Workshop Alumni Happenings May 21 – June 3, 2024

By Vail Jazz

The 29th Annual Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition and Festival was recently held at the Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York, where the nation’s top three high school jazz bands (Newark Academy, Livingston NJ; Osceola County School for the Arts, Kissimmee FL; and Agoura High School, Agoura Hills CA) were honored for their exceptional performances. In the competition, Laesio Littlejohn (2023), from Plano West Senior High School, was recognized for “Outstanding Bass;” Ben Schwartz (2022), from Newark Academy and Ethan Oliver (2023), from the Triangle Youth Jazz Ensemble, for “Outstanding Drums;” and Luke Ramee (2022), from the Triangle Youth Jazz Ensemble, for “Outstanding Trombone.” Congratulations to all!




“Sun Ra at 110,” a tribute performance to the late composer and bandleader, with 2002 piano alum Sullivan Fortner‘s Galactic Friends, takes place at Dizzy’s in NYC on May 22 and 23. Fortner then appears at the Atlanta Jazz Festival on May 25 in Piedmont Park.


Saxophonist Tia Fuller (1996) has consecutive-night shows May 24-26 at Birdland in NYC.


Benny Benack III (2008 trumpet) kicks off the Delaney Chevrolet Westsylvania Jazz and Blues Festival with a quartet performance in Indiana PA on May 24. The next night, May 25, the quartet has a gig at Baretto@Fasano in NYC.


Saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin (1999) performs on the Met Park Stage at the Jacksonville (FL) Jazz Festival on May 25.


It’s 2007 alum Bryan Carter on the drums with saxophonist Harry Allen and pianist Rossano Sportiello in a May 26 show at Highfield Hall & Gardens in Falmouth MA.


2014 piano alum Isaiah J. Thompson is with the John Pizzarelli Trio for a two-night performance at Keystone Korner in Baltimore MD, May 30 and 31.


The Roots Picnic at the Mann Center in Philadelphia on June 1 features a performance by Robert Glasper (1997 piano) with vocalist Yebba.


2001 trumpet alum Curtis Taylor has a CD release show (his new album is Taylor Made) on June 1 at the Graduate Hotel in Iowa City IA.




Pianist Zaccai Curtis (1999) has released the new album Cubop Lives!, and brother Luques Curtis (2000) is on bass. Listen here to “Cuban Fantasy.”


Percussionist Carlos Nino & Friends’ May 24 album, Placenta, includes alumni Jamire Williams (2001 drums), Jamael Dean (2013 piano), Brandon Owens (1997 bass), and Aaron Shaw (2013 saxophone).


Pakistani singer and composer Arooj Aftab’s new LP Night Reign releases on May 31, and 2012 piano alum James Francies is featured on Track 3, “Autumn Leaves.”


Saxophonist Troy Roberts’s Elite Quartet, with Jimmy Macbride (2008) on drums, has a new album out, Green Lights. Listen here to “Up To No Good.”


Trumpeter Summer Camargo (2018) has released her debut album, To Whom I Love, which includes alumni Jeffery Miller (2013) on trombone, Esteban Castro (2018) on piano, and Varun Das (2018) on drums. The album also features two tracks with the late organ maestro Joey DeFrancesco, his last recorded output before he passed away in August 2022; one of these is “80 Tears of Joy,” which you can listen to here.


Saxophonist Michael Thomas’s new album, The Illusion of Choice, features alumni Matt Brewer (2000 bass) and Obed Calvaire (1998 drums). Here’s the track “The Other Side.”


Vocalist and keyboard player Nigel Hall and multi-instrumentalist DJ Harrison joined to record and release The Burning Bush: A Journey Through the Music of Earth, Wind & Fire, which includes a guest appearance by 2006 alum Corey Fonville on drums. Listen here to “Imagination.” And Fonville co-produced the new album, Ten Fold, by R&B musician Yaya Bey.


Recognitions, Awards & Other Items of Note


Recipients of the 2024 Jazz Journalists Association’s 2024 Awards for Performance and Recording include three Vail Jazz Workshop alumni: pianist Isaiah J. Thompson (see Performances, above) for “Up and Coming Musician of the Year,” Ambrose Akinmusire (2000) for “Trumpeter of the Year,” and Lakecia Benjamin (see Performances, above) for “Alto Saxophonist of the Year.” Congrats to them all!


And congrats to 2002 piano alum Gerald Clayton on being named 2024-2025 Artist-in-Residence at the USC Thornton School of Music! See the announcement.

The soundtrack for The Big Cigar, a new six-part series on Apple TV+, was composed by Robert Glasper (see Performances, above).


[If you’re a Vail Jazz Workshop alum, do you know about the communication channel we created exclusively for alumni? It’s free on Slack and is a great way to keep in touch with your alumni colleagues and stay current on what’s happening with them. To join, contact Alan Tanenbaum at alumni@vailjazz.org and he’ll send you the link!] 


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