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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Kat Gang was born on August 9, 1980 in Boston, Massachusetts. She developed a passion for jazz at Berklee School of Music in her hometown and while matriculating received the Berklee College of Music Judges’ Choice Award and the Outstanding Vocalist Award. Honing her skills further at New York University, she earned a Bachelor’s degree while majoring in drama and voice.
A singer/songwriter, Kat takes on the traditional standards but is no stranger to interpretations of Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones, Arctic Monkeys or Oasis as she works as a duo with jazz guitar or piano. She is also known to work with many of Europe’s leading musicians in big bands, nonets, or as part of an eight piece Ella Fitzgerald tribute.
Currently with her own trio and quartet, vocalist Kat Gang stays in constant demand to perform in theaters, clubs, restaurants and even bateaux on London’s River Thames.
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Helga Plankensteiner was born on August 1, 1968 and studied classical saxophone at the Conservatory in Innsbruck under Florian Brambock, then jazz at the Conservatory of Trento. She would go on to study in various jazz workshops with Dick Oatts, Steve Slagle, Bobby Watson, Bob Bonisolo, Heinrich von Kalnein and Sandro Gibellini.
Helga expanded her talents to include vocals in her theater experience of the Threepenny Opera in addition to performing as a saxophonist for several other plays. She has been chosen by Musica Jazz in 2009 as one of the top ten rising talents, won the AMJ Big Band competition, and performed with the Orchestra Laboratorio of Trento with Matthias Ruegg, Bruno Tommaso, Maria Schneider, John Surman and Carla Bley.
She plays with the all-female saxophone quintet Girltalk, the Helga Plankensteiner Walter Civettini Quintet and the Unit Eleven Jazz Orchestra and. She is a permanent member of the Carla Bley Big Band, The Torino Jazz Orchestra and solos with Tom Harrell, Dusko Goykovich, Valery Ponomarev, Francesco Cafiso, Uri Caine, the Dani Felber Big Band and the Italian Sax Ensemble.
In addition, she conducts the ensemble Sweet Alps featuring soloists Gianluigi Trovesi, Florian Brambock, Michel Godard, Gianluca Petrella and Matthias Schriefl. Alto saxophonist Helga Plankensteiner continues to compose, record and perform at festivals worldwide.
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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.