Deanna Witkowski was born on March 20, 1972 in New Hampshire, Ohio but was raised in Pennsylvania and upstate New York. She began her musical journey playing classical flute and piano long before discovering jazz. While studying at Wheaton College, Illinois, she turned to jazz, first as a saxophonist, then as pianist and composer. Jazz so captured her interest that she abandoned later studies at DePaul University, Chicago, to become a full time musician. Subsequently, she studied with Hilario Duran and Chucho Valdés, experiences that developed an interest in Afro Cuban music. In Chicago in the mid-90s she accompanied singer Linda Tate and was involved in the LaSalle Street Church’s annual jazz service.
Forming her first quintet in 1994 Deanna performed with them until a four month trip to Africa found her thousands of miles away teaching piano in Kenya. Two years later she returned to the States landing in Chicago, Illinois and recording a demo with her grant money. During this period she studied with several Cuban jazz musicians and the next year, she moved to New York City and became the music director at All Angels Episcopal Church, crafting jazz/gospel masses.
In 2000 released independently the Having to Ask album and began studying with Brazilian drummer Vanderlei Pereira. Leaving the church to follow her own musical path she continued writing and performing sacred music in her spare time, but she composed a piece for a jazz choir and reactivated her quintet.
In 2002 she won the annual Great American Jazz Piano Competition in Jacksonville, Florida. She backed vocalist Lizz Wright, leading her supporting band on tour in the USA and on a visit to Europe, played a duo with pianist Fred Hersch at New York’s Jazz Gallery, and with multi-instrumentalist James Finn, playing on his Great Spirit.
In the early to years of the new millennium, members of her regular trio have been bass players Jonathan Paul and Dave Ambrosio, and drummers Tom Hipskind and Vince Cherico. She has also taught extensively, including spells at colleges in Germany and Kenya. Post bop pianist Deanna Witkowski continues to compose, perform and record combining jazz, Latin folk, and modern classical composition.
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Layla Angulo was born on March 12, 1976 in Seattle, Washington into a long line of artists and musicians, and started playing the piano at age 6, the saxophone at age 10 and began performing in jazz clubs while high school. After graduation, she played in various funk, jazz, pop, and salsa groups. She performed as the horn section leader of various salsa bands around the Northwest and developed the idea to write her own music soon after.
By her early 20’s, Layla was living in Santiago de Compostela, Spain where she began building her Latin jazz career, performing her new music with Spanish and Cuban musicians. Following this stint in Europe she returned to the States, she recorded Live at the Triple Door in 2005 with a thirteen piece orchestra and performing original music. This jumped her career, garnered her two Honorable Mentions awards in the International Songwriting Competition and catapulted Costa Rican singer, Carlos Cascante, who became the singer for the Spanish Harlem Orchestra.
Her sophomore project and her first studio recording was titled Mientras where she wrote for her voice and enlisted a line up of all-star musicians including Oscar Stagnaro, Arturo O’Farrill, and Orlando “Maraca” Valle. Her third release TriAngulo combines the talents of New York’s top salsa, bachata and merengue musicians.
Angulo, who professionally goes by Layla, moved to New York City and toured with reggaeton superstar Don Omar, has toured with Tito Puente Jr., Beyonce’s horn players the Sugarhorns and played with many other Grammy award winning artists.
She is one of the only female saxophone players/singers/band directors in the world of Latin music today. Saxophonist, composer, singer and band director has won several songwriting competitions and continues to perform, record and tour.
Joseph Allen Farnsworth was born February 21, 1968 in Holyoke, Massachusetts, one of five sons born to trumpeter and bandleader Roger Farnsworth. He attended high school at the Jakarta International School in Jakarta, Indonesia, then studied at William Paterson College under Harold Mabern and Arthur Taylor.
After graduation Joe played with Junior Cook and Jon Hendricks in 1991, Jon Faddis in 1992, and between 1993 and 1995 with George Coleman, Cecil Payne, Annie Ross, and Benny Green. He has played in the group One for All with David Hazeltine and Jim Rotondi, and worked with Benny Golson, Steve Davis, and Eric Alexander.
In the second half of the Nineties he also played with Alex Graham, Michael Weiss, the Three Baritone Saxophone Band, and Diana Krall. He has released three albums as a leader, has also recorded with Steve Davis and the late Cedar Walton. Drummer Joe Farnsworth is now a member of Pharoah Sanders’ band.
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Jacqui Dankworth was born on February 5, 1963 in Northampton, Northamptonshire, England to Cleo Laine and John Dankworth. She attended St. Christopher School in Hertfordshire and is an alumna and fellow of Guildhall School of Music & Drama.
Her vocal talents led her to work as an actress with the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal National Theatre, and in West End Theatre. She played Cinderella in the musical Into the Woods and appeared the film Shoreditch, singing the song My Man by Billie Holiday.
In 2003, Jacqui released her first album, As the Sun Shines Down on Me on the Candid Records label. This album brought her to the attention of Michael Parkinson and BBC Radio 2, and she began appearing regularly on air throughout that year. She was featured on Courtney Pine’s album Devotion, and performed with Pine at the Royal Festival Hall as part of the London Jazz Festival.
She followed the success of As the Sun Shines Down on Me with the 2004 release, Detour Ahead. She has followed these two releases by recording Back to You, It Happens Quietly and Live To Love. Vocalist Jacqui Dankworth continues to perform, record and tour.
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José James was born on January 20, 1978 in Minneapolis, Minnesota and combines jazz, soul, drum’n’bass, and spoken word into his own unique brand of vocal jazz. Though his main influences are John Coltrane, Marvin Gaye, and Billie Holiday, his sound is reminiscent of ’70s jazz-soul icon Terry Callier, and his music feels more like an update of Gil Scott-Heron’s approach, but he makes it distinctly his own.
José attended The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music and in 2008 debuted his first album, The Dreamer, on the Brownswood label. Blackmagic followed in 2010, as well as, For All We Know on the Impulse! Label, the latter becoming the winner of both the Edison Award and L’Académie du Jazz Grand Prix for best Vocal Jazz Album of 2010.
Signing to Blue Note Records in 2012 James issued Trouble, his first single for the label, with his fourth album, No Beginning, No End released the following year. New compositions brought the release of 2014’s While You Were Sleeping, a collection that reflected rock alongside R&B and jazz.
In commemoration of the 100th birthday of his musical mother, Billie Holiday, José recorded nine songs written by or associated with her on Yesterday I Had the Blues. He fronted a band that included pianist Jason Moran, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Eric Harland.
Vocalist and bandleader José James, who blends modern jazz and hip-hop, continues to perform globally both as a leader and with other groups.
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