Rising Stars: NYO Jazz, JHK All-Stars

June 30, 2023

Bassist Laura Simone-Martin of Lawrenceville, NJ, (Photo left above) is heading back to Carnegie Hall’s NYO Jazz Program for the second consecutive year. “Last year,” she said, “gave me that first-hand experience of what it is like being on the road for so long and how much energy goes into it.” 

Joining Simone-Martin as the other New Jersey student musician invited to this year’s NYO Jazz Program is trumpeter Alvaro Caravaca, a resident of Budd Lake, (Photo right above) who graduated in June from Mount Olive High School. The program accepts 22 student jazz musicians from across the country. Caravaca led a Jazz House Kids quartet in the Rising Stars opening act at the August 28, 2022, JerseyJazzLIVE! concert presented by the New Jersey Jazz Society at the Madison, NJ, Community Arts Center.

At last July 28th’s initial NYO Jazz Orchestra concert at Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium, Simone-Martin energized the band with her solos on Endea Owens’ “Ida’s Crusade”, a tribute to journalist/activist Ida B. Wells. “It really made me think about open solos in a different way,” she said. “I had never really played open solos before that. I just felt so empowered playing her song, written by a Black woman (Owens) about a trailblazer (Wells). I felt really inspired playing her tune on the Carnegie Hall stage. It was an honor.”

The NYO Jazz Orchestra followed that Carnegie Hall concert with a seven-city tour, which began in Cleveland and concluded at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. The guest artist for the New York concert and the tour was vocalist Jazzmeia Horn.

This year, the NYO will resume international touring. After the New York concert, the band will leave on a European tour that will include such destinations as Amsterdam, Berlin, and St. Moritz. The guest artist will be vocalist and NEA Jazz Master Dee Dee Bridgewater. Leader and Artistic Director of the NYO Jazz Orchestra is trumpeter Sean Jones. 

Simone-Martin graduated from Lawrenceville High School in June and will be attending the Jazz Studies program at Michigan State University in the fall, “to study with Rodney Whitaker. I’m super excited. So many bass players have come out of Michigan State – Endea Owens, Liany Mateo, Ben Williams.” Whitaker is Director of Jazz Studies in MSU’s College of Music. He spent seven years with the Wynton Marsalis Septet and Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and has played with such legends as Jimmy Heath, Marian McPartland, and Dizzy Gillespie.

When I interviewed Simone-Martin last year (Jersey Jazz, July/August 2022), she told me about a program called Queen Amina that she created in the fall of 2021 for the Lawrenceville Intermediate School. It was named after the African warrior queen and designed to educate fourth through sixth grade female instrumentalists. “I teach them about women composers and women instrumentalists and the history of the music,” she told me.

Even though Simone-Martin will be in East Lansing, MI, in the fall, the program will continue through a grant supported by Dorthaan Kirk, Newark’s “First Lady of Jazz” who presents the Jazz Vespers concerts at Newark’s Bethany Baptist Church, and Lawrenceville resident, Fred Vereen, Jr. The grant enabled Simone-Martin to “invite a bunch of guest artists and also have a big concert featuring (alto saxophonist) Tia Fuller, me on bass, Allison Miller on drums, and pianist Alexis Lombre,” at an event on March 15. The event also included master classes for the Queen Amina members.

As for the continuation of the program this fall, Simone-Martin said she has been having discussions with Melissa Walker, Founder and President of Jazz House Kids. “Jazz House Kids will do the in-house teaching,” she said, “while I’ll still be able to come in on Zoom and still be there for the girls. It’s an active role, just from a farther distance.”

When Caravaca received the news that he was accepted into NYO, “I really jumped up and down,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it, and I have no doubt it’s going to be a life-changing experience.” In the fall, Caravaca will be attending the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music as a Jazz Studies major. “The faculty there is really amazing,” he said. “They were super friendly and made feel like I was home when I visited them.”

Clay Jenkins, Professor of Jazz Trumpet, recalled meeting Caravaca “when he auditioned for the Jazz Department at the Eastman School of Music. His maturity was very apparent, both in his soulful musicianship, and in his respectful conversation. I so look forward to his being a student at Eastman in the coming fall semester.”

During high school, Caravaca was part of the Jazz House Kids program and the New Jersey Youth Symphony Orchestra. In November 2021 he had an opportunity to play with Wynton Marsalis, who was giving a brass master class at Montclair State’s John J. Cali School of Music. He played Benny Golson’s “Stablemates” and traded fours with Marsalis, who told him, “I love what you did. That was unbelievably soulful.”

In the spring of 2021, Caravaca was part of the JHK Big Band that was a finalist in Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Essentially Ellington competition. While there, he met Nathaniel Williford, a trumpeter at Osceola County School for the Arts in Kissimmee, FL. “Man, let me tell you,” Caravaca said, “he was the most humble guy I ever met. I could not even tell he was going to be one of the greatest trumpet players I heard at my age.” Caravaca is looking forward to a reunion with Williford, who, like Simone-Martin, is back for his second summer with the NYO Jazz Orchestra. 

On Saturday night, June 3, Simone-Martin appeared as part of the Jazz House Kids All-Star sextet at Newark’s Bethany Baptist Church Jazz Vespers, soloing on Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma”. She was joined by alto saxophonist Alex Laurenzi, pianist Galo Inga, trumpeter Andrew Wagner, tenor saxophonist Jalin Shiver, and drummer Matt Lee.

Laurenzi, Music Director of the All-Stars band, grew up in Mountain Lakes, NJ. He performed at NJJS’ last live event before the pandemic, on February 2020 at Shanghai Jazz in Madison. He is a 2020 graduate of Princeton University where he received the Isidore and Helen Sacks Memorial Prize from the Princeton Music Department for his contributions to the musical community. He has also won two DownBeat Student Soloist Awards and two Outstanding Soloist awards from the Essentially Ellington Competition and Festival. A member of the Jazz House Kids Big Band for three years, Laurenzi toured Peru in April 2016 with a select group from JHK on behalf of the U.S. Embassy.

In July and August, Laurenzi has several dates at Brooklyn’s pinkFrog Café, leading a trio with bassist Solomon Gottfried and drummer Connor Parks. The performances, which begin at 7 p.m. are on July 8 and 22 and August 5 and 19.

Inga is currently studying for his Master’s Degree at Montclair State with pianist Rachel Z. He’s also JHK’s Senior Program Manager in Schools and Evaluation, working with public school students in Newark and Paterson. 

Wagner, originally from Mendham, NJ, is a William Paterson graduate and studied there with trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, who described him to Jersey Jazz as, “the type of student that every teacher hopes and dreams about. It’s not just that he was a good student while he studied with me at William Paterson; it’s that he continues to do the work and strive for not only what he’s been taught, but, more importantly, what he’s observed. He restores my belief that there are still young adults that are thorough and serious about this art form.”  A 2017 recipient of JHK’s James Moody Scholarship, Wagner is appearing July 30 at Birdland with baritone saxophonist Courtney Wright. 

Shiver, a 2019 James Moody Scholarship awardee, is finishing up his jazz education at New Jersey City University. In December 2018, when he was a senior at Newark’s Arts High School, Shiver was selected by the Thelonious Monk Institute to be part of the National Peer-to-Peer All Star Jazz performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. Along with students from across the country, he performed with such jazz stars as pianist Herbie Hancock and saxophonists Wayne Shorter, and Melissa Aldana.

Lee, Laurenzi pointed out, “is the middle child of what we call the first family of jazz education. His father, (tenor saxophonist) Mike Lee was the original Director of Jazz Education at Jazz House Kids. His older brother (saxophonist) Julian Lee, was one of the first great stars we (JHK) had. Matt’s a little younger than Julian, but he’s been playing up a storm since he was eight years old.” Matt and Julian’s younger sister, violinist/vocalist Jacquie Lee was the Rising Star in the April 2023 issue of Jersey Jazz. (Photo below, from left: Melissa Walker, Matt Lee, Dorthaan Kirk, Alex Laurenzi, Laura Simone-Martin, Galo Inga, Andrew Wagner, Jalin Shiver).

In addition to “Con Alma”, the JHK All-Stars played other jazz classics such as Wayne Shorter’s “One By One” and Clifford Brown’s “Daahoud” at the December 3rd Bethany Jazz Vespers concert. At the end, JHK Founder and President, vocalist Melissa Walker, joined in for a closing performance of the Harry Warren/Mack Gordon standard, “The More I See You.”  Then, she recalled that, “Twenty-two years ago, Dorthaan Kirk asked me to do a concert for kids in Newark. She said, ‘I don’t just want a concert; I want a program. It’s going to be kids, 2-12, with their parents.’ Then, Phil May, who was Director of Arts for Newark, said, ‘That’s a program we should bring to the schools.’”

The result, Walker added, is that, through Jazz House Kids, “50,000 young people have been provided access, learning, career development, and community building. Thank you, Dorthaan.” Pointing to the All-Stars sextet, Walker said, “These fine young people stand alongside the greats of today and on the shoulders of the pioneers of yesterday.”-SANFORD JOSEPHSON


eBlast Subscribe

Subscribe to the eBlast from New Jersey Jazz Society to receive important updates and content straight to your inbox.