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 a college sophomore, a high school junior, three cats, and a pug. 

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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.

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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.

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Brass & Reed

Federico Foster, trombone

Federico Foster has been a music educator since 2005. In 2016 he was named the Director of Bands at the School of Liberal Studies at Savannah High School. Under Mr. Foster’s direction, Savannah High School ensembles have consistently received superior ratings and various awards at local and regional events. Savannah High School band students are consistently represented in the Georgia Music Educators Association’s District I Honor Band and District Honor Jazz Bands.

Mr. Foster is a Music Education PhD student at Auburn University and holds degrees from Savannah State University, Armstrong State University, and Fielding Graduate University. Mr. Foster is active throughout Savannah as a brass/percussion consultant and clinician. His motivational style and enthusiasm help students realize their potential in a practical way, affecting music and academics—his passion for music transfers to his students.

Federico is a former member of Florida A&M University “Marching 100,” and is also a product of Savannah State University and Armstrong State University, having played in the band as a student. He is a member of the Kappa Kappa Psi National Honorary Band Fraternity Incorporated, Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, the National Association for Music Education (NAfME), and endorsed by the Vic Firth Educational Team, and was named a WTOC Top Teacher in 2019.

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 and a graduate of The Florida State University. Marisa is currently attending Temple University in pursuit of her master’s degree in Jazz performance. And studying under the acclaimed trumpeter, Terell Stafford.

In 2018 Marisa joined the Mica Bethea Big Band, a phenomenal group based in Jacksonville, Fl. She has also 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, and the Jacksonville 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 had the opportunity to perform and study with various artist, 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, and Jason Hainsworth.



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.

Amina Scott, bass

Amina Scott, born and raised in Oakland, CA, is an upright and electric bassist, composer, and arranger. Her interest in music began at an early age when her grandmother began giving her piano lessons. From then, her love and passion for music has yet to cease, playing electric bass at the age of twelve and was soon playing gigs with local bands in Oakland.

In 2012, Amina relocated to New Orleans, LA where she studied at Loyola University New Orleans under Allen Nisbet, Roland Guerin, and Ed Wise. She graduated from Loyola in 2016 with a Bachelor of Music in Music Industry Studies. In 2017, Amina began her studies at Florida State University (Tallahassee, FL) studying with Rodney Jordan, Leon Anderson, Marcus Roberts, and Bill Peterson. In 2019, she obtained her Master’s in Music in jazz studies. While a student at FSU, Amina joined the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra led by Adonis Rose where she plays bass and arranges and writes for the big band and the small group, the NOJO 7.

Based in New Orleans, Amina has performed with various artists including Steve Turre, Wessell “Warm Daddy” Anderson, Nicholas Payton, David Murray, Jamison Ross, Joanne Brackeen, Herlin Riley, Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah, and more. She has also performed with the Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra (Tallahassee, FL) and the Albany Symphony Orchestra (Albany, GA). In 2017, Amina was a fellow in the Steans Institute of Music Jazz Program (Ravinia, IL) under Rufus Reid, Billy Childs, and Nathan Davis. She is also a bandleader in her own right leading her quartet, her six-piece fusion band PHYRA.

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.

David Rosenthal, guitar

David Rosenthal is a guitarist, artist, producer, and educator based in NYC.  He has worked and recorded with Anthony Hamilton, Ledisi, Sevyn Streeter, Tori Kelly, Chuck Harmony, Claude Kelly, Marvin Winans, Christian McBride, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., Kenny Latimore, Ky Mani Marley, Wes Morgan, Bilal, Goapele, Alicia Olatuja, Leona Lewis, ABIAH and Jon B.  He is a multi-instrumentalist and plays a variety of styles including  R&B, Jazz, Funk, and Blues. He released his latest album “Family” in 2014. He is also a D’Angelico Guitars’ artist.





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.