SMF Jazz Academy People

Aaron Jennings, Manager, 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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Benje Daneman, SMF Jazz Academy Music Director

Jazz trumpeter, composer, and educator, Benje Daneman, got his start professionally in 2007 on a national tour with The Doc Severinsen Big Band and has since performed as a sideman and leader at prestigious venues across the nation including The Kennedy Center (Washington DC), The Iridium Jazz Club (NYC), Constellation (Chicago), Festival of New Trumpet Music, and Baryshnikov Arts Center (NYC). His most recent 2018 album release, “Light in the Darkness”, with his Chicago-based band, SearchParty, received featured articles in both DownBeat Magazine and JazzTimes. 

An alumnus of Manhattan School of Music, Western Michigan University and The Henry Mancini Institute (Los Angeles, CA), Daneman is also a passionate music educator and has worked as a teaching artist with The New York Pops, Western Michigan University’s SEMINAR, and Afro-Latin Jazz Alliance (NYC), in addition to giving clinics for all levels of education across the country. He has co-founded and directed multiple educational programs including The Jazz & Creative Institute, Kalamazoo Youth Jazz Orchestra, Kalamazoo Trumpet Workshop, JazzStart Summer Jazz Workshop, and Kalamazoo Music School. An avid composer and arranger, Daneman has received commissions from the United States Air Force Band (in Europe), Spark and Echo Arts (2015 Artist/Composer in Residence) and Redeemer Presbyterian Church (NYC). He has also collaborated with many composers/arrangers including Roger Treece, Peter Prochnow and Dr. Steve Zegree. 

In addition to his music and teaching, Daneman works as an arts administrator creating opportunity and managing creative endeavors all across the nation. He has worked with The Festival of New Trumpet Music, jazz pianist Pascal Le Boeuf, Dave Douglas’ Greenleaf Music Record Label, and Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra. Additionally, Daneman was the Co-Founder/Executive Director of the Jazz & Creative Institute/Kalamazoo Music School, a community jazz and music school in Kalamazoo, MI. Most recently, he has accepted the position of Music Director of the Savannah Music Festival Jazz Academy in Savannah, GA, where he currently lives with his family.

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Aubrie Racies, Community Impact Associate and  SMF Jazz Academy Program Assistant

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Brass & Reed

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.

Gina Benalcazar, trombone

New York City-based low brass specialist Gina Benalcazar is one of the most in-demand doublers on the scene. Having degrees in both Classical Performance and Jazz Studies, Gina’s playing can be described as having a deep understanding of the Bass Trombone and jazz harmony and language. Under the mentorship of artists such as Michael Dease, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Luis Bonilla, David Gibson, and Doug Purviance, she has had the opportunity

to work with some of the world’s most prolific band leaders. She can be found playing with The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, The Roy Hargrove Big Band, Etienne Charles’ Creole Soul, The Rufus Reid Big Band, and others. In 2017 she won the seat of Bass Trombonist for Rodney Whitaker’s Jazz Orchestra at Dr. Phillips Center in Orlando Florida, is the Bass Trombonist of Dee Dee Bridgewater Big Band, holds a Tenor Trombone seat in the Ulysses Owens Jr. New Century Big Band and holds the Bass Trombone seat in David Gibson’s Big Band. She’s also played as a sideperson with various ensemble orientations and worked in education with artists such as Michael Dease, Alon Yavnai, Chris Potter, Michael Mossman, Rodney Whitaker, David Gibson, Luis Bonilla, Marshall Gilkes, Conrad Herwig, Kenny Rampton, Marlene Rosenburg, and many more. She is also one of the Administrative Faculty at the Brevard Jazz Institute, under the direction of Michael Dease.

Gina has also had the opportunity to record with groups such as the Mica Bethea big band, releasing the albums “The Mica Bethea Big Band” and “Suite Theory”, Ulysses Owens New Century Jazz Orchestra “Soul Conversations,” Michael Dease’s “Bonafide”, is on one track of the album “One-Track Mind” by the Becoming Quintet, and is credited as an arranger on one track on Michael Dease’s album, “Reaching Out.” Her full discography can be found on her website.

Gina is also a band leader for a quintet called “The BOUNCE” which was selected for a Chamber Music of America grant in 2019. They perform in clubs around the North East, as well as in Lansing Michigan, and are releasing their debut record in Spring of 2023 (date to be announced soon). She can be booked for performances, festivals, masterclasses, and guest artist series.


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, and 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.

Caili O’Doherty, piano

New York-based pianist, composer, arranger and educator, Caili O’Doherty (pronounced “KAY-lee” “oh-DOE-er-tee”), is known for integrating structures of language in both her compositions and her approach to improvisation. Her recent music focuses on the celebration, preservation, and expansion upon the achievements of jazz’s unsung women heroes. O’Doherty has received national awards for piano performance and composition from the ASCAP Foundation and Downbeat Magazine.

Praised by All About Jazz for its “exquisitely forged, dramatic and darkly hued pieces”, O’Doherty’s debut release Padme (2015) uses lyrics to give the melodies a natural rhythm of language. Padme was selected as a Downbeat Magazine Editor’s pick and received a 4-star review in All About Jazz. The latest release from O’Doherty is Quarantine Dream (Posi-Tone Records 2022).The album release is followed by a U.S. CD release tour with support from a Jazz Road grant from South Arts.

The Caili O’Doherty Quintet was selected by the U.S. Department of State as one of ten ensembles to participate in the 2022-23 American Music Abroad U.S. State Department tour. In 2021, O’Doherty received a Chamber Music America Presenters Consortium for Jazz Grant to present her newest project, “Caili O’Doherty: Celebrating Lil Hardin Armstrong”, featuring her arrangements of compositions by pianist, composer, and vocalist Lil Hardin Armstrong.

She has performed at the Kimmel Center, SF Jazz, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Panama Jazz Festival, Guinness Cork Jazz Festival, concert halls throughout China and UNESCO First International Jazz Day in Paris, as well as two US State Dept. supported tours to Colombia and Togo and Benin in West Africa.

O’Doherty currently works in the education department at Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC) as a piano accompanist for the WeBop early childhood jazz education program. She leads educational performances in New York City schools about jazz, democracy and civil rights as a bandleader for JALC’s Jazz for Young People program. O’Doherty has been a faculty member at the Stanford Jazz Workshop since 2012, as well as faculty at the University of Wisconsin Madison Summer Music Clinic and Litchfield Jazz Camp. She is a graduate of Berklee College of Music (BM ’13) and Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College (MM ’19).

Caili O’Doherty is a Nord Keyboard 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.