2017 Performer Bios

Carl Cafagna & North Star: A band with a hard-hitting, soulful and sophisticated modern sound, formed in 2004 by Detroit saxophonist Carl Cafagna. The band has been featured at the 2010 Detroit International Jazz Festival, at Nighttown in Cleveland, regularly at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge in Detroit, and on the Best of the Detroit Jazz Fest., 2005 C.D. (Mack Ave. Records)

Western Jazz Quartet: A resident faculty ensemble in the School of Music at Western Michigan University. Formed in 1974, the quartet combines performing and teaching with uncommon success as they promote jazz music and jazz education through a very active schedule of tours, concerts and workshops. 

Ramona Collins Group: Audiences throughout the Midwest have known for quite some time that this performer is one of the region's true treasures. She was born in Toledo but grew up in Lansing MI. She covers all the flavors from honey to hot sauce whether she is half of a duo or fronting an orchestra.

Dafnis Prieto: His revolutionary drumming techniques and compositions have had a powerful impact on the Latin and Jazz music scene. Various awards include “2011 MacArthur Fellowship Award”,  2006 Grammy Award Nomination for ”Absolute Quintet” as Best Latin Jazz Album. Dafnis has worked in bands led by Eddie Palmieri, Chico and Arturo O'Farrill, Chucho Valdez and Roy Hargrove. 

Grupo Aye’: Formed just over two years ago by Robert Mulligan, one of the most sought-after percussionists/educators in the Midwest. They play a combination of Cuban Timba, Salsa, Bachata, Merengue and Latin Jazz that will get you on your feet in seconds. 

JAMM Scholarship Quartet: Four prior recipients of the Jazz Alliance of Mid-Michigan’s Sandy Izenson Scholarship unite.

Zack Adleman Quartet: The Zach Adleman Quartet is an exciting new jazz collective comprised of some of the brightest young jazz musicians of tomorrow. Between the four musicians, they have performed at Carnegie Hall, the 57th Annual Grammy Award After Parties, Jazz at Lincoln Center, and Cliff Bells.

Maureen Choi Quartet: Their captivating live performance consists of original compositions and arrangements of traditional Spanish and Latin American pieces. Maureen is one of the few violinists in the world who is able to blend the virtuosity of classical music, with improvisation and driving Latin rhythms.

Phil Denny: 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.

Laura Rain and the Caesars: Winning a prestigious 2016 Detroit Music Award for “Outstanding Blues Songwriter“, Laura Rain and the Caesars have been touring relentlessly throughout the U.S. and Canada, including performances at  the Mississippi Valley Blues Fest and the Edmonton Blues International Fest.

Arlene McDaniel Quartet: Arlene McDaniel has been an active jazz pianist and educator in the Mid-Michigan area and beyond for over 35 years. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Theory & Composition from MSU in 1984.  Arlene is on the adjunct jazz faculty (2013) at Hillsdale College and plays in the faculty jazz ensemble The Hillcats.  She teaches at the MSU Community Music School (2008), and out of her home studio. Arlene’s CD Timeless (2009) has received international airplay and is currently available online or from the artist. This year Arlene will be joined by Lansing area saxophonist Jon Gewirtz, Flint native, bassist Nick Calandro, and long time associate, Lansing area percussionist Ian LeVine.

Molly Jones: Is a jazz improviser, multimedia composer, and poet. Her more-than-65 compositions encompass a wide variety of instrumentations and inspirations, from thorough-composed chamber works to minimally notated and graphic scores, conduction pieces, and electro-acoustic compositions incorporating video collage, sampling, and interactive electronics.  

BassDrumBone: A trio that has wedded the uniqueness of its instrumentation with the singular personality of its three members.  A true collective, their music combines three distinct compositional and improvisational approaches with an exceptional musical rapport.  

David Murray / Kahil El’ Zabar Duo: It’s impossible to express the depth of history & musical pedigree between these two players. They are consummate virtuosos, possessing ingenious interpretations within the history and future of Great Black Music! You'll be taken on a journey of profound sound that will uplift and transport your spirits away from the mediocre into the bliss of soulfully inspired creative music!

Gabriel Brass Band: A family tradition that has been passed down for 6 generations, beginning with patriarch Narcisse Gabriel, a bass player whom migrated to New Orleans from Santo Domingo in 1856. Continuing the exciting fun-filled brass band second line tradition in the metro Detroit area, the Gabriel Brass Band honors rich history of New Orleans music while delivering a joyful sound that excites the modern ear.

MSU Jazz Studies Big Band Symposium:
 Under the direction of Professor Rodney Whitaker, is a residential camp for middle- and high-school students with intermediate and advanced playing experience.

Markus Howell Trio: A native of Deerfield Beach, FL., Markus is a graduate of Dillard Center for The Arts, the number one high school jazz band in the nation. He has played with Wynton Marsalis and has performed the Star Spangled Banner at a Miami Heat game. Howell is currently at Michigan State University majoring in Jazz Studies.

Quintet Ruby: A group assembled by MSU Jazz Studies Graduate student, Seth Ebersole, a saxophonist and educator from the Philadelphia area. He has shared the stage with some of the finest musicians in jazz including: Terell Stafford, Rodney Whitaker, Michael Dease, Dick Oatts, Etienne Charles and many others. 

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. This group offers soul, smooth jazz, R&B, blues and gospel jazz, styles, with soulful vocals, a powerhouse horn section, killer keys, silky strings and indispensable percussions.

Twyla Birdsong: From the first moment she sets free a deep soulful note, audiences are moved by the raw talent and radiance that pours from this incredible woman. Her rich, resonant voice strikes a balance between diva and divine, making her one of Lansing’s most talented – and loved – vocalists.

Planet D Nonet: A down & dirty little swing band from Detroit, was founded by drummer RJ Spangler and trumpeter James O’Donnell. The PD9  is about swing, blues, space-age jazz and classic American songs all served with plenty of good humor with an eye toward turning people onto this kind of music. 

Elden Kelly: Is an improviser, band leader, guitarist, composer and singer-songwriter, known for a type of classically-influenced jazz and world music. After graduating from the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music, Elden accepted a full scholarship and teaching assistantship at Michigan State with Rodney Whitaker, earning a graduate degree in 2011 in Ethnomusicology.  

Rodney Whitaker Quintet: Internationally renowned bassist and Mack Avenue recording artist, Rodney Whitaker, currently holds the titles of Professor of Jazz Bass and Director of Jazz Studies at Michigan State University where he has built one of the leading jazz degree programs and performing faculty in the United States of America. He is considered one of the leading performers and teachers of the jazz double bass in the United States.

Fareed Haque: Steeped in classical and jazz traditions, his unique command of the guitar and different musical styles inspire his musical ventures with tradition and fearlessness. Haque has been featured on WTTW’s ArtBeat and Chicago Tonight, Ben Sidran’s New visions, Michelob Presents Sunday Night with David Sanborn on NBC, his own Lonesome Pines special for PBS, and on BET cable jazz channel. Voted ‘Best World Guitarist’ by Guitar Player Magazine in 2009, His acclaimed 2009 release Flat Planet was twice #1 on the World Jazz Radio charts.

Tony Monaco: In April 2000, Tony met fellow jazz organist Joey DeFrancesco, who offered to produce a debut CD for him. This collaboration resulted in the critically acclaimed "Burnin Grooves”. The international success of the recording served as the catalyst for regional and national tours. Tony has since released 8 International releases and toured around the globe many times. Tony also toured and recorded with Pat Martino for over two years! Tony continues to expand his catalogue and has created MotherHenMusicEd.com. He developed a system of giving lessons one on one online and gives lessons to students around the globe!
Tim Warfield: The New York Times Critics poll declared him “...possibly the most powerful tenor saxophonist of his generation.” He has performed and toured with Christian McBride, Jimmy Smith, Dizzy Gillespie and many others.

Michael Dease: Is a sought-after, two- time GRAMMY-award winning lead, section and bass trombonist with today’s leading jazz orchestras, including those led by Christian McBride, Roy Hargrove, Nicholas Payton, Charles Tolliver, Rufus Reid, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band. This year Dease explores the roots and branches of Jazz with All These Hands, his fourth album for Posi- Tone and tenth overall.

Orquesta Ritmo: Prepare yourself for some red-hot salsa dancing courtesy of mid-Michigan’s premier salsa orchestra. 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!

Roger Jones & Higher Calling: A native of Flint MI, Roger has performed and “sat in” with many jazz icons including Wynton Marsalis, Joe Henderson, Wallace Roney, JJ Johnson and many others. Roger’s band”Higher Calling” is innovative, relevant to the current generation, and swings ridiculously hard.