Big Band ‘99 tour. Since that maiden voyage, he has performed concerts at the most prestigious venues and festivals across the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia. He currently leads his own group, The Diego Rivera Quartet. Rivera has also toured with GRAMMY-Award winning vocalist, Kurt Elling, JUNO-Award winning Canadian Jazz Vocalist, Sophie Milman and The Rodney Whitaker Quintet. He is a member of the The Ulysses Owens Jr. Big Band (New York, NY), the Jazz @ Dr. Phillips Center Orchestra (Orlando, FL) and the Gathering Orchestra (Detroit, MI). He has also performed with artists: Ellis Marsalis, Christian McBride, Wycliffe Gordon, PRISM Saxophone Quartet, the Gerald Wilson Big Band and the Lincoln Center Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra.
Rivera has several credits to his name as a recording artist, composer and arranger. His newest solo project Indigenous was released in 2021 on Posi-Tone Records. According to executive producer and label co-owner, Marc Free, Indigenous “…explores the ‘Indigenous’ multi-cultural roots of our human family…”. Indigenous climbed to #7 on the JazzWeek Radio Charts. His debut release on Posi-Tone, Connections, quickly gained attention when it hit the JazzWeek Radio charts as the “Highest Debut”. Rivera’s first recording, Hercules was released in 2006 on his record label, Rivera Records. His sophomore release, The Contender (D- Clef Records 2013) received national critical acclaim reaching the Top 10 on the JazzWeek Radio Charts. He has also appeared on several recordings as a sideman on the Posi-Tone, Mack Avenue and Detroit Music Factory Record Labels.
An avid composer and arranger, Rivera has written arrangements for various recordings, projects and artists most notably for Jazz at Lincoln Center’s “Motor City Jazz” concert. A tribute to the music and musicians of Detroit. His arranging work can be heard on recordings by: Carl Allen-Rodney Whitaker, Get Ready (2007) and Work To Do (2008); Ulysses Owens Jr., Onward and Upward (2014); The New Century Quintet, The Time Is Now (2014); Michael Dease, Decisions (2015)/Bonafied (2018) and most recently on the Ulysses Owens Jr. Big Band debut recording, Soul Conversations (2021).
Rivera is a passionate educator and has presented masterclasses at schools and universities both in the United States and abroad. He is Associate Professor of Jazz Saxophone and Associate Director of Jazz Studies at Michigan State University’s College of Music. In 2019 he was awarded the Dortha J. and John D. Withrow Teaching Award, the College of Music’s highest honor for excellence in teaching and scholarly achievement. He is musical director of the award-winning ensemble, MSU Jazz Octet I, the College of Music’s premiere Jazz Combo made up of the Jazz Studies Program’s most talented student-musicians. Several of Professor Rivera’s former students enjoy careers as professional musicians performing with artists such as: Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center, The Birdland Big Band, The Count Basie Orchestra, The DIVA Jazz Orchestra and the multi-GRAMMY Award winning group, Snarky Puppy.
We are very proud to present to you one of the up and coming Latin bands in the Mid-west, Grupo Ayé. We are a ten piece Afro-Caribbean ensemble that plays a mix of Cuban, Puerto Rican and Dominican rhythms. According to CARIBBEAN NEXUS, “GRUPO AYE: Performing Latino music with its own cultural identity. They are going beyond various musical genres comprising salsa include the Cuban son montuno, guaracha, chachachá, mambo, bolero and also non-Cuban genres.”
We are proud to boast that Grupo Ayé CDs have been purchased in Colombia, España, China, Japan, Italy, México, Puerto Rico and the United States. This CD, titled, Guajiro de Corazón, incorporates old and new styles of Caribbean music ranging from Puerto Rican salsa, Cuban son montuno and Dominican bachata. Grupo Ayé has been described by many as: energetic, exciting, passionate, fun and joyful.
The mission of Grupo Ayé is to bring top quality Latin music to West Michigan and beyond. The members of the band come from various backgrounds. Each member is a consummate professional with years of experience working with some of the biggest names in music.
Oscar Gonzalez emigrated from Havana, Cuba in 1961 at 9 years old, lived in Miami and sang with rock groups until he discovered his own roots. He joined the charanga band "Illusion" which was offered a recording contract in New York.. He stayed there where his career as lead singer, percussionist and back-up vocalist took him all the way to the stages of Celia Cruz, Tito Puente and Paquito Rivera. 1981 brought more musicians from Cuba and Oscar was welcomed to the Afro-Cuban folklorist group "Puntilla and the New Generation" where he flourished for fifteen years. He moved to Grand Rapids in 1997, continued to sit in with various bands, and met Michael Doyle during a New Year’s show at The Bob. Michael invited Oscar to add some Latin flavor on his jazz album "Soulville," which he recorded in 2002. Oscar currently lead sings in the thirteen-member "Orchestra Sabrosa" which includes both classic and contemporary salsa music.
Daniel Montejo is not only new to Grupo Ayé, but also to the United States. He began his study of music at the early age of four in Santiago de Cuba and by the age of five he was performing regularly with the group Estilo Propio. During the following years Daniel performed professionally with various groups such as Chamán de Perduro which performed many of Daniel’s original compositions. Prior to departing Cuba for the United States, Daniel was singing with the acclaimed Cuban salsa/timba group, Azucar Negra. Daniel claims that this was an unforgettable experience of a lifetime and that he will always be grateful to have had the opportunity to perform with a band of such fame and notoriety. Once you hear Daniel Montejo’s voice, you will understand why he is such a great addition to Grupo Ayé.
Robert Mulligan is one of the more sought-after percussionists/educators in the Midwest. His career includes performing and/or recording with some of the top Latin, Jazz and Pop musicians in mid-America, including Marcos Cavalcante, Steve Talaga, Andrew Lázaro's Caribe Breeze, Aretha Franklin, Juan Daniel Castro, Arturo Sandoval, Orquesta Sabrosa, Orquesta Ritmo, Tumbao Bravo, Terry Lower and many others.
Robert has been making music all his life, but his serious music training began with the drums. He studied Percussion at Interlochen Arts Academy, where his mentor was John Alfieri. He then attended University of Cincinnati, College Conservatory of Music, where he studied Jazz and percussion under John Von Olen. He earned his B.S. degree at Western Michigan University and a Master's Degree from Indiana University. While at Indiana he performed with the IU Latin American Percussion Ensemble and Latin Big Band, led by maestro Andrew Lázaro.
Throughout his professional life he has continued to broaden his musical scope and expertise by studying with such groups as Teatro America in Havana, Cuba and the acclaimed Cuban folkloric group, Afro-Cuba de Matanzas. Rob's extensive travels in Latin America and Spain have not only enhanced his musical and cultural knowledge, but have contributed to his fluency in the Spanish language. The fact that Rob is completely bilingual has opened many musical doors for him and allowed him to perform and record with some of Latin America's finest musicians.
Pianist, composer and arranger Steve Talaga has been composing and performing professionally for more than 25 years. He is co-leader of “Mind’s Eye,” a jazz quartet with four compact discs to its credit, “Angst for the Spoiler,” “Seasons,” “Lucky Nine,” and “Children of the Glacier.” Talaga has performed with “Mind’s Eye” at many venues and jazz festivals, including the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland and the Montreux-Detroit Jazz Festival in Michigan. Music from “Seasons” has been featured on the nationally syndicated public radio program, “Jazz After Hours.”
Talaga has also released five compact discs under his own name: “Mirage,” “Yin-Yang,” “Basement Alchemy” (which was chosen as best release of 2000 by Lazaro Vega at WBLV-FM), "Two Worlds," and, most recently, “Contemplating the Heavens” (a companion to the poetry chapbook of the same title by Linda Nemec Foster). Talaga is also the pianist for many other small and large jazz ensembles and is featured on recordings with several of them, and he appears with the Grand Rapids Symphony from time to time. He has performed with many jazz greats, including Kenny Wheeler, Terry Lynne Carrington, Paul Wertico, Wes Anderson, Marcus Printup, Michael Brecker, Randy Brecker, Bob Berg, Adam Nussbaum, Wycliffe Gordon, Ric Margitza, Bobby Shew, Maria Schneider, Marvin Stamm, Denis DiBlazio, Jon Faddis, Claudio Roditi, Johnny Bassett, Greg Abate, Walt Weiskopf, Phil Woods, and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Among the many composition commissions he has received are several from Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids Poet Laureate Linda Nemec Foster, Hope College, and West Michigan’s Lakeshore Jazz Connection.
Talaga, who has been named West Michigan Jazz Society's "Jazz Musician of the Year" for 2008, is currently an adjunct professor of music at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, and Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he teaches courses in jazz studies and music theory/composition. He has also taught music at Grand Valley State University, Cornerstone University, and Grace Bible College. Talaga has frequently been on the faculty at the Aquinas College Summer Jazz Camp and Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp.
Talaga received a Bachelor of Music Degree in Jazz Studies, Magna Cum Laude, and a Master of Music Degree in Composition from Western Michigan University. He received a Bachelor of Arts in Broadcast and Cinematic Arts from Central Michigan University.
As a student in 1993, Talaga won a Downbeat Magazine award in the jazz composition category. He has won outstanding soloist awards from the Elmhurst, Aquinas, Ohio State University, and Notre Dame Jazz Festivals; and awards for jazz composition from the Notre Dame and Montreux-Detroit Jazz Festivals. He received honorable mention in the 1995 Billboard Magazine Song Writing Contest, Jazz Category. From 1982 – 1989, Talaga was a producer and on-air personality at CMU Public Radio in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.
After starting on clarinet in the fifth grade, Tom Lockwood studied sax, flute and bass, and also arranged for and directed his high school's jazz, pep, and show bands. He studied for two years at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where his teachers included Bob Mover and Mike Metheny, then finished two music degrees at Western Michigan University, where he studied with Trent Kynaston. At this time, he began working with some of the best jazz musicians in the Midwest, and performing in concerts and shows with everyone from David Liebman to Engelbert Humperdink. In addition, he has diverse teaching experience, including teaching college courses and ensembles while at WMU. Lockwood currently teaches at Hope College, Grand Valley State University, and Aquinas College.
Over a performing career spanning nearly 35 years, Charlie Hoats has had the privilege of performing with Walt Weiskopf, Rick Margitza, Marvin Stamm, Gunnar Mossblad, Marcus Roberts, Denis DiBlasio, Gene Bertoncini, Phil Keaggy, Claudio Roditi, Chris Vadala, Jack Wilkins, Jimmy Bruno, and many others. Charlie has been playing the bass for over forty years and plays in a variety of musical situations and styles. Charlie taught jazz bass and jazz improvisation at Hope College for 27 years, retiring in 2018. Charlie and his wife Holly live in Caledonia and have three sons.
Saxophonist, composer and arranger, Juan Cortes, comes from Bogota, Colombia. At the young age of 13, he was invited to perform with Colombia’s renowned ‘Yamaha Big Band’. A year later, Cortes moved to the U.S. in the pursuit for a deeper understanding of jazz and music. Even as a student, he continued to expand his musical knowledge through attending competitive music programs and national music festivals and competitions, all throughout the country. Currently, Cortes is pursuing his bachelor’s degree in jazz studies as a second year at Michigan State University.
Ciara Connolly is a jazz drummer who recently graduated from MSU with her Bachelor’s in Jazz Studies. Originally from Middlebury, Connecticut, she is a graduate of the Taft School (Watertown, CT), and was a member of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Youth Orchestra, based in New York City, where she studied with many distinguished artists including, Vincent Gardner, Ted Nash, Marcus Printup, and Wynton Marsalis. She also played in various pit bands for musicals during her time at Taft, both school and local theater productions. She also played, recorded, and toured the east coast in an indie/punk-rock band, Grass Stains. Ciara currently plays in the MSU Jazz Orchestra I. Over the course of her college career, she has had time to learn from and play with many renowned jazz artists thanks to the MSUFCU Jazz Residency program and the jazz studies program director, Mr. Rodney Whitaker. Some of these artists include Mark Whitfield, Helen Sung, Melissa Aldana, Tanya Darby, Steve Davis, Nicole Glover, and many others. Throughout the pandemic, Ciara finished her degree, and spent time practicing, writing, and arranging. In the fall, Ciara will begin her journey at MSU as a graduate student where she will continue studying under the esteemed tutelage of Randy Gelispie. Ciara plans on composing and arranging more music to release in the near future, and is excited to perform in her debut as a bandleader for the East Lansing Summer Solstice Jazz Festival.
Jordyn Davis (b. 1995) is a bassist, composer, songwriter, vocalist, and multi-instrumentalist from Inkster, MI. In May 2019, Davis became the first African American woman to receive a Bachelor's Degree in Music Composition from Michigan State University as well as the first Michigan State student to receive a Bachelor's Degree in Music Composition and Jazz Studies concurrently. She has composed and arranged over 20 works for film, various contemporary classical chamber ensembles, symphony orchestra, wind ensemble, as well as various jazz ensembles including octet, and big band. She has also performed and worked with artists such Rodney Whitaker, Micheal Dease, Bruce Barth, Wycliffe Gordon and The Black Excellence Trombone Choir, Ingrid Jensen, Rick Roe, Etienne Charles and Dee Dee Bridgewater. Additionally, she is the founder of an indie rock/neo-soul project called "Composetheway" and recently completed a master’s degree in Jazz Studies at Michigan State University.
Sam Corey is a Michigan based Saxophonist and Bassist. For the past four years he has attended Michigan State University studying with saxophonist Diego Rivera and bassist Rodney Whitaker. Sam has been performed with many notable artists including Michael Phillip Mossman, Harvey Mason, Steve Wilson, Carl Allen, Melissa Aldana, Mark Whitfield, Steve Davis, Tanya Darby, Kenny Washington and Terell Stafford. In January 2020 he attended the Jack Rudin Jazz Championship with Michigan State University hosted by Jazz at Lincoln Center. The MSU Big band took 3rd place and Sam was given the outstanding tenor saxophonist award by the judges. Next year Sam will attend MSU as a teaching assistant in the jazz studies.
Roger L. Jones II is a native of Flint, MI. Since 1989 he has worked professionally with various artists in the USA, Japan, and Turkey. Roger discovered his musical abilities when he was a youngster at church. His gospel background provided a spring board to his passion for playing jazz music. The church Greater Holy Temple COGIC where his father is pastor, was like a musical battle ground for young musicians. Roger cites his non- gospel influences as Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, and McCoy Tyner. After graduating from high school, Roger attended Oberlin Conservatory in Oberlin Ohio. While attending Oberlin, Roger’s understanding and musicianship grew exponentially. Many performance opportunities were afforded, and his reputation grew. Since this time, Roger has performed and “sat in” with various musical icons associated with jazz and other musical styles. Some of these individuals include Wynton Marsalis, Joe Henderson, Wallace Roney, and JJ Johnson to name a few.
Roger has developed into a cutting-edge band leader. His band, “Roger Jones & Higher Calling” is comprised of phenomenal musicians dedicated to inventing fresh and innovative ways to approach the execution of music. `Mixed with a soulful and modern approach, the music of this band is innovative, relevant to the current generation, and swings ridiculously hard. There is no doubt that Roger L. Jones II will be heralded as one of the most explosive and innovative pianists of his generation.
Gayelynn McKinney began playing the drums at the age of two. Although she received much of her musical training in the Detroit Jazz scene, she also obtained her Bachelor of Music degree from Oakland University. Gayelynn has recorded projects with the group Straight Ahead, (of which she is a cofounder) Ralph Armstrong and Marcus Belgrave just to name a few. She has recently recorded solo projects called “It's About Time,” “McKinFolk The New Beginning,” and “Zoot Suit Funk.” Gayelynn McKinney's many awards include: 2014 Kresge Artist Fellows recipient, with the Group Straight Ahead and McKinFolk, a Grammy Nomination, Detroit Black Music Award recipient, and Detroit Music Awards for best jazz composer. Gayelynn McKinney has had the opportunity to travel extensively and play at many famous jazz festivals including Montreux-Jazz Fest, Lionel Hampton Jazz Fest, New Orleans Jazz Fest, Essence Festival, Olympics, and the Kennedy Center. She has also performed as a side musician with such notables as Benny Golson, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Diane Shure, Jason Marsalis, Freda Payne, Roy Ayers, Geri Allen Marcus Belgrave, Chaka Khan, Roy Hargrove, Randy Brecker, Rick Margitza, Larry Coryell, Ralphe Armstrong, Steve Turre, Kevin Mahogany, James Carter, Tim Ries, (The Rolling Stones Music director) and “Speech” of “Arrested Development.” Gayelynn is also the last drummer to tour with Aretha Franklin While performing with Aretha Franklin, Gayelynn had the distinct honor to play for presidential hopeful, Hilary Clinton. She also performed at Tribeca Film Fest featuring a tribute to Clive Davis.
The goal of ORQUESTA RITMO is to introduce and entertain the American public in the electrifying genre of Latin Music. The Band was formed in the late 70’s as a smaller group plus a dance troupe to participate in the US Bicentennial Celebration. In the mid 80’s it became the ten piece group that currently performs. They have opened for a number of national and international acts, including such artists as Salsa great Oscar D’Leon, recording artists Los Lobos, The Bangles, and Pete Escovído among others. The band has also garnered a number of accolades including a Special Tribute from the Michigan Legislature for promoting the Cuban Culture in the Mid-Michigan area. Currently, the Band has been performing at casinos, Festivals and Corporate Functions all over the State and parts of the Midwest.
Heartland Klezmorim began their musical journey in 2006, performing old-time klezmer music. Since that time, their repertoire has expanded to performing music from the Yiddish theater, Yiddish/klezmer swing, and jazz interpretations of klezmer music. Between 2009 and 2015, Heartland Klezmorim was the pit band for the Little Darlins’ Vaudeville Show, performing klezmer and old-time swing music accompanying jugglers, magicians, dancers, and singers. In 2016, 2017, and 2018, Heartland Klezmorim was asked to accompany silent films at the Capital City Film Festival. In 2014 & 2015, Heartland Klezmorim played klezmer music for traditional contra-dancing at the Wheatland Traditional Arts Weekend.
Kammy Yedor is a young jazz guitarist from the Seattle area. She has performed there as a sidewoman and bandleader since high school. She is an alumna of Seattle’s prestigious Roosevelt High School Jazz program, the Seattle JazzEd program, the Berklee Global Jazz Institute’s Newport Workshop and Michigan State University where she obtained her Bachelor of Music degree in Jazz Studies.
She has studied with Milo Petersen, Clarence Acox, Scott Brown, Danilo Perez, Terri Lynne Carrington, Ben Street, and the Professors of Jazz at Michigan State University. While a student at Roosevelt High School and Michigan State University, she has had the opportunity to share the stage with Michael Phillip Mossman, Harvey Mason, Steve Wilson, Andrew Speight, Mimi Jones, Jim Alfredson, Jay Thomas, D’Vonne Lewis, the Seattle Women’s Jazz Orchestra, Tanya Darby, and Kenny Washington. She currently performs in the greater Detroit, Lansing, and Grand Rapids areas in addition to her work back home.
Noah Jackson is a bassist, cellist, and composer from Detroit, Michigan. As a member of NEA Jazz Master Abdullah Ibrahim's ensemble Ekaya, Mr. Jackson has performed internationally to critical acclaim and recorded the latest album, The Balance, released in 2019. Mr. Jackson has also performed with Nnenna Freelon, Branford Marsalis, The Marsalis Family, Kenny Garrett, Jason Marsalis, George Burton, Jazzmeia Horn, Christian Sands, and Winard Harper.
A recipient of the Creative Engagement and UMEZ grants from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and the State of New York, he produced a work based on the music of Duke Ellington- On A Turquoise Cloud at the Schomburg Center in September 2019 and performed at the Detroit Symphony Orchesta @ The Cube in February 2020. His group also recorded an album, "Contemplations: A Suite" in 2011, which has garnered critical praise. As a leader of the Ase string quartet, Mr. Jackson was commissioned to compose and direct the quartet in a multidisciplinary collaborative art project- Practicing: Silence at Grace Farms under the direction of Kenyon Adams as part of their Practicing series alongside featured dancers from the American Ballet Theater. He has also led his Detroit-based Tangent String Quartet in a rare performance of Quartet No.2 by black composer Florence B. Price as part of a video series presented by the Detroit Institute of the Arts in February 2021.
A graduate of Michigan State University (B.M.) under the direction of Rodney Whitaker, and Manhattan School of Music (M.M.) with Dr. Larry Ridley, Noah currently resides in Harlem, New York City.
Known as a forward-thinking musician with a passion for the jazz tradition, guitarist Randy Napoleon is an Associate Professor at Michigan State University. He is currently touring as a leader after twenty years of road apprenticeship with some of the most celebrated musicians and groups of our time.
Napoleon cut his teeth touring with pianist Benny Green, The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, Michael Bublé, and a thirteen year tenure with Freddy Cole. He has also performed with artists across the jazz spectrum such as Bill Charlap, Natalie Cole, Monty Alexander, Rodney Whitaker and John Pizzarelli.
Napoleon has performed or arranged on over seventy records. He arranged as well as performed on Freddy Cole’s seven most recent 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.
Napoleon has played on The Tonight Show, Late Night With David Letterman, The View, The Today Show, and The Ellen DeGeneres show as well as TV shows in South America, Europe and Asia. He has performed across the globe at notable venues including Royal Albert Hall, The Sydney Opera House, The Hollywood Bowl, and Lincoln Center.
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.” Washington Post critic Mike Joyce praises his “exceptionally nimble finger-style technique.” Comparing him to Wes Montgomery, music critic Michael G. Nastos says, “he displays an even balance of swing, soul, and single-line or chord elements that mark an emerging voice dedicated to tradition and universally accessible jazz values.”
Naima Shamborguer was born and raised in Detroit Michigan. Naima developed highly artistic and finely polished vocal abilities through extensive training in classical and jazz music. A Motown treasure, Naima wet her feet performing with the Jimmy Wilkins Jazz orchestra, the Teddy Harris Jr. New Breed Bebop Society, the Harlem Renaissance Jazz Orchestra and many of the Detroit Montreux Jazz festivals. Subsequent years brought recordings and performance opportunities with Freddie Hubbard, Marcus Belgrave, James Carter, Geri Allen, Kenny Burrell, Barry Harris, Donald Byrd, Bob Hurst, George Davidson, Eddie Russ, Steve Turre, Steve Davis, Larry Willis, Rodney Whitaker, Donald Walden, Marion Hayden, Wendell Harrison, Ken Cox, Charlie Gabriel, Sean Dobbins, Tad Weed, Kurt Krhanke and Rayse Biggs. Naima hosted the first vocal jazz workshop at the Detroit Montreux Jazz Festival (now Detroit Jazz Festival) and, continues to conduct vocal workshops using breathing techniques and group participation to better connect the singers and aficionados to the jazz music they love. Naima has also created the stage show Me and Sarah performed at the Charles H. Wright African Museum in Detroit, Michigan. The city council of Detroit has honored Naima on two occasions with the Spirit of Detroit Award in recognition of exceptional achievement and outstanding leadership. Naima is also the proud recipient of a 2019 Knight Arts Challenge award.
Naima received encouragement from many jazz greats during her formative years and she has never forgotten that this tradition of mentorship must be carried on. Naima produced Lifetime: Detroit Young Jazz Giants Tribute to Geri Allen on her independent label, Shambones Music. This CD was created to honor the late Geri Allen and to mentor these young Detroit musicians Benny Rubin Jr, Tariq Gardner, Jeffrey Trent, Trunino Lowe, Betty Alexandria Pride, Ian Finkelstein, Louis M. Jones III, Alexis Lombre and Jonathan Muir-Cotton. Naima helped these young musicians to understand the importance of creating a great musical product from the ins and outs of rehearsal and the best use of studio time to the final CD release party.
Rodney T. Whitaker, internationally renowned recording artist, composer, jazz bassist, member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, artistic directors of Dr. Phillips Center Jazz Orchestra, Arts League of Michigan Gathering Orchestra, East Lansing Summer Solstice Jazz Festival, a university distinguished professor of jazz double bass, director of jazz studies, artistic director for the Michigan State University Professors of Jazz at Michigan State University where he has built, with enormous support from the university's administration, dean, community partners, phenomenal parents and dynamic patrons one of the most highly world-recognized distinguished jazz degree programs and performing faculty in the United States of America. With one of the most undeniably distinctive bear-sized bass tones, Whitaker is one of the leading innovative bass performers and educators of the jazz double bass in the United States. He received his first national recognition performing with the Harrison/Blanchard Quintet and the late great trumpeter, Roy Hargrove. Expatiating his Detroit roots and enormous talent, Rodney earned an international reputation as one of the world's finest jazz double bass performers completing a seven-year tenure with the world-renowned Wynton Marsalis Septet and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. He has toured the world over the last thirty-seven years, collaborating and performing with legendary artists from Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, The Marsalis Family, Ray Charles, Dizzy Gillespie, Jimmy Heath, Bob James, Roy Hargrove, Chick Corea, Pat Matheny, Antonio Hart, Natalie Cole, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dianne Reeves, Kathleen Battle, Cassandra Wilson, John Lewis, Cecile McLorin Salvant, Diana Krall, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and the late greats, Joe Henderson, Donald Byrd, Tommy Flanagan, Marian McPartland, Hank Jones, Frank Morgan, Betty Carter, Johnny Griffith, Geri Allen, and Wallace Roney just to name a few. He is featured on more than 200 recordings -- from film to compact discs. Whether you find a life-long pioneer, bassist, composer, recording artist, educator, and mentor performing on stage, conducting a master class, recording in a studio, or mapping out plans for the future of jazz with members of the community, his jazz faculty or the world, Rodney Whitaker has whole-heartedly embraced the JAZZ legacy life-force with an integral pledge of distinction, integrity, and great promise--mentoring a thousand mentors who will also mentor a thousand mentors.