LaFrae Sci and Sonic Black
LaFrae Sci is an internationally sought composer, drummer and educator who teaches at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and is also a founding teaching member of the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls in N.Y.C. As a Cultural Ambassador for the U.S. State Department, she has taught master classes and performed in more than 30 countries. This experience led LaFrae to develop and launch the NGO Groove Diplomacy, whose mission is to create youth engagement programs internationally using musical expression as a vehicle to empower, ignite, heal & create mutual understanding.
LaFrae’s band, Sonic Black, is an educational collective that creates interactive presentations focusing on the genius of the Black American musical contribution to U.S. and world history. Our presentations are tailored to the specific mission of our requested visit. Recent examples are: “Music and Social Justice”, “Finding Your Voice Through Improvisation”, “Women’s Empowerment”, and “Music & Entrepreneurship”. Sonic Black has performed and taught interactive workshops in more than 100 NYC public schools, toured as representatives for Jazz at Lincoln Centers Jazz for Young People On Tour concert series, served as artists in residence at schools in Atlanta, Georgia and Dayton, Ohio and performed in NYC, Suriname, Albania, Paris and participated in the world premiere of two LaFrae’s jazz orchestral works, the first in 2014 written for 36 pieces inspired by the Russian novel The Master and Margarita , in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, and the latest being the Time Traveler Suite:Travel Journals of an Afro – Futurist, also performed in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia 2016 written for 60 pieces plus two choirs.
In the spring of 2016 Groove Diplomacy participated in the creation of the first Intercultural Garifuna Festival, a special project with the Afro – Guatemalans in the Livingston, Guatemala region. In December of 2016 Groove Diplomacy again partnered with Fundadela and the U.S. Embassy Guatemala to establish a teaching curriculum, repertoire and create a Gauatemalan/U.S.A. joint faculty establishing the First Annual Jazz Camp Guatemala! Additionally in December 2016 LaFrae had the pleasure of presenting a 3 hour masterclass on “improvisation and finding your voice” with members of the Orquesta Alaíde Foppa, the only all female orchestra in Latin America.
LaFrae has played drums for The Burnt Sugar Arkestra, The Black Rock Coalition Orchestra, Valerie June, Keziah Jones, Sandra Bernhard, Eli Yamin, Vernon Reid, Kelis, Nancy Sinatra (w/ Morrissey), Blues greats Jr. Mack and Pinetop Perkins, Irene Cara, Bumblefoot, Cyndi Lauper, Reuben Wilson, Rachel Z, Kelis and Dr. Lonnie Smith.
Charismatic and dynamic saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin's electric stage presence and fiery sax work, has shared stages with Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, The Roots, Macy Gray and many others, brings the soul and funk up to a fever pitch in a show that's guaranteed to keep crowds dancing day or night. Though her own music with her band Lakecia Benjamin and Soul Squad is immersed in the vintage sounds of James Brown, Maceo Parker, Sly and the Family Stone and the Meters as well as classic jazz, Benjamin's soaring, dance floor-friendly grooves take the classic vibe to a whole new level. The constant throughout it all is Benjamin's summery, sultry alto saxophone, adding something special on every cut - be it a smoldering late-night ambience, an erudite, forceful jazz intensity or the tight funk multi-horn harmony sections that pepper the proceedings throughout.
A streetwise New York City native born and raised in Washington Heights, Lakecia Benjamin has become one of the most highly sought-after players in soul and funk music. She first picked up the saxophone at Fiorello LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts, after which she joined the renowned jazz program at New York's New School University. By that time, she was already playing with renowned jazz figures like Clark Terry and Reggie Workman, which led to gigs and tours with a wide array of artists such as Rashied Ali, the David Murray Big Band, Vanessa Rubin and James "Blood" Ulmer. With her deep jazz roots, she was soon in demand as an arranger and horn section leader, landing stints with such acclaimed artists as Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, Macy Gray, the Roots, and Anita Baker.
Currently, Benjamin is a featured musician for Gregory Porter as well as a featured musician and arranger for comedy star Craig Robinson and the Nasty Delicious. (Robinson, best known for his work on TV's The Office as well as such popular films as Pineapple Express and Hot Tub Time Machine, tours regularly with the Nasty Delicious band serving as the main foil in his popular comedy act). Benjamin has also had the honor of performing at the White House at President Obama's inaugural ball. She's performed on four continents and her extensive recording credits include saxophone and arrangements for Santigold, Maurice Brown, the Clark Terry Big Band, Krystle Warren and Talib Kweli, among others.
Bill Wimmer's Project Omaha featuring Victor Lewis
Internationally acclaimed drummer and composer Victor Lewis was born on May 20, 1950 in Omaha, Nebraska. His father, Richard Lewis, who played saxophone and mother, Camille, a pianist-vocalist were both classically trained musicians who performed with many of the "territory bands" that toured the midwest in the forties. Victor grew up hearing jazz along with popular and European classical music at home, and would go to the local theater with his father to hear the big bands when they passed through Omaha. The first people he remembers seeing were Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Woody Herman.
Victor started studying music when he was ten and a half years old. He began on the cello because he was too small for the acoustic bass, but switched to the drums a year and a half later after watching the local drum corps marching on the Fourth of July and other holidays. He also studied classical piano which is when he learned how to read music.
Lewis began playing drums professionally on the local scene at the age of 15. Because few of the older drummers in Omaha could read music, the young percussionist was called up for a variety of commercial jobs, including jingles, the Bob Hope Show, even the circus. At first Victor's style reflected his attraction to the big band drummers he had seen with his father and heard on records, but after hearing a record of Miles Davis' Quintet with Tony Williams things changed. He began exploring Williams' sound and the styles of other great small group drummers like Art Blakey, Kenny Clarke, Max Roach and Philly Joe Jones. Soon afterwards he started his own small group to play around town. His first job with a nationally known jazz musician was accompanying Hank Crawford in Omaha.
On Victor's first gig in Manhattan, a night at Boomer's with bassist Buster Williams' group, he met trumpeter Woody Shaw. Lewis joined the trumpeter's band and a few months later, he made his recording debut on Shaw's classic, The Moontrane. The drummer also began making his mark on the burgeoning fusion and pop jazz scenes, providing the beat on records by Joe Farrell, Earl Klugh, Hubert Laws, Carla Bley and David Sanborn. It was on Sanborn's lps that Victor's compositional skills were first exposed to the public. They recorded Victor's "Seventh Avenue" and "Sophisticated Squaw" (a/k/a "Agaya") on their first outing together and Sanborn would call on Lewis' writing talents again in the future when he recorded "The Legend of the Cheops."
In 1980, Victor left Shaw's group to join another tenor giant, Stan Getz, beginning an association that would last up until the saxophonist's death in 1991. Lewis made many recordings with Getz including videos of the group's performances at the Paul Masson Vineyards and the Robert Mondavi Vineyards. It was Getz who first recorded his composition, "I Wanted To Say."
By the end of the eighties, Lewis was one of jazz's busiest freelancers. He toured and recorded with a wide array of the music's most respected leaders. The long list of artists including Kenny Barron, Art Farmer, J.J. Johnson, Mike Stern, John Stubblefield, Grover Washington Jr., The Manhattan Jazz Quintet, Bobby Hutcherson and Bobby Watson attest to his talent and versatility.
When not driving a group with Bobby from the drum chair, Victor has been the main-stay in the Kenny Barron Quintet since its inception. Among the many tunes he has contributed to this band, his much heralded "Big Girls" can be heard on the pianist's Quickstep disc on Enja, "Hey, It's Me You're Talkin' To" on the Polygram release Other Places.
When he's home in New York, Victor can most often be found in the city's recording studios. In addition to the many jazz dates he's recorded with people like Gary Bartz, Eddie Henderson, Johnny Griffin, Janis Siegel, Larry Willis, John Hicks and Abbey Lincoln, he has recorded a jazz method record with educator-saxophonist Fred Lipsius. An educated drummer, Lewis tries to pass on his knowledge, giving private instruction to students, participating as a freelance instructor with The New School University Jazz School-Mannes Music School Jazz Program in New York City and appearing in drum clinics around the world as often as his schedule allows it. He has participated in a symposium in Modern Drummer magazine and there have been several feature articles about him in publications such as Downbeat, The Wire, Jazz Times as well as Modern Drummer.
In 2003 Victor joined the faculty of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ where he teaches drummers and coaches jazz combos.
Victor has recorded albums under his own name as well, featuring his own compositions and unique style of drumming. The first, Family Portrait, on AudioQuest includes performances by John Stubblefield, Edward Simon, Cecil McBee, Don Alias, Jumma Santos and a six-voice chorus led by Pamela Watson. Even Victor gets an opportunity to participate on some of the vocal selections and on one track plays a little piano. The album features suite-like compositions dedicated to his whole family - "Family Portrait," his parents on "A Mis Padres," children "Bella y Cosima" and "Lil' Sis."
"Lewis is a master of shading and color, and the kind of timekeeper that could teach a clock new ways to tick" says jazz writer Bill Kohlhasse. As his ever increasing talent becomes more and more obvious to the general public, it is clear that Victor Lewis is an important artist on the horizon.
Terence Blanchard featuring The E-Collective
In the post-Wynton Marsalis era, jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard has become a most prominent brass player, bandleader, recording artist, orchestrator of film scores, and leader in the mainstream post-bop community. Born on March 13, 1962 in New Orleans, Louisiana, Terence Oliver Blanchard was an only child to parents Wilhelmina and Joseph Oliver Blanchard. He began playing piano by the age of five, switched to trumpet three years later, and played alongside childhood friend Marsalis in summer band camps. While in high school, he took extracurricular classes at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts with Roger Dickerson and Ellis Marsalis. From 1980 to 1982, Blanchard studied under Paul Jeffrey and Bill Fielder at Rutgers University in New Jersey while touring with Lionel Hampton's orchestra. In 1982 Blanchard replaced Wynton Marsalis under his recommendation in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, working in that band up to 1986 as lead soloist and musical director. He then co-led a prominent quintet with saxophonist Donald Harrison, recording seven albums for the Concord, Columbia, and Evidence record labels in five years, including a stirring in-concert tribute to the Eric Dolphy/Booker Little ensemble.
In the '90s, Blanchard became a leader in his own right, recording for the Columbia label, performing on the soundtracks to Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing and Mo' Better Blues, and composing the music for Lee's film Jungle Fever. In fact, Blanchard has written the score for every Spike Lee film since 1991, including Malcolm X, Clockers, Summer of Sam, 25th Hour, Inside Man, and the Hurricane Katrina documentary When the Levees Broke for HBO. With over 40 scores to his credit, Blanchard and Mark Isham are the most sought-after jazz musicians to ever compose for film. In the fall of 2000, Blanchard was named artistic director of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Keeping up with his love of live performance and touring, Blanchard also maintains a regular studio presence, recording his own original music for the Columbia, Sony Classical, and Blue Note labels. His albums have included The Billie Holiday Songbook (1994), Romantic Defiance (1995), The Heart Speaks (1996), the acclaimed Wandering Moon (2000), Let's Get Lost (2001), Bounce (2003), and especially Flow (2005), which was produced by pianist Herbie Hancock and received two Grammy nominations. Blanchard has been nominated for 11 Grammys and has won four in total, including awards for New York Scene with Blakey (1984) and the soundtrack A Tale of God's Will in 2007. In 2005, Blanchard was part of McCoy Tyner's ensemble that won the Grammy in the Best Jazz Instrumental Album category for Illuminations.
A quintessential sideman as well as leader, he has worked with prominent jazz players including Cedar Walton, Abbey Lincoln, Joanne Brackeen, Jay McShann, Ralph Peterson, Ed Thigpen, J.J. Johnson, Toots Thielemans, the Olympia Brass Band, Stevie Wonder, Bill Lee, Ray Brown, Poncho Sanchez, Dr. Billy Taylor, Dr. John, Lionel Loueke, Jeff Watts, and many others. Scarecrow Press published his autobiography, Contemporary Cat. By April of 2007, the Monk Institute announced its Commitment to New Orleans initiative, which included the relocation of the program to the campus of Loyola University in New Orleans, spearheaded by Blanchard. During 2007, the Monterey Jazz Festival named Blanchard Artist-in-Residence, and the festival formed a 50th Anniversary All-Stars ensemble featuring trumpeter James Moody, Benny Green, Derrick Hodge, Kendrick Scott, and Nnenna Freelon. In 2008, Blanchard helped score the hit film Cadillac Records. Signing with Concord Jazz in 2009, he released Choices -- recorded at the Ogden Museum of Art in Blanchard's hometown of New Orleans -- at the end of that summer.
In 2011, he paid tribute to the innovative Afro-Cuban recordings of Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo by teaming up with Latin jazz percussionist Poncho Sanchez for the studio album Chano y Dizzy! In 2012, Blanchard returned to his film work by scoring the soundtrack to director George Lucas' WWII action/drama Red Tails. The trumpeter returned to the Don Was-helmed Blue Note in 2012. His first offering for the label was Magnetic, an album that showcased a new quintet and guest appearances by Ron Carter and labelmates Lionel Loueke and Ravi Coltrane. In 2015, Blanchard followed up once again on Blue Note with the electric fusion and R&B-infused Breathless. Featuring backing from Blanchard's band the E-Collective, Breathless also included contributions from vocalist PJ Morton.
The Rad Trads
“With a killer driving groove, New York Soul Rebels ‘The Rad Trads’ truly show how tight they are as an ensemble while having fun at the same time.” — Paste Magazine
Based in New York City, The Rad Trads have quickly gained a reputation as one of New York's most entertaining live acts. They bring their love of the game to a diverse style of soulful American music, with influences ranging from early jazz to New Orleans brass band, R&B, the Chicago and delta blues, and rock & roll. Featuring three powerful horns, a driving rhythm section, and four captivating lead vocalists, The Rad Trads consistently win over audiences with their relentless energy, charisma, and enthusiasm.
When not touring across the USA and Europe, the band performs regularly in NYC at Brooklyn Bowl, The Blue Note, BB King’s and Radegast Hall. 2015 Tour Highlights included main stage performances at the Atlanta Jazz, Rochester Jazz, Columbus Jazz & Ribs and Russian River Jazz & Blues festivals, opening for Taj Mahal and Buddy Guy, as well as a monthlong European festival tour featuring notable collaborations in Italy with Paolo Fresu.
Members of The Rad Trads continue to perform with top groups such as Lee Fields & The Expressions, Jon Batiste & Stay Human, Sammy Miller & The Congregation and have performed or recorded with artists such as St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Deer Tick, Red Baraat, Ikebe Shakedown, Lenny Pickett, EMEFE & Broadway giant Jason Robert Brown among many others.