SMF Jazz Academy People

Jessica Messere, Manager, SMF Jazz Academy

While performing in various classical orchestras and chamber ensembles, Jessica Messere noticed the lack of representation of musicians of color on the stages of her professional engagements. That observation led her to work for Atlanta Symphony’s Talent Development Program, the Atlanta Music Project, and the Atlanta University Center Consortium: Morehouse College, Spelman College, and Clark Atlanta University with the goals of helping the careers of young musicians of color.

Jessica aims to weave SMF Jazz Academy into the fabric of Savannah’s communities. This assets-based music program will empathetically teach, serve, and support the needs of each student and their family. Jessica is married to her partner, Ethan, and is a proud mom of two children and furry pets.

Questions? Email jessica@savannahmusicfestival.org

Erez Dessel, Music Director, SMF Jazz Academy

Erez Dessel is a pianist, composer, and educator currently based in Savannah, GA. Originally from Ann Arbor, MI, Dessel has been playing piano since the age of six, letting his musical passion guide him through life and leading him to explore a multitude of styles and creative worlds. While he remains grounded by the music of his heroes, people like Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington, his music has expanded to include the influence of genres ranging from Mandé music of West Africa to 21st-century classical music.

After winning two Downbeat student music awards with his high school combo, Dessel went on to study at the New England Conservatory, which he graduated from in 2020 with a degree in jazz performance. In his four years at NEC, Dessel made arts outreach one of his primary goals, which manifested in him leading his quartet, 8 Legs, in over 50 workshops and masterclasses throughout schools, museums, and other Boston community music venues. In 2019, this group was selected to travel to Virginia Beach as part of the Virginia Arts Festival’s outreach program, where they performed and taught in Virginia Public Schools. Dessel also took study and performance seriously at NEC, where he worked with Ethan Iverson, Ran Blake, Cecil McBee, and Jason Moran. He was chosen to perform in two residencies with Moran and was selected as the pianist in NEC’s 2019-2020 Jazz Honors Ensemble, coached by pianist Frank Carlberg. He was also selected to participate in the 2019 School for Improvised Music workshop in Brooklyn, NY, where he studied with master improvisers such as Tim Berne, Gerald Cleaver, Kris Davis, and Ralph Alessi.

Dessel’s work extends beyond the piano, as the production director for the Nova Fellowship he planned and produced two multidisciplinary events during the 2019-2020 concert season, one of which was held at the Plimpton Shattuck Black Box Theatre and included collaborations with dancers, poets, and visual artists from across Boston. He is also an avid film fan and has scored projects for film students at the University of Michigan, Brandeis University, and Emerson college. In 2019 he and co-composer Evan Wright received a grant from NEC to score filmmaker Chassidy David’s directorial debut, “missing first period,” which will be released in 2020.

Dessel can be found playing solo, with his own groups, or as a sideman, at venues that include Cliff Bell’s (Detroit, MI), Wally’s Jazz Club, The Lilypad, Outpost 186, The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, MA), and many more. This past year, Dessel was privileged to join co-collaborator Seajun Kwon on tour in Korea, playing for packed audiences at Club Evans, Veloso, and Una & Q.

Questions? Email erez@savannahmusicfestival.org

Aaron Jennings, Program Coordinator, SMF Jazz Academy

Jazz drummer and percussionist Aaron Jennings discovered his passion for music playing in church in his hometown of Savannah Georgia. He attended the prestigious Savannah Arts Academy of Visual and Performing Arts where his love for jazz was cultivated.

Jennings has a B.M. in Jazz and Commercial Music from Jacksonville University. He recently received his M.M. in Jazz Studies and Performance from New York University. He studied with Billy Drummond, Mike Richmond, Michael Rodriguez, Rich Shemaria, and other award-winning musicians and composers. Jennings has also found a steady stream of work as a theater musician. His long list of shows already includes Spring Awakening, Evil Dead: The Musical, Grey Gardens, Songs for a New World, Aida, and A Christmas Carol. He has made notable appearances at major jazz festivals including the Savannah Jazz Festival and Jacksonville Jazz Festivals. This year Aaron performed at the 62nd annual Grammy Nominee Celebration in New York City.

Aaron is very excited to share his experiences and knowledge with all the students and faculty at SMF Jazz Academy.

Questions? Email aaron@savannahmusicfestival.org

Brass & Reed

Chris Glassman, trombone

Recently hailed by International Trombone Journal as someone whose “warm sound, beautiful phrasing, and ability to perform in various styles convincingly sets him apart as a truly exceptional musician”, Chris Glassman is a rising star jazz performer on bass trombone, and Michigan based musician. He has performed and/or recorded with legendary musicians The Temptations, Sarah McLachlan,  Dee Dee Bridgewater, Rene Marie, Wayne Bergeron, Rodney Whitaker, Ulysses Owens Jr., and Etienne Charles among others, and is on Faculty at both Saginaw Valley State University, and the Michigan State University Community Music School in Detroit.

Raised in Littleton, Colorado, Chris has been passionate and engaged in music since the age of five when he began learning drums from his father. He later transitioned into playing the trombone during grade school and was enchanted with the instrument’s gorgeous sound, unique abilities, and outstanding universality. Glassman is deeply rooted in the classical tradition of trombone, having received his Bachelor’s in Classical Trombone Performance from the University of Denver. He went on to a Teaching Assistantship and Master’s in Jazz Studies at Michigan State University with legendary pedagogues Michael Dease and Rodney Whitaker. Between 2017-2019, during his Master’s, Chris was a finalist or won every international competition for jazz trombone in the United States, a feat which he accomplished on Bass Trombone nonetheless. These competitions included the International Trombone Festival’s Carl Fontana, JJ Johnson, and Kai Winding Competitions, the American Trombone Workshop Jazz Trombone Competition, Curtis Fuller International Trombone Competition, and the UNT Jazz Trombone Day Competition. He was also a finalist for the U.S. Army Blues Bass Trombone audition in 2017.  Glassman capped off his time at MSU by receiving over $3000 in grant funding to create a free performance series designed to engage students age 5-12 in Jazz Music.

Since then, Chris has been hard at work continuing his upward trajectory in the greater community.   His recent debut “Realization” with his co-led ensemble with Altin Sencalar, The Sencalar/Glassman Quintet, has recently received high acclaim from magazines like Stereophile Magazine, The International Trombone Journal, and Outside in Music. In addition, The Sencalar/Glassman Quintet has begun releasing a series of singles entitled “The Solitude Sessions.” He is also a featured sideman in the recently released Walter White Big Band album WWBBXL featuring Wayne Bergeron, Conrad Herwig, Rick Margitza, and Micheal Dease. Also an avid arranger, Chris has recently had numerous commissions for arrangements and compositions by Brevard Music Center, the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, and for musicians David Sanborn, Rodney Whitaker, Randy Napoleon, Steve Davis, and Michael Dease among others. Not content with just performing, Glassman is also Adjunct Professor of Jazz at Saginaw Valley State University, and head of Low Brass at Michigan State University’s Community Music School in Detroit, where he continues to mentor both burgeoning Jr High, High School, and University students. He also continues to create digital performances, educational videos on his personal YouTube Channel weekly, and continues to interview jazz legends like Rufus Reid on his interview show “8vbebop.” Chris is an Earasers Earplugs Performing Artist.

Ricardo Pascal, saxophone

Born in Croydon, England, Ricardo moved to America at the age of five and began playing the saxophone at the age of 12. He received his undergraduate degree from Florida State University and his Masters at the University of New Orleans. As a member of The Modern Jazz Generation, he has collaborated with Marcus Roberts in various settings, from performances at Jazz at the Lincoln Center and The Village Vanguard to an appearance on CBS’s 60 Minutes. 

Ricardo has been featured as a soloist with the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and serves on the faculty of Swing Central Jazz for the Savannah Music Festival. His professional work as a jazz saxophonist has taken him worldwide, including England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, Belgium, The Netherlands, Norway, Hungary, Sardinia, Italy, St. Lucia, Barbados, Canada, Australia, and China.  His work as an educator has involved classes, clinics, and masterclasses at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, Florida State University, New Orleans Jazz Institute, and Tulane University, among many others. 

Other artists he has collaborated with include Nicholas Payton, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Shanon Powell, Herlin Riley, Adonis Rose, Jason Marsalis, James Singleton,  Wes Anderson, Ricky Sebastian, Jamison Ross, Ledisi, and Quiana Lynell.

Marisa Webster, trumpet

Marisa Webster, a native of Orange Park, Florida, a suburb outside of Jacksonville, is a trumpeter, composer, arranger, entrepreneur, and music educator. Ever since beginning the trumpet in the seventh grade, music has been a passion in her life. She is a graduate of the prestigious Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, as well as a graduate of Florida State University. And Marisa recently graduated from Temple University where she received her master’s degree in Jazz Performance, studying under the acclaimed trumpeter, Terell Stafford.

In 2018 Marisa joined the Mica Bethea Big Band, a phenomenal group based in Jacksonville, Fl. Along with that, she has had the great opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall, the Savannah Heritage “Future of Jazz” Festival, the Lavilla Jazz Festival, The Northeast Florida Jazz Society reception, the Midwest Clinic, the Jacksonville Jazz Festival, and the Detroit Jazz Festival. 

Marisa is an alumnus of The 2019 Betty Carter Jazz Ahead program. An international jazz residency that features performances and compositions by the next generation of jazz greats. The performances take place at the John F. Kennedy Performing Arts Center. Marisa has also participated in the Woodshed Network. An organization founded by Dee Dee and Tulani Bridgewater, created to educate and empower women in jazz on the ins and outs of the music business. 

Marisa has had the opportunity to perform and study with various artists, including Teddy Adams, John Lumpkin, Marcus Printup, Mica Bethea, Alphonso Horne, Marcus Roberts, Ron Blake, Victor Provost, Ulysses Owens Jr., Dion Parson, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Peter Martin, Jason Moran, Greg Hutchinson, Rodney Jordan, Leon Anderson, Terell Stafford, Tim Warfield, and Jason Hainsworth.

Rhythm

Marc Cordray, drums

Marc Cordray has been performing and teaching music for over 30 years. Marc earned his Bachelors from Berklee College of Music and a Masters from The New England Conservatory of Music. He plays and teaches drums and piano.

Marc gigs four to six times a week with a rocking blues band and other bands in every other genre. Marc frequently fills in for bands of all genres and performs as the house drummer for theater productions. He has been recorded on ten professional albums.

He is a professor of music appreciation at Heritage University, teaching history and appreciation of blues, jazz, and rock and roll. In addition to his teaching, performing, composing, and recording, Marc was Music Director for three theater productions. He has received multiple grants from MusiCares, a division of the Grammys.

Marc teaches drums and piano privately. He loves coffee so much he roasts his own and drinks at least a pot or two a day. He’s married and lives in Savannah, GA.

Anna Abondolo, bass

Anna Abondolo is a bassist, composer, and writer currently based in Boston, MA. Originally hailing from Los Angeles, Anna spent most of her childhood playing music, hiking, and surfing. In 2017, Anna won the Spotlight Awards resulting in her debut at Disney Concert Hall. The following summer, Anna participated in the inaugural year of NYO Jazz, playing in a big band touring Europe along with 22 other young jazz musicians across the United States. She currently attends the New England Conservatory and has studied artists including John Mallia, Anthony Coleman, Donald Palma,  and Jason Moran. Anna has performed with artists including Sean Jones, Dianne Reeves, Jerry Bergonzi, Tom Kubis.

 

 

Luther S. Allison, piano

Hailing from Charlotte, North Carolina Luther S. Allison is a multi-instrumentalist specializing in piano and drum set.  In 2017 Allison earned his BM in Studio Music & Jazz from The University of Tennessee and his MM in Jazz Studies from Michigan State University shortly thereafter. Allison is the featured pianist on Michael Dease’s Reaching Out, Becoming Quintet’s One-Track Mind, and Diego Rivera’s Connections; and is the featured drummer on Michael Dease’s Father Figure, and Markus Howell’s Get Right. Allison has performed nationally and internationally alongside Rodney Whitaker, Etienne Charles, Michael Dease, Greg Tardy, and is currently the pianist for Ulysses Owens Jr.’s Generation Y Quintet. In addition to teaching piano and drum set at the Brevard Jazz Institute summer camp in Brevard, NC Allison has worked as a clinician in Mexico, China, Japan, St. Lucia, and Trinidad & Tobago. Allison is currently based in New York, NY where he teaches at The Calhoun School and performs regularly.

Travis Pullman, guitar

Travis Pullman is a Savannah-based imaginative musical entrepreneur, teacher, composer, and performer specializing in acoustic, electric, and slide guitar. A jazz musician by training, he majored in Jazz Composition at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, and studied with the likes of Baron Tymas, Jack Pezanelli, Mick Goodrick, and Charlie Banacos. During his studies, and for the two decades following, he established himself as a commanding presence in the Boston music scene, working with and performing with the likes of Parliament Funkadelic and Sandra Bernhardt, and touring both nationally and internationally as a member of the Somerville Symphony Orkestar, a modern, energetic fusion of traditional Balkan, jazz and klezmer music.

He has shared the stage with numerous internationally acclaimed acts, including The Rebirth Brass Band, Melvin Seals, Slavic Soul Party, and Ezekiel’s Wheels, and his musical scores have been featured on films for the National Geographic Society and Discover Magazine, among others.

A self-described “student of the craft”, his enthusiasm, rich musical curiosity and eclectic tastes are an integral part of his teaching, and he believes it is essential to cultivate within his students a love for both listening to and performing music, regardless of their age. When not playing jazz, he can be seen performing regularly in many styles including funk, klezmer, bluegrass, and the blues.

Melodica

Naledi Masilo, melodica

Passionately pursuing her drive to explore the jazz tradition and her African heritage, Naledi Masilo -Vocalist, Composer, Teaching Artist, and Arts Administrator – packed her suitcase and moved half-way across the world to surge a music career bubbling with opportunities. Naledi grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa, a bustling country with beautiful people.  She graduated with a Bachelor of Social Sciences in International Relations and Sociology from the University of Cape Town and is currently studying Jazz Performance at The New England Conservatory.

In 2019, Naledi was a resident at the Kennedy Center through Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead Program, where she was mentored by Dee Dee Bridgewater and Jason Moran. She has also been invited to participate in the Banff International Jazz and Creative Music workshop in Calgary, Canada. Naledi is the Founding Director of The Dreaming Girls Foundation, a South African based non-profit organization that cultivates women and girls in the arts to be leaders and critically conscious members of society.