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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Makoto Ozone 小曽根真 was born on March 25, 1961 in Kobe, Japan. He began playing organ at two and by seven was an improviser. He appeared on Japanese television with his father from 1968 to 1970. Impressed with the playing of Oscar Peterson, at twelve he switched to piano. In 1980 he entered the Berklee College of Music.
Makoto later worked with vibraphonist Gary Burton, recording four albums with him. In 1983 he recorded as a leader his debut in 1983 before returning to his native Japan.
Ozone has collaborated with vocalist Kimiko Itoh, appearing as a duo at the Montreux Jazz Festival and produced her album Kimiko, winning the 2000 Swing Journal jazz disk grand prix for Japanese vocalist. He has recorded with Ellis Marsalis, Chick Corea, Christian McBride, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Randy Brecker, Paquito D’Rivera, Anna Maria Jopek, Jake Shimabukuro, Misuzu Kanno and Gayle Moran Corea, among others.
He has several recordings as a trio leader or co-leader with Burton that are now coveted imports. Pianist Makoto Ozone continues to perform, record and tour.
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Sherman Irby was born and raised in Tuscaloosa, Alabama on March 24, 1968. He found his calling to music at age 12 and in high school he played saxophone and recorded with gospel immortal James Cleveland. Graduating from Clark Atlanta University with a B. A. in Music Education, in 1991, he joined Johnny O’Neal’s Atlanta-based quintet.
1994 saw Irby moving to New York City and immediately became a part of the jazz scene at Smalls jazz club. Catching the attention of Blue Note Records. He subsequently recorded his first two albums, Full Circle in 1996 and Big Mama’s Biscuits in 1998 on the label. He toured the U.S. and the Caribbean with the Boys Choir of Harlem in 1995, and was a member of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra from 1995 to 1997. During that tenure, he also recorded and toured with Marcus Roberts, Roy Hargrove and was part of Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead Program.
After a four-year stint with Roy Hargrove, he focused on his own group, in addition to being a member of Elvin Jones’ ensemble and Papo Vazquez’s Pirates Troubadours. Since 2003, Irby has been the regional director for the Jazz Masters Workshop, mentoring young children, and a board member for the CubaNOLA Collective. Saxophonist and composer Sherman Irby formed Black Warrior Records and has released Black Warrior, Faith, Organ Starter and Live at the Otto Club under the new label. Post-bop alto saxophonist Sherman Irby has re-joined Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis and currently continues to perform with his quartet and his group Organomics.
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Stephen Scott was born March 13, 1969 in Queens, New York. He started piano at the age of five, and progressed rapidly to the point where he was taking private lessons at Juilliard at 12. Grounded in classical music, he was also exposed to reggae and salsa on the radio. It was in high school that he was introduced to jazz, giving Justin Robinson credit.
By the age of 18, Scott was playing in the Betty Carter band and soon began performing or recording with the likes of the Harper Brothers, Wynton Marsalis, Bobby Watson and Bobby Hutcherson.
Beginning in 1991, as a leader and solo artist, Stephen recorded a stream of mainstream albums for Verve and Enja record labels, using mixtures of fellow young lions Roy Hargrove, Craig Handy, Peter Washington, Christian McBride, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Lewis Nash and esteemed veterans like Joe Henderson, Ron Carter and Elvin Jones as sidemen. Henderson returned the invite on his commercial breakthrough Lush Life, the same year and also recorded with Freddie Hubbard and Sonny Rollins.
Jazz pianist Stephen Scott continues to perform, tour and record fusing his neo-bop music base with soul jazz tendencies with Latin rhythms.
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