- Phil Bertelsen, Filmmaker, Producer, Director
- Rondi Charleston, Jazz singer, Lyricist, Composer, Recording Artist
- Tom Dempsey, Guitarist, Composer, Assistant Professor of Music, LaGuardia Community of College
- Kirk Imamura, President of Avatar Studios
- Kareen Laton (Treasurer), Director of Marketing and Business Development, Caravel Management LLC
- Jeannette LoVetri, Director of The Voice Workshop
- Becca Pulliam
- Dr. William Rodriguez, Educator, Musician
- LaFrae Sci, Composer, Drummer, Educator
- Damien Sneed, Pianist, Organist, Vocal Coach, Conductor, Composer, Arranger, Lecturer, and Producer
- Eli Yamin (President), Artistic Director and Founding Board President
Phil Bertelsen is an Emmy and Peabody award winning filmmaker who works in fiction and non-fiction. His feature film and documentary work represents a range of stories—from contemporary to historical. Most recently, Bertelsen has contributed to series’ hosted by Harvard scholar Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. for PBS. There, he produced and directed episodes for the award winning history series Many Rivers to Cross-The African Americans, as well as Finding Your Roots. Currently airing on public television, it traces the ancestral genealogy of celebrated Americans. Phil has served on the Advisory Board of The Jazz Drama Program for many years and filmed the first Jazz Drama, “When Malindy Swings” in 1999.
Motema Music recording artist, Rondi Charleston, is an award winning jazz singer, lyricist and composer whose work has appeared in film, TV and on stage through the U.S. and in Europe. She recently collaborated with pianist Fred Hersch on music for the award winning film, “No Place on Earth,” which had worldwide theatrical release and was shown on the History Channel. Her fifth solo album, “Signs of Life” charted on JazzWeek, and JazzTimes says, “She is a songwriter whose poetic, narrative and compositional skills are comparable to such modern masters as Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon.” She has performed to sold out crowds at Yoshi’s, Catalina’s, Dakota, Birdland, Blue Note, Joe’s Pub and at Jazz at Lincoln Center as part of the the Women in Jazz Festival Jazz at Dizzy’s. Rondi is also an Emmy and Peabody award-winning journalist, having worked with Diane Sawyer at ABC News PrimeTime Live.
Guitarist Tom Dempsey’s reputation for hard swinging sophistication and pure musicality have made him a distinct voice in the New York jazz scene. Dempsey has performed and/or recorded with a virtual “Who’s Who” of world renowned jazz musicians including: Wynton Marsalis, George Coleman, Kenny Barron, Roy Haynes, Bobby McFerrin, Paquito D’Rivera, Jack McDuff, Jim Hall, John Abercrombie, Brad Mehldau, John Scofield, Tal Farlow, Buddy Montgomery, Gerald Wilson, Mel Torme, Richard Wyands, Muhal Richard Abrams, and Dave Brubeck. He has recorded four CDs as a leader and has also recorded as a sideman on many recordings. Since 1992, Tom has been performing as a leader and a sideman at some of the top jazz venues throughout the world including the JVC Jazz Festival, SF Jazz Festival, The Blue Note, Yoshi’s, Smalls, and Smoke.
Known for his versatility as a musician Dempsey has made numerous appearances on New York radio and television including performances on The Rosie O’Donnell Show, the HBO series Sex and the City, and NPR. Dempsey has also performed for many Broadway shows including Bring In ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk, Patti Lupone on Broadway, and Aida. Along with his active performing career, Tom Dempsey’s talent as a composer is receiving noteworthy attention. His music has been featured on his four CDs as well as television and radio programs throughout the world including the HBO hit series Sex and the City.
Tom received his Bachelor of Music Degree in Jazz Studies from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University in May 1991. In May 1996, he acquired his Masters Degree in Jazz/Commercial Music at Manhattan School of Music. Tom’s deep commitment to education has made him a highly sought after educator and clinician. In recent years he has been teaching at Jazz at Lincoln Center, SUNY New Paltz, Rutgers University, and the National Guitar Workshop where her serves as Artistic Director for the Jazz Summit and Director of Music for all of the campuses. (For full bio)
Kirk Imamura has over 18 years experience in the consumer electronics industry working for Sony Corporation. Kirk has a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley and an MBA from San Diego State University. He has engineering and management experience in equipment design, software development, large-scale manufacturing operations, product development and strategic & business planning. Since leaving Sony, Kirk has spent 10 years in the music industry successfully running and guiding the operations of Avatar Studios in New York as President. During his tenure, the studio has been awarded five TEC Awards for Outstanding Creative Achievement. Kirk’s well-rounded management experience, people skills, technical background and marketing abilities are well-suited for leading an organization to the next level.
Kareen Mozes Laton has fifteen years of experience in marketing and business development. Prior to joining Caravel, Ms. Laton was Chief Operating Officer and co-founding-partner of 3-Sigma Value, a long-short global equities fund (2006–2010). From 2002 to 2006, Kareen was a Vice President at Goldman Sachs in the Private Wealth Management Group. Prior to Goldman Sachs, she was a Senior Marketing Manager at Deloitte Consulting (1998–2000). Kareen is fluent in French, Italian and Hebrew and holds an MBA from NYU Stern School of Business and a BA from Vassar College.
Jeannette LoVetri is Visiting-Artist-in-Residence at Shenandoah Conservatory and the founder of the first program on Contemporary Commercial Music (formerly called “non-classical) at the Conservatory, which is in Winchester, Virginia. The Contemporary Commercial Music Vocal Pedagogy Institute at Shenandoah was created in 2003 to address the needs of 21st century singing and teaching. The three-level courses offered during the Institute, are called Somatic Voicework™ The LoVetri Method, and are required in both the master of music and doctoral programs at Shenandoah. The summer Institute has attracted over 400 people from 10 countries and almost all of the United States and has garnered accolades from speech language pathologists, choral conductors, music educators, singing teachers as well as many professional singers of all styles from Broadway, opera, rock and jazz, and other styles. The Level I program of LoVetri’s work is also offered annually at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth in the department of jazz and at the University of Michigan at the medical center in the department of speech language pathology. The program at UMich is the only program of vocal pedagogy to be offered in a university hospital setting. She is in demand as one of the world’s top specialists in training singers for contemporary commercial music (CCM) of all styles. Her expertise has been recognized worldwide through invitations for lectures at national and international symposia, seminars, and professional congresses, and for master classes at universities and conservatories. (For full bio)
Becca Pulliam produced 23 seasons of the weekly series JazzSet from NPR Music, hosted by Dee Dee Bridgewater and Branford Marsalis. One edition featured a story with actualities from the Jazz Drama Program’s first production,When Malindy Swings, at Louis Armstrong Middle School in Queens. In addition, Pulliam produced 28 consecutive live, all-night, coast-to-coast Toast of the Nation specials, live on New Year’s Eve from NPR and WBGO Jazz 88 in Newark, NJ. In 2014-15, she has written the Berlin Philharmonic in Concert series for WQXR in New York, and the Spring Gala for the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. As Please Repeat the Question Productions, Pulliam makes the podcasts from the annual conference of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education, Hunter College.
Dr. William Rodriguez
As a musician, Dr. William “Willie” Rodriguez, has performed and recorded with the best musicians of our time including Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, Johnny Pacheco and the Fania AllStars. As an educator, he has devoted his life to young people by preparing them to lead successful and fulfilling lives filled with music. His vision to build a specialized music High School in the Bronx where students of all backgrounds can come to study music at a high level is a great example to all who wish to provide exceptional opportunities to the talented, yet often, underserved youth in the cities of our nation. In the ten years since he founded the school and served as its Principal, Celia Cruz Bronx High School of Music has become one of the leading specialized arts schools of New York City and in the State of New York, drawing talent from all over the city, performing concerts for the local community and regularly sending students to participate in the highly competitive All-State groups with the best young musicians from all over the State. The Jazz Drama Program worked with his students and staff in 2011 to record the Holding the Torch for Liberty cast album and to perform the jazz musical live in 2012.
LaFrae Sci is an internationally sought composer, drummer and educator who teaches at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and is also a founding teaching member of the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls in N.Y.C. As a Cultural Ambassador for the U.S. State Department, she has taught master classes and performed on over 30 countries. Her band, The 13th Amendment?, has performed in NYC, Suriname, Albania, Paris and recently participated in the world premiere of her orchestral work written for 36 pieces inspired by the Russian novel The Master and Margarita , in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia. LaFrae has played drums for The Burnt Sugar Arkestra, The Black Rock Coalition, Valerie June, Keziah Jones, Sandra Bernhard, Eli Yamin, Vernon Reid, Kelis, Nancy Sinatra(w/ Morrissey), Blues greats Jr. Mack and Pinetop Perkins, Bumblefoot, Cyndi Lauper, Reuben Wilson, Rachel Z, Kelis, and Dr. Lonnie Smith.
A sought after pianist, organist, vocal coach, conductor, composer, arranger, lecturer, and producer, Damien Sneed is a native of Augusta, Georgia and a graduate of Davidson Fine Arts School. He has studied at some of the finest conservatories and universities including Howard University (Bachelor of Music – Piano Performance), the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University, New York University (Master of Music: Music – Music Technology: Scoring for Film and Multimedia), the Manhattan School of Music, and the Christian Bible Institute and Seminary (Honorary Doctorate of Sacred Music). Damien’s professional affiliations include the City University of New York (CUNY) as a professor of music, The Juilliard School as a staff accompanist, the Martina Arroyo Foundation as an artistic consultant, Jazz at Lincoln Center as an artistic consultant, YAMAHA as an endorsed Influential Artist and a board member of the Jazz Drama Program.
He recently served as the musical director for the hit Gospel singing competition television show, Sunday Best – Season 4, on the Black Entertainment Television (BET) channel working closely with vocal mentor Kim Burrell and reaching 1.9 million viewers.
Damien has the ability to shift between different musical genres and styles: from classical to jazz to gospel to opera to Broadway and more. He has served as Music Director for the following artists in the gospel music arena – Karen Clark-Sheard, Kim Burrell, Vickie Winans, Nikki Ross, Twinkie Clark, Melonie Daniels, Dorinda Clark-Cole, Kierra Sheard, the Clark Sisters, Richard Smallwood, Donnie McClurkin, Marvin Sapp, and others. In other genres, Damien has performed with many other musical legends such as Stevie Wonder, Carlos Santana, David Sanborn, Kenny Burrell, American Idol’s Fantasia Barrino & George Huff, Ashford & Simpson, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, the Minneapolis Symphony, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, Darin Atwater & Soulful Symphony, Lorna Myers, Opera Ebony, Opera Noire, Wycliffe Gordon, Eric Reed, the Boys Choir of Harlem, the Oakwood College Aeolians, and many other notable world-class performers. Damien has recorded and produced several internationally distributed projects with other Grammy-Award winning artists.
Damien completed his first LIVE recording project, Introspections LIVE, at Columbia University’s Miller Theater, which takes the listener on a musical journey through his development as a performer includes classical, jazz and gospel music. He was featured on PBS’ Live from Lincoln Center conducting his choral group, Chorale Le Chateau, along with Wynton Marsalis & the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater for Wynton Marsalis’ 50th Birthday Concerts October 12 – 15, 2011. He also performed with Wynton Marsalis in London at the Barbican in celebration of the World Olympics 2012 and made his European conducting debut in July with Wynton Marsalis’ Abyssinian Mass for 75-voice choir, soloists and orchestra. The work is thru-composed and over 2 hours in length.
Damien is currently recording a CD accompanying the world-class operatic tenor, Lawrence Brownlee with Sneed’s arrangements of African-American spirituals. On November 11, 2012, Damien Sneed will be featured at the Jessye Norman School of the Arts Fundraiser Gala in Augusta, GA where he’ll be performing piano solo repertoire and also as Jessye Norman’s accompanist for the evening. On December 12, 2012, Sneed will make his Carnegie Hall double debut: performing as featured soloist in the work, Fier Herzog for piano & orchestra by composer Diogo Pereira with the New England Conservatory Orchestra AND taking the baton as conductor of a newly commissioned work by Wynton Marsalis of spirituals for chamber orchestra.