Otmaro Ruíz was born June 27, 1964 in Caracas, Venezuela. He began his formal musical studies at the age of eight on piano, classical guitar, harmony, history and aesthetics. He was exposed to other artistic activities such as drawing and acting and at the same time he studied organ.
Otmaro pursued a scientific career as a biologist at the Simón Bolívar University, but kept playing keyboards on the side, landing his first professional work in a pop group in 1980. Deciding to focus entirely on music, he dropped out of school in 1983, playing in his native Venezuela. He toured and recorded with local and visiting musicians, and also became a busy studio musician as a jingles composer and arranger.
By 1989 Ruíz had moved to Los Angeles, California, where he finished his academic training at CalArts, obtaining a master’s degree in jazz performance in 1993. He played with percussionist Alex Acuña, appearing in two albums during the early 1990s. He later recorded with Arturo Sandoval, which was followed in 1996 by a world tour supporting Gino Vanelli. The rest of the decade, he worked with Jon Anderson, Robbie Robertson, Herb Alpert and John McLaughlin. In the new millennium, he has recorded with Hubert Laws, Jing Chi and Jimmy Haslip among others and has recorded and toured with Dianne Reeves.
Pianist, keyboardist, composer and arranger Otmaro Ruíz remains active up to the present day, generally recording and touring with L.A.-based groups and vocalists, and commanding his own projects.
He has also participated in an international jazz-project “JB Project” with American bassist Brian Bromberg and Japanese drummer Akira Jimbo. They released two studio albums: Brombo, followed by Brombo II. In 2012, the Shepherd University at the Cornel School of Contemporary Music awarded Otmaro Ruiz with an Honorary Doctorate in Music Arts.
Baptiste Trotignon was born on June 17, 1974 near Paris, France. He started playing the violin at the age of 6 and the piano three years later attending the Nantes Conservatory. While there he won prizes for both piano and harmony. During his teen years he discovered and taught himself jazz and improvisation, playing his first concerts at the age of sixteen.
In 1994 he appeared in the movie Le Nouveau Monde as both actor and musician. Four years later he formed his own trio with bassist Clovis Nicolas and drummer Tony Rabeson. In 2000 he recorded his debut album Fluide winning the Django d’Or for Best First Album. His sophomore release Sightseeing picked up the Prix Django Reinhardt. He recorded his debut solo piano album was in 2003 titled Solo.
Over the course of his career he has performed with Eric Harland, Fabrizio Bosso, Russell Malone, Jeremy Pelt, Tom Harrell, Jeanne Added, Melody Gardot, onica Passos, Miossec, Donald Harrison, Billy Hart, Bireli Lagrene, Kenny Wheeler, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Gregory Hutchinson, Ari Hoenig, Brad Mehldau, David Murray, Stefano di Batista, Milton Nascimento, Didier Lockwood, Archie Shepp and the list goes on and on.
Pianist Baptiste Trotignon continues to compose music and and perform, often playing classical music as well as his own compositions and interpretations of music from Led Zeppelin and Bob Dylan to Edith Piaf.
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Alex “Sasha” Sipiagin was born June 11, 1967 in Yaroslavl, Russia. He began studying the trumpet at age 12, studying at the Moscow Music Institute and the Gnessin Conservatory in Moscow where he received his Baccalaureate. By 1990, he was a participant in the International Louis Armstrong Competition sponsored by the Thelonious Monk Institute in Washington D.C. where he won top honors.
Soon after Alex relocated to the jazz mecca of the world, New York City and soon became a favored player for various bands including the Gil Evans Orchestra, Gil Goldstein’s Zebra Coast Orchestra, the George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band, drummer Bob Moses’ band Mozamba, Mingus Big Band as well as the Mingus Dynasty and Mingus Orchestra, and the Dave Holland Big Band, Sextet and Octet groups.
In 2003 he recorded with Michael Brecker’s Quindectet touring also with the Michael Brecker Sextet. Sipiagin has also worked with Barbara Dennerlein, Eric Clapton, Dr. John, James Moody, Conrad Herwig, Aaron Neville, Elvis Costello, Michael Franks, Dave Sanborn, Deborah Cox, legendary producer Phil Ramone, Gonzalo Rubalcaba and many others.
Many of the recordings he has been a sideman have been nominated for or won a Grammy, as a soloist, Alex has recorded eleven recordings out to his credit, another four with Opus 5, and more than twenty-nine albums as a sideman. He has toured extensively throughout Europe, U.S., Japan and Russia with his own group.
As an educator he teaches at the Groningen Prince Claus Conservatory, Academy of Music, Basel, Switzerland as well holding a professorship at New York University.
Charlie Hunter was born on May 23, 1967 in Rhode Island but by age four his mom packed him and his younger sister in an old yellow school bus and headed west. After several years living on a commune in Mendocino County they settled in Berkeley, California and graduating from Berkeley High School and taking lessons from guitar teacher Joe Satriani. At eighteen he moved to Paris, becoming a professional busker, working 8 to 12 hours a day to make ends meet.
Returning to the Bay area, he played a seven-string guitar and organ in Michael Franit’s political rap group, The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. Since the 1993 debut of his self-titled Charlie Hunter Trio with John Ellis on sax and Jay Lane on drums, he has recorded seventeen albums. He co-founded Garage A Trois, a jazz fusion band with Stanton Moore and Sherik, has collaborated with Bobby Previte on the ongoing project Groundtruther, and has recorded and toured with Previte’s The Coalition of the Willing.
Charlie has recorded with Christian McBride, has played in the band T.J. Kirk, that merged the music of Thelonious Monk, James Brown and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. He is an inaugural member of the Independent Music Awards judging panel to support independent artists, and over the years has performed and recorded with Erik Deutch, Tony Mason, Eric Kalb, Ben Goldberg, Ron Miles, Scott Amendola, and Curtis Fowlkes, continuing to perform, compose and tour.
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Venissa Santi was born on May 10, 1978 in Ithaca, New York. As a child she grew up listening to the sounds of Ravel, Celia Cruz and Michael Jackson as well as theatrical productions and jazz. But it was her grandfather, Cuban composer Jacobo Ros Capablanca, who instilled in her a connection to her roots through his compositions and a life-long passion for music. So after completing high school, she moved to Philadelphia, where she enrolled at the University of the Arts and majored in Jazz Vocal Performance.
After graduation, she became actively involved in Philadelphia’s Latin community and music scene and began her career as a vocal instructor with the Asociación de Músicos Latino Americanos, better known as AMLA. Over time she performed with a variety of Latin, jazz and World music groups. It was from the support and encouragement of this community that inspired Venissa to embark on the first of four life changing visits to Cuba, where she conducted research and studied Afro Cuban song, dance and percussion.
It was while under the tutelage of Master Gregorio “El Goyo” Hernandez and master dancers from Yoruba Andabo, Arturo Clave y Guaganco, Afro-Cuba de Matanzas and Irosso Oba, that she reconnected with her relatives in Cuba. Santi began to compose the soundtrack of her life’s journey thus far, resulting in an audacious new sound that defies borders, language and categorization.
In 2008 Venissa won the Pew Fellowship for Folk and Traditional Arts. 2009 saw her signed to Sunnyside Records, releasing Bienvenida, and has been praised by Ruben Blades and pianist Danilo Perez. Vocalist Venissa Santi has released her sophomore project Big Stuff and is currently performing at venues and festivals and preparing new material for her next project.
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