LaFrae Sci and Sonic Black featuring Lakecia Benjamin

LaFrae Sci holding a pair of drum sticks.

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.

Sonic Black

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.

Roberto Fonseca

Roberto Fonseca inside a suspended baby grand piano.

Since the beginning of his musical career in the early 1990s, Cuban-born multi-instrumentalist Roberto Fonseca has stated his mission clearly: “I want my music to reach people who don’t know me, and I dream of one day becoming a point of reference for my audience.” Although still very young – by the standards of jazz, hip-hop, world music or any other genre – Fonseca has maintained a sharp focus on his mission that has already garnered him global recognition.

The UK Guardian is just one of the many voices in both the music and mainstream press worldwide to have recognized Fonseca’s immense talent by heralding him as “a fabulously gifted pianist, composer and bandleader with a gift for melody that outshines more celebrated peers.” The Guardian further proclaimed him as “one of a new breed who can transcend musical boundaries through sheer quality.”

Born into a musical family in Havana, Cuba, in 1975, young Roberto originally gravitated to percussion, but started playing the piano at age 8 (the interest in percussion would eventually enhance his piano style). His first musical performances was playing drums for a band that covered Beatles songs.

He began composing at age 14, drawing inspiration from Afro-Cuban music. “In school, we used to regard American jazz as a point of reference,” Fonseca recalls. “I felt that my music would be a fusion of both genres. I liked lots of jazz musicians, such as Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett, but also old American funk and soul classics.”

His appearance at Havana’s International Jazz Festival at the tender age of 15 was not only a revelation to audiences, but the launching pad for a musical education that resulted in a degree in musical composition from the Instituto Superior de Arte. But the degree was only the beginning of his education process. He saw every road after college as an opportunity to merge his style with other styles and create something greater than the sum of its parts. At 21, he embarked on a tour through Italy with singer Augusto Enriquez, which included performances on RAI, the state TV channel, which introduced him to audiences well beyond his Cuban origins.

Shortly after the Italian tour, Fonseca joined saxophonist Javier Zalba to form Temperamento, a group that became his creative platform for the next 15 years, beginning with the release of En el Comienzo in 1998. The album won the award for Best Jazz Album at the Cubadisco 1999 festival.

En el Comienzo was followed by three solo albums in rapid succession – Tiene Que Ver (1999), No Limit (2000) and Elengó (2001). In between these projects, he also composed the soundtrack for Black, a film by French director P. Maraval, and produced Un montón de cosas, an album by the hip-hop group Obsesión.

In 2001, he joined the Orquestra de Ibrahim Ferrer for a world tour that logged more than 400 performances throughout Europe, the UK, South America, Australia, Asia and just about every other corner of the globe. Led by Ferrer – an alumni of the Buena Vista Social Club™, the legendary Cuban collective that had taken the world by storm some five years earlier – the tour with the Orquestra positioned Fonseca alongside legendary figures like Cachaíto López, Guajiro Mirabal, Manuel Galbán and many others. The tour marked the beginning of an ongoing and fruitful relationship with various members of BVSC.

Fonseca’s relationship with Ferrer strengthened in the years following the tour. When Ferrer set out to record his treasured collection of boleros, he tapped Fonseca to arrange the compositions and co-produce the recording. Mi Sueño: A Bolero Songbook was released in early 2005, and a world tour followed later in the year. The project was Ferrer’s last – and arguably one of his greatest – before his death in August 2005.

Despite the heartbreaking loss, Fonseca had established his reputation as a creative bridge between traditional Cuban music and the sound of a new era. As such, he drew the attention of not just enthusiastic audiences but seasoned musicians as well. Omara Portuondo, another Buena Vista alumni also invited him to join her on tour.

The intensive touring and multicultural exposure planted the seeds for Zamazu, Fonseca’s monumental 2007 recording that assembled more than 20 musicians and integrated elements of his various influences: Afro-Cuban, jazz, classical and traditional Cuban music. Among the musicians on this diverse and ambitious recording were Portuondo, Zalba, Carlinhos Brown, Vincente Amigo, Ramsés Rodríguez and many others. Following the release of Zamazu, Fonseca showcased generous portions of the recording at some of the most prestigious festivals in the world in front of spellbound audiences.

“Llegó Cachaíto,” one of the tracks from Zamazu, appeared in Hancock, the 2008 film starring Will Smith. That same year, Fonseca also played on Portuondo’s Gracias, a recording that won a Latin Grammy for Best Contemporary Tropical Album.

Zamazu was a tough act to follow, but Fonseca found a way to bring the magic and energy of his live show into the studio for his 2009 release, Akokan. The album featured his quartet with guest performances by Cape Verdean vocalist Mayra Andrade and American guitarist Raul Midón.

The following year, 2010, was no less hectic and ambitious for Fonseca. He collaborated with director Jorge Fuentes in the filming of Temperamento, a documentary chronicling the history of the band that Fonseca had co-founded more than a decade earlier. Fonseca also arranged and co-produced Havana Cultura with British DJ Gilles Peterson. The two-disc album released in 2010 assembles the best of a new generation of Cuban musicians – more than 60 in all – specializing in Afro-jazz, hip-hop, funk, reggaeton and R&B. Later that same year, he also released Live at Marciac, a CD-DVD set that captures Fonseca and his band at a 2009 festival date in France.

Along the way, Fonseca has developed an aesthetic sense that extends beyond music. This became most evident when he developed a professional relationship with French fashion designer Agnes B. Their rapport first emerged when he began wearing her creations for all of his performances, and deepened when he played live for the Agnes B fashion show in Paris in 2006. In addition, Fonseca’s music has been used in Marie Claire’s internet advertising and marketing campaigns.

His latest studio effort Yo, was recently nominated for a GRAMMY® in the category of Best Latin Jazz Album. Recorded in Paris, Yo draws its simple but appropriate title from the Spanish word for “I” or “me.” Fonseca is clearly the focal point of the recording, but his multidimensional and multicultural sound exists within an intricate mosaic made up of a total of 15 fifteen musicians from Cuba, Africa, the U.S. and elsewhere. All of these valuable partners help Fonseca down new paths that continue to explore countless directions and ideas.

Fonseca and his crew have already touring worldwide in support of Yo, with more than 100 concerts since April 2012. In the midst of this ambitious schedule, he has also managed to remix a new recording by the French alternative rock band Mensch.

The live shows have been stunning audiences across Europe, North America and Japan. The Guardian said “A rousing demonstration of what can happen when a great Cuban pianist becomes obsessed with Africa. Fonseca is the finest fusion exponent in Cuba.” The Arts Desk said of Roberto, “The sense was that Fonseca has music hard-wired into every cell, pouring out of his body and soul.” The album has also received positive accolades, topping the Best of 2012 album lists in The Sunday Times, Le Monde, The Guardian, Vibrations, Telerama and after his release in the U.S.A continuing the tradition with the Best of 2013 in The Washington Post, “Songs of 2013″ on NPR.

As always with Fonseca, there are new creative worlds to explore, and new artistic bridges to build between the traditional and the modern-day. “This album unveils the beginning of a new phase more than the closure of an old one,” he says. “I want to delve deep into my roots in light of my experiences and show the diversity of my musical universe, all these ideas which I had out aside, unable to use until now.”

In 2014 Roberto Fonseca combined solo performances, robertoSOLOfonseca in France and Russia. He briefly toured in the U.S. with a trio format and performed last summer with Mali singer Fatoumata Diawara. From that encounter, Roberto released the album At Home (Jazz Village).

A new album ABUC (impulse!) was released on October 28, 2016, with pianist-percussionist Fonseca accompanied by Trombone Shorty, Eliades Ochoa, Zé Luis Nascimento, Rafael Lay (Orquesta Aragón) and Manuel ‘Guajiro’ Mirabal, among many others.

Terence Blanchard featuring The E-Collective

Terence Blanchard holding trumpet in front of orange wall.

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.

jazz band

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.

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