Denys Baptiste was born on September 14,1969 in London, England. He studied music at school from the age of 13 and then at the West London Institute, aka Brunel University. In 1992, he continued his music education at London’s Guildhall School of Music, studying under former Jazz Messenger, Jean Toussaint and is a graduate of Tomorrow’s Warriors.
Baptiste played with Gary Crosby and Nu Troop, McCoy Tyner, Andrew Hill, Ernest Ranglin, Bheki Mseleku, Marvin “Smitty” Smith, Michael Bowie, Courtney Pine, Manu Dibango, Gary Crosby, Steve Williamson, Julian Joseph, Jason Rebello, Martin Taylor, Lonnie Plaxico, Ralph Moore, Billy Higgins, Jerry Dammers, Sean Oliver, Jean Carne, Marlena Shaw, Noel McCoy, Juliet Roberts, Incognito and Jazz Jamaica.
He released his debut album in 1999, Be Where You Are, and received a nomination for a Mercury Music Prize, and won the MOBO award for Best Jazz Act 1999. Denys has released two albums since, garnering another nomination for the MOBO award for Best Jazz Act, the BBC Jazz Awards for Best New Work and Best Album, and the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Album for his third album Let Freedom Ring! Was in 2004.
Tenor and soprano saxophonist, composer and arranger Denys Baptiste continues to embark on new projects in addition to performing.
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Marcus Lamar Miller was born on September 9, 1970 in Chesapeake, Virginia and began his musical journey at the age of three playing drums in his mothers church. During his elementary school years, 3rd-5th grade, he studied classical harp with the principal harpist for the Norfolk Symphony. Between the years 1983-88 he recorded on three albums with several mass choirs of the United Holy Church of America Inc. His high school and college years were spent backing rock, reggae, funk, Appalachian folk and jazz bands.
He went onto attend Washington & Lee University studying four-years of African, European, and Latin American histories. Setting his sights west to continue studies in music, Marcus landed in Berkeley, California in 1993 and began working with numerous local bands in the San Francisco bay area.
Miller landed a CNN spotlight of up and coming jazz musicians before touring and performing 1995 and 1996 with Ben Harper throughout Europe, Japan, and North America. He then moved to Anaheim after the tour, began a stint with Disney, started studying African traditional drumming with percussionists Leon Mobley and Angel Figueroa, and was a founding member of Leon Mobley & Da Lion.
Marcus has since gone on to perform with such artists as Ashanti, Sheila E, Andre Cymone, Barbara McNair, the Watts Prophets, Bennie Maupin, Vinx, Jimmy Sommers,Tony Furtado, and Ozomatli. He has collaborated with such choreographer/dancers as Lula Washington, Cleo Parker Robinson, Winifred Harris, Bonnie Homesy, Toni Pierce, Marguerite Donlon, and wife Tamica Washington-Miller.
Educating children is one of his biggest passions and teaches regularly at the New Roads School and holds private lessons. He founded YDLA, a performance group called the Young Drummers of Los Angeles, and works with various organizations throughout California facilitating drum workshops for the youth. His Freedom Jazz Movement serves as his main vehicle of musical expression, fusing traditional African rhythms with a East Coast swing. Drummer, composer, bandleader and educator Marcus L. Miller continues to perform, record and educate.
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Ron Blake was born on September 7, 1965 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He was eight when he began studying the guitar, and at the age of ten, he started learning to play the saxophone after being exposed to the record collection of his father, who was seriously into hard bop, soul-jazz and organ combos.His first saxophone was an alto, but eventually, he learned the tenor, soprano, and baritone saxes, as well as the flute.
After leaving home for the Midwest, Ron graduated from the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan before moving to the Chicago area and attending Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Though studying classical saxophone with Dr. Frederick Hemke, jazz ultimately won out. By the late Eighties he was playing a lot of bop gigs in Chi-Town, crossing paths with tenor man Von Freeman and pianist Jodie Christian.
Blake moved to Florida in 1991 to accept a teaching position at the University of South Florida. Then it was off to New York City the following year where he spent five years in trumpeter Roy Hargrove’s quintet and seven years in flugelhornist Art Farmer’s group. By the early 2000s, he was leading his own quartet, which included pianist Shedrick Mitchell, bassist Reuben Rogers, and drummer Greg Hutchinson.
Releasing his first album as a leader, Up Front & Personal on the Tahmun label in 2000, was followed in 2003 with a Christian McBride-produced Lest We Forget on the Mack Avenue release that found Ron paying tribute to three soul-jazz greats who had died: saxophonists Grover Washington, Jr. and Stanley Turrentine, and organist Charles Earland.
He is a member of the Saturday Night Live Band, Dion Parson & 21st Century Band and the Grammy-winning Christian McBride Big Band. As an educator he holds a position as professor of Jazz studies at The Juilliard School. His discography has four albums as a leader/co-leader and has more than fifty credits as a sideman for Roy Hargrove, Art Farmer, Reuben Rogers, Joey DeFrancesco, Razor & Tie, Ropeadope, Gerald Wilson, Latin pop group, Yerba Buena, Jack DeJohnette, Michael Cain, Regina Carter, among others.
Saxophonist Ron Blake is also a band leader, composer and music educator who continues to compose, record, and perform.
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Justin Robinson was born August 14, 1968 in Manhattan, New York City and first began playing saxophone at the age of 13, while attending the High School of Music and Arts, formerly LaGuardia High School. His influences were Charlie Parker and Jackie McLean.
From 1984 to 1986 he was a part of the McDonald’s High School Jazz Band and at the age of 18 he joined with Philip Harper and Winard Harper actively helping in their formation of the Harper Brothers. By 1988 Betty Carter brought him into her band and from the early 1990s, he has played with Cecil Brooks III, Abbey Lincoln, Diana Ross, Little Jimmy Scott, Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, the Dizzy Gillespie All Star Band, Kate Higgins, Sam Newsome and especially Roy Hargrove, both in the Big Band as well as in the quintet.
After his 1991 recording debut with Justin Time on the Verve label, to the Bobby Watson, Eddie Henderson, Kenny Barron and Gary Bartz participated release of Challenge in 1998, on which he was accompanied by his childhood friend Stephen Scott. Always a thoughtful leader who takes his time to compose and record, his third project In The Spur Of The Moment was released in 2012.
Alto saxophonist Justin Robinson is currently touring with the quintet and big band of trumpeter Roy Hargrove.
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Karen Briggs was born August 12, 1963 in Harlem, Manhattan, New York City to a family of musicians, father played trumpet, grandfather played saxophone and piano, and other family members were vocalists. It was when the family moved to Portsmouth, Virginia that she took up the violin at age 12, with a talent for playing by ear.
Briggs was the head of her class orchestra as a teenager and performed at a competition at Woodrow Wilson High School. Playing alongside her father and his colleagues, at their encouragement at age fifteen she committed to become a professional jazz violinist. After graduating high school in 1981, she became the first member of her family to attend college, going to Norfolk State College, and majoring in music education and mass media studies.
In 1983, while still in college Karen began performing at the Virginia Symphony Orchestra but finding classical music restricting she left after four years. Returning to New York in 1987 she sought out jazz, won several amateur night competitions at the Apollo Theater, then the following year married and moved to Los Angeles, California, where she became a frequent performer at the jazz club Marla’s Memory Lane. Briggs’ first professional tour was with the 100 piece ensemble group Soul II Soul, touring the United States and Japan in 1989. She then auditioned for Yanni, secured a place in his upcoming tour by playing over a performance of his piece Within Attraction. Linda Evans, then in a relationship with Yanni, pushed for Briggs to be a featured soloist in Yanni’s Live at the Acropolis tour. Briggs’ performances during the tour gained her broad recognition and the moniker “Lady in Red” and ultmaely toured with Yanni for thirteen years.
Post Yanni, Karen joined Stanley Clarke, Lenny White, Richie Kotzen, and Rachel Z forming the short-lived jazz fusion group Vertú and recording only one album. She released her debut album Karen in 1992 followed by her sophomore project Amazing Grace in ‘96 and Soulchestral Groove in 2009. She currently holds residency in the Lao Tizer Jazz Quartet and also performs with the all-women group Jazz in Pink.
Violinist Karen Briggs, also known as the Lady in Red, has recorded three albums as a leader and continues to perform, tour, record and collaborate with artists outside the jazz spectrum, such as Dave Grusin, Diana Ross, Wu Tang Clan, En Vogue and Chaka Khan.
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