Musicians Bios

This project could not succeed without the considerable talents of the musicians involved. Their commitment to bringing high-quality jazz music to young people is truly amazing!

Past and present members include the following talented individuals.

Robert Alexius (tuba, bass) began his professional music career in New Orleans in 1951. Over the course of almost fifty years, he has played with such greats as Elvis Presley, Floyd Kramer, Boots Randolph, and Jerry Lee Lewis, as well as eleven seasons with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. Since retiring from the Texas Education Agency in 1993, Mr. Alexius continues to play tuba and bass locally with the Old Waterloo Jazz Band, the Big Band Sound of Austin, and numerous others.

Marty AllenMarty Allen (piano) performed with such jazz greats as Lionel Hampton, Pee Wee Ellis, and Bobby McFerrin. In his thirty-three years in the music industry, he worked all across America on projects as diverse as film scores, jazz festivals, and accompanist for the Pickle Family Circus. Marty moved to Austin in 1995 and worked with the Austin Jazz Workshop for four seasons before he passed away in February 2003. His loss is felt by all who worked with him, but his playing lives on in the Austin Jazz Workshop‚s three CD recordings.

Martin Banks (trumpet), an Austin legend, has performed with the big bands of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, James Brown, B.B. King, and Lionel Hampton, to name a few. He has been featured on the recordings of Ray Charles, King Curtis, Dexter Gordon, Jimmy Witherspoon, and more.  The world lost a great talent when Martin Banks passed away in 2004.

Alex Coke (saxophone) has been a fixture on the jazz scene in central Texas and Europe for almost thirty years. He lived in Amsterdam and performed with the Willem Breuker Kollektief for twelve years, and has recorded numerous times with the Creative Opportunity Orchestra, Rich Harney, and others. He is also an accomplished flutist and composer.

 

Ed Corey (guitar) has thirty years of professional playing experience. He has performed with Milton Berle, George Burns, Jay Leno, Gladys Knight, Zoot Sims, Clark Terry, and numerous others. He is the former Chair of the Music Department at Sierra Nevada College in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, and is the recipient of the Dean's Citation for Outstanding Achievement in Music Education.

Floyd Domino (piano) received two Grammy awards for his work as an original member of legendary Texas Swing band Asleep at the Wheel. He also performed with Merle Haggard, George Strait, Waylon Jennings, Herb Ellis, Don Walser, and numerous others. Floyd has released five albums for children, appeared on Broadway, and served as Musical Director of Jim Hightower's nationally-syndicated radio broadcast.

 

Dianne DonovanDianne Donovan (voice) is a recent transplant to central Texas from her native Canada, where she has performed professionally for fifteen years. She has worked with many Canadian and U.S. symphony orchestras with A Tribute to Harry James, and has released two CD's of original and standard material. The Oregonian calls Ms. Donovan "an accomplished jazz stylist with a strong voice and uncanny sense of phrasing."

Ernie DurawaErnie Durawa (drums) has played drums on two Grammy-winning albums, in 1991 with the Texas Tornadoes and in 1996 with Flaco Jimenez. Other performers he has worked with include John Lee Hooker, Albert Collins, Delbert McClinton, Joe Turner, Herb Ellis, and Clifford "Honky Tonk" Scott. A San Antonio native, Mr. Durawa was named Ambassador of Goodwill to that city in 1984.

Shawn EllisonShawn Ellison (piano) is a three-time Austin Chronicle Jazz Poll winner for his involvement with the group Native Sun. An avid composer and arranger, his forty-minute "Texas" suite was performed with dancers at UT's Bass Concert Hall in 1985. For the past three years, Mr. Ellison has served as Musical Director for Something's Afoot, a jazz and movement program for students at Austin's Pillow Elementary.

Kenny Felton (drums) is a versatile drummer who is much in demand for recording sessions and live performances in central Texas. He has played with Delbert McClinton, The Platters, Tamasha Africana, W.C. Clark, and many others. Since 1998, Mr. Felton has also performed with children through Pillow Elementary School's Something's Afoot dance program.

Ken George (trombone) has backed up many of the big names in the music industry, including Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, and others. He is a graduate of the University of North Texas, where he played in the One O’Clock Lab Band. A first-call trombonist in the Dallas area, Ken recently relocated to central Texas.

Luis Guerra (bass) has played and taught for ten years in the San Francisco Bay area, France, Spain, and Cuba. He has led jazz workshops at the University of Sevilla in Spain and taught music therapy at the Austin School for the Blind. Locally, Mr. Guerra has performed with La Tribu, the Creative Opportunity Orchestra, and Tony Campise.

Dan Hall (bass) has been a jazz adjudicator and performer for over thirty years. He has performed with Don Rickles, Milton Berle, Debbie Reynolds, and numerous other popular entertainers. He is currently working with the Lawrence Welk Show in Branson, Missouri.

Rich Haering (trumpet) is a ‘first call’ performer who has played with Stevie Wonder, Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin. Arturo Sandoval, the National Symphony Orchestra, Doc Severinsen, Dizzy Gillespie, Wynton & Branford Marsalis and many other world class musicians.  He also played with the Airmen of Note in the United States Air Force.

Rich Harney (piano) is a pianist and composer much in demand on the local jazz scene. He released a 1994 recording with Beth Ulman, titled "Aren't We the Lucky Ones?" His compositions have been recorded by Marlena Shaw and Pam Hart, and he has performed with Carmen Bradford, Tony Campise, and Alex Coke.

Masumi Jones (drums) has played professionally for twenty-three years, from her native Tokyo, Japan to the clubs of Boston and New York City. She moved to Austin two years ago, where she is in high demand from bandleaders like Jon Blondell, Jeff Lofton, and Alex Coke. Masumi also teaches drum lessons through the Japanese-based Internet Jazz School.

Mady KayeMady Kaye (voice) has delighted Austin audiences for twenty years with her strong interpretations of classic American works. Her 1999 one-woman show, "A Tribute to Tin Pan Alley," played to sold-out houses at Austin's Zachary Scott Theater. Ms. Kaye is classically trained in flute, piano, and voice, and is certified to teach in the Kodaly Method. Texas Monthly's Greg Curtis credits her with "a style that's hers alone."

Robert Kazenel (drums), a native of Montreal, Canada, has been in the Austin area since 2004, recording and performing extensively in many musical settings.  A graduate of Concordia University, Mr. Kazenel has performed and/or recorded with Sara Hickman, Monty Montgomery, Eric Johnson, Mitch Watkins, Suzi Stern, and many others.

Tina Marsh (voice) founder of the Creative Opportunity Orchestra and Circle of Light, has performed in the US and Europe with guest artists Carla Bley, Steve Swallow, and Kenny Wheeler, among others. Ms. Marsh taught everything from elementary-school residencies to college-level masterclasses. She was a treasured member of the music community.  Tina Marsh passed away in June 2009.

Mike MelingerMichael Melinger (saxophone) has performed with Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Sample of the Crusaders, Marty Ehrlich, and many others. He has a Master's Degree in Jazz Studies from the University of North Texas, and has performed and taught in Texas and Oregon for twenty-five years. Mr. Melinger founded the Austin Jazz Workshop project in 1994.

Freddie MendozaFreddie Mendoza (trombone), an San Antonio native, chairs the Jazz Studies Department at Southwest Texas University in San Marcos. Besides a long list of recording credits, he works locally with the Jazz Pharoahs, Cula de Cafe, Jazz Vatos, the Lucky Strikes, and many others.

Donna Menthol (voice) is a classically trained vocalist with thirty years experience in the music industry, opening for Dionne Warwick, the Lettermen, and others. A former student of Bobby McFerrin, she teaches private lessons, workshops, and clinics for all ages. Ms. Menthol's Worth the Wait CD will be released in November 2005.

 

Marc MillerMarc Miller (bass) moved to Austin in 2000 to obtain his Masters Degree in Jazz Performance at the University of Texas. He has performed with legendary jazz artists Phil Woods, Bob Brookmeyer, and many others. Locally, he is a regular member of Blaze and Odd Man Out, two bands that have occupied the top positions in the Austin Chronicle Music Awards Jazz Poll.

Pat MurrayPat Murray (trumpet) moved to New York at the age of eighteen to study with jazz legend Lew Soloff at the Manhattan School of Music. While in New York, he played lead trumpet in Dave Berger's Jazz Orchestra behind players such as Wynton Marsalis and Jon Hendricks. Since his return to Texas, Mr. Murray has played with many area bands, including 8 1/2 Souvenirs, Beto y los Fairlanes, and the Creative Opportunity Orchestra.  He recently relocated to the Los Angeles area.

Shane Pitsch (trumpet) has performed with artists as diverse as Willie Nelson, The Drifters, Wayne Shorter, and Maria Schneider. He holds degrees from Eastern Illinois University and the University of Texas , and is currently completing his Doctor of Music Arts degree from the University of Illinois .

 

James PolkJames Polk (piano) has been in the music industry for forty years. During a ten-year stint on the West Coast, he was writer-arranger for Ray Charles, the Platters, and many others. He has been nominated for two Grammy Awards for his work with Ray Charles. Locally, Mr. Polk performs with Tony Campise, Alex Coke, and many others. His CD release When Evening Comes was released in 2001.

 

Russell Remington (saxophone) is an alumnus of the famed University of North Texas 1:00 Lab Band, and has studied with Jimmy Heath, Frank Foster, and Jerry Bergonzi. He has performed with Phish, Santana, John Medeski, and many others. He has also appeared on the Jay Leno Show, Late Night with David Letterman, and the Carson Daley Show.


Glenn RexachGlenn Rexach (guitar) has played with James Polk, Creative Opportunity Orchestra, Tomas Ramirez, Will Taylor, Elias Haslanger, and many others. He also fronts his own contemporary jazz group, Round Trip. Mr. Rexach teaches music at Austin Community College, and has appeared on numerous studio sessions.

Horacio Rodriguez (bass) a native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, has performed for almost thirty years in South America, Africa, Europe, and the United States. He has accompanied Oscar Peterson, Cootie Williams, Paul Gonsalves, and many other jazz greats.  Mr. Rodriguez recently passed away in his native land.

Brian Shaw (trumpet) won the 2002 Downbeat Magazine award for Outstanding Extended Composition for jazz ensemble, and placed first in the International Trumpet Guild's 2002 Solo Competition, 2001 Mock Orchestral Competition, and the 1998 National Trumpet Competition (jazz division).  Brian has performed with Aretha Franklin, Doc Severinsen, The Temptations, and many others.

 

Jimmy Shortell (trumpet) is much in demand as a freelance trumpet player, having recorded twenty-five CD's with such artists as Ruben Ramos, Townes Van Zandt, and Little Joe y la Familia. He plays in the Austin area with Los Jazz Vatos, the Tony Campise Orchestra, the Austin Civic Wind Ensemble, and many others.

Gary Slechta (trumpet) served as a college band director for twenty-three years. Since coming to Austin in 1983, he has worked with the Austin Symphony, Capitol of Texas Brass Quintet, Beto y los Fairlanes, and many others. Mr. Slechta has also performed with many celebrities, including Doc Severinsen, Johnny Mathis, Joan Rivers, and Bob Newhart.

Julie Slim (voice) has fifteen years singing and acting experience in cabaret, theater, and film. Ms. Slim sings in French, Arabic, and Italian, and was a B. Iden Payne Award nominee for Outstanding Lead Actress in 1996. She teaches drama, music, and broadcasting to elementary school children in the Round Rock school district.

 

Jim Spector (bass, vocals) is a native Texan who hails from Beaumont , home of the East Texas Cajun Blues. He has performed professionally for over twenty-five years, with such notables as Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Ray Charles, Mose Allison, and many others. Locally, he performs with the High Risers and the High Island Hepcats. Mr. Spector holds music degrees from the University of Houston and University of Texas Department of Music and Humanities.

 

Suzi Stern (voice) has recorded and performed with Denny Zeitlin, Jay Anderson, Gene Ramey, Mitch Watkins, and many others. A former student of vocal master Bobby McFerrin, Ms. Stern-Luna has taught and performed jazz vocal techniques in Austin, New York, and Portland, Oregon. Doug Ramsey of Texas Monthly called her "the most polished scat singer in Texas ".

 

Michael Stevens (bass) obtained his BM in Jazz Studies from Howard University in Washington , D.C. while studying under pianist and recording artist Geri Allen. While in D.C., Mr. Stevens was an instructor for D.C. Artworks Summer Youth Program. In Austin , he works regularly with James Polk, Pam Hart, Blaze, and Tina Marsh's Circle of Light.

 

Helen Sung (piano) has been the featured piano soloist with the Houston and Galveston Symphonies. She was the winner of the Mid-Texas Young Artists Competition, and has toured in Norway and Taiwan . After gaining her Masters in Music Performance at the University of Texas at Austin , she entered the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute.  She currently resides in Boston and New York.

 

Brad Taylor (bass) has performed with Bo Diddley and Sam Moore in his over twenty-five years in the music industry. Locally, he has been a member of Round Trip, Native Sun, and the High Island Hepcats. He has also recorded with Terry Bowness, Natalie Zoe, and the Brian Barber Trio.

 

John Vander Gheynst (trumpet) completed his Doctorate in Music at the University of Texas at Austin . He worked as a band director at middle and high schools in Georgia for five years. John stays active as a composer and performer with groups ranging from jazz combos to symphony orchestras.

 

Mitch Watkins (guitar) is one of the most in-demand musicians and producers in central Texas . He performs regularly with Lyle Lovett, Paul Glasse, John Fremgen, and many others. Mitch has recorded CD's of his own, as well as producing albums by such artists as Bob Schneider, Abra Moore, and Tina Lear. When not touring with Lyle Lovett, Mitch continues to play many engagements with his own band across the area.

Ron Westray (trombone) served as lead trombone for the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra in New York City, under the direction of Wynton Marsalis.  Ron has worked with a veritable who’s who of great musicians, including Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Benny Carter, Roy Hargrove, Randy Brecker, Branford Marsalis, and many others.

Randy Zimmerman (trombone) is a regular member of the Creative Opportunity Orchestra, the Austin Jazz Orchestra, Pinnacle Brass Quintet, and many others. A University of North Texas graduate, he has over twenty years of performing and teaching experience.