Middle School Jazz Academy Faculty Bios

Middle School Jazz Academy Teachers are some of New York City’s best teachers who combine extensive performance experience with exceptional talent and skill in the art of teaching.


Annette A. Aguilar is a multi-percussionist, recording artist, producer, and bandleader born in San Francisco into a family from Nicaragua. She has performed since the age of 16 with world-renowned Latin artists including Santana, Cal Tjader, Pete and Sheila Escovedo (Sheila E.), and Tito Puente.

Annette A. Aguilar & StringBeans, her Latin and Brazilian jazz group, was formed in 1992; their CDs Special Friends and NO Cheap Dates, received outstanding reviews nationally and abroad. Ms. Aguilar earned a bachelor of music degree in music performance from San Francisco State University, a master of music degree from Manhattan School of Music, and a master of arts degree in education from CUNY.


Alvin R. Atkinson, Jr. has served as visiting professor at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, and as professor at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Currently a jazz language and rhythm studies faculty member with JALC’s Middle School Jazz Academy, he teaches private lessons and serves on various committees at The New School.

Mr. Atkinson has been featured in concert and has recorded with various artists such as Freddy Redd, Benny Powell, Ellis Marsalis, Jimmy Heath, Roy Hargrove, Fred Wesley, Houston Person, Curtis Fuller, Branford Marsalis, Steve Turre, Vanessa Rubin, and Wycliffe Gordon. He has developed an interactive workshop, titled The Drummer Speaks.

RAVI BEST (Trumpet)

Ravi Best, a graduate of Howard and New York universities, has taught trumpet privately since 1996 and toured and recorded with numerous artists, including the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Mr. Best also has conducted geriatric and adolescent music therapy programs.

MATT BUTTERMANN (JALC Youth Programs Coordinator)

Matt Buttermann is JALC’s Youth Programs Coordinator. In this capacity, he manages all of the administrative and logistical aspects of the Middle School Jazz Academy, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Youth Orchestra, and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Youth Workshop, for which he is also the instructor. He is a faculty member at Fordham University and The Bloomingdale School of Music for guitar and jazz.

Mr. Buttermann received a master of music degree in jazz studies from William Paterson University and a bachelor of fine arts degree in jazz studies and music education from The City College of the City University of New York.


Goussy Célestin has performed music and dance for the last two decades with artists such as Ron Carter, Jimmy Heath, Max Roach, Donald Byrd, and Sheila Jordan as a jazz pianist-vocalist, while studying dance with Pat Hall and Camille Yarbrough.  Ms. Célestin is lead vocalist for Charanga Soleil and a highlight of her career is a duo piano performance with John Hicks. Her musical travels include Cuba, England, and Wales.

Ms. Célestin teaches for Jazz at Lincoln Center as a member of the WeBop faculty and is a guest teacher for MSJAB.

JIMMY COZIER (Saxophone)

Saxophonist Jimmy Cozier was born in Brooklyn, New York. He has recorded with Lena Horne, Aretha Franklin, Cab Calloway, Bill Doggett, Mongo Santamaria, Grover Washington, Jr., Cassandra Wilson, Sam Rivers, and the Chico O’Farrill Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra.

Mr. Cozier has appeared at major jazz festivals throughout the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. He is the author of The Jazz Improviser’s Woodshed Volumes 1-3, and a recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Grant.


Chanell Crichlow is the founder and bandleader of PitchBlak Brass Band, a 10-piece, diverse, multi-genre brass band that has been laying down sick beats all over New York City for the past three years.

CLAIRE DALY (Saxophone)

Claire Daly has won many critic/reader polls as well as a Jazz Journalist “Baritonist of the Year” award. Her first CD, Swing Low (with MSJA head instructor Eli Yamin on piano), is a part of the William Clinton Jefferson Library as a CD significant to him while president. Her most recent project, Baritone Monk (with MSJA bass teacher Mary Ann McSweeney), topped the charts last year, ending in the top 75 CDs of the year on JazzWeek charts.

Ms. Daly has been a faculty member of MSJA since its second year, and has taught at Litchfield Jazz Camp for 14 years.


Guitarist Tom Dempsey in recent years has performed and/or recorded with world-renowned jazz musicians including Wynton Marsalis, Paquito D’Rivera, Jim Hall, John Abercrombie, John Scofield, George Coleman, Roy Haynes, Bobby McFerrin, Mel Tormé, and Dave Brubeck. He has recorded four CDs as a leader and worked extensively with tap virtuoso Savion Glover in Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk.

Mr. Dempsey has taught at SUNY New Paltz, Rutgers University, New York Jazz Academy, and served as Artistic Director of the Jazz Summit at the National Guitar Workshop. His books Jazz Eras for Guitar, Easy Soloing for Jazz Guitar, Sight-Reading for the Contemporary Guitarist, and Classic Jazz Styles for Guitar are available through Alfred Music and Workshop Arts.

Mr. Dempsey received his bachelor of music degree in jazz studies from Rutgers University and his master of music degree in jazz/commercial music from Manhattan School of Music.

ELI FOUNTAIN (Vibraphone)

Eli Fountain completed music studies at the University of Cincinnati. He appears on more than 50 recordings and is an instructor for Jazzmobile and Jazz at Lincoln Center Jazz in the Schools Workshops.


Philadelphia-born David F. Gibson is recording and touring with the Duke Ellington Orchestra under the direction of Tommy James. He has also toured and recorded with The Count Basie orchestra under the direction of Frank B. Foster.  Mr. Gibson has worked with the Diane Schuur trio and is currently teaching at The New School for jazz and Contemporary Music.


Born and raised in New York City, Nabaté Isles attended the Eastman School of Music and New York University for his bachelor of music and master of arts degrees, respectively. He has performed and/or recorded with Mos Def, James Newton, Charli Persip, Christian McBride, Steve Coleman, Ravi Coltrane, Mike Longo, Oliver Lake, Fred Ho, Freda Payne, the Mingus Big Band, and the José Limón Dance Company.

Mr. Isles provided private trumpet instruction to actor Rob Brown for his role as trumpeter Delmond Lambreaux on the HBO series, Treme. In 2012, he was part of Christian McBride’s Grammy® Award-winning album called The Good Feeling.

JESSICA JONES (MSJAB Band Director; Saxophone)

Tenor saxophonist and pianist Jessica Jones has worked with Joseph Jarman, Cecil Taylor, Don Cherry, Connie Crothers, and Peter Apfelbaum as well as a variety of Haitian, Caribbean, and African bands. She leads her own quartet, which recently performed at Dizzy’s, and has released several albums.

Ms. Jones has been teaching jazz to middle school students for 30 years, for the last 12 at Brooklyn Friends School and with MSJA Brooklyn since 2012.

UMA KARKALA (Assistant Teacher)

Uma Karkala has been active as a music educator for several years, having directed Latin, jazz, and symphonic high school bands and serving currently as an adjunct faculty member at Lehman College. She holds a bachelor of fine arts degree in jazz performance from The New School and a master of arts degree in education from Lehman College.

MARK McGOWAN (Trumpet)

Mark McGowan has been a professional trumpeter since 1984 and has performed with many well-known musical organizations in New York and around the world. He received a bachelor of arts degree in music from Hunter College, studied improvisation with Barry Harris, trumpet with William Fielder, and served long apprenticeships with the Illinois Jacquet and Lionel Hampton big bands. Mr. McGowan leads his own musical organization, the Black Diamond Orchestra.


Mary Ann McSweeney has played with jazz legends Dizzy Gillespie, Joanne Brackeen and Lee Konitz, Gil Goldstein and Bucky Pizzarelli, and under the direction of famous conductors including Leonard Bernstein, Lalo Schifrin, and John Williams. She has arranged for and recorded with Warner Brothers artist Lea Delaria, and toured Europe with David Krakouer’s Klezmer Madness and Tony® Award-winning vocalist Audra McDonald. Her orchestrations can be heard on Chita Rivera’s new CD, Now I Swing.

Ms. McSweeney is a full-time professional musician and a faculty member of the Middle School Jazz Academy at Lincoln Center and the New York Jazz Workshop.


Originally from Westerville, Ohio, Kathleen Murray moved to New York City in 2012 after completing a master of music degree in jazz studies at Michigan State University. While at MSU she apprenticed with Director of Jazz Studies and former Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra member, world-renowned bassist Rodney Whitaker.

Ms. Murray is honored to be a new addition to the MSJA team and is excited to have the opportunity to help continue the lineage of jazz music through young spirited musicians.

LAFRAE SCI (Jazz Language, Jazz Masters, Drums)

Drummer/composer LaFrae Sci believes music can heal the world and is trying to do her part one day at a time. In addition to being a founding teaching member of the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls, Ms. Sci has toured, recorded, and worked with a myriad of jazz, blues, pop, rock, world music, and hip-hop artists. Ms. Sci also serves as a jazz/cultural ambassador for the U.S. Department of State through the Rhythm Road American Music Abroad program.

Currently Ms. Sci is leading her blues band, The Scenic Route, on a tour of NYC schools on behalf of JALC, and preparing to record with her band The 13th Amendment?, which interprets Negro spirituals through the modern languages of jazz, blues, and world fusion.

DARRELL SMITH (MSJAB Assistant Teacher; Drums)

New York native Darrell Smith is a professional drummer and educator. He has been working with Jazz at Lincoln Center for seven years and is a young rising talent among his peers as a jazz musician. Mr. Smith currently is pursuing a Ph.D.

WARREN SMITH (Vibraphone)

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Warren I. Smith entered the professional music world at the early age of 14, working in various family bands in the late 1940s and later in the mid-’50s with Capt. Walter H. Dyett’s concert and marching bands.

Mr. Smith has firm roots in the Chicago Southside music scene and has been an essential element in the development and definition of African-American music. Mr. Smith relocated to New York City in 1957 and completed his master of music degree at the Manhattan School of Music in 1958.


A New York City native and graduate of the Eastman School of Music, Curtis Stewart has performed as a soloist with the National Repertory Orchestra, at Lincoln Center, and at Carnegie Hall. He has made chamber music appearances at Zankel Hall and the Rochester International Jazz Festival.

An avid teacher, Mr. Stewart currently teaches at LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, and at the Jazz at Lincoln Center Jazz Academy. His ensemble, PUBLIQuartet, was a finalist in the 2013 Concert Artist Guild Competition. Mr. Stewart’s spoken-word trio, The Mighty Third Rail, won “Best Music” at the Edinburgh International Fringe Festival.

NIKARA WARREN (Vibraphone)

Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Nikara “Nikki” Warren began playing vibraphone at age 14. Though mostly self taught, she studied with her grandfather, Kenny Barron and vibraphonist Stefon Harris.  Ms. Warren graduated from Berklee College of Music in 2010 and is an alumna of Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead class of 2013 and 2014.


From playing in the Sahara Desert with Roswell Rudd, to touring with Frank Sinatra; trombonist and award-winning composer Deborah Weisz’s musical life has been filled with diversity. A native of Chicago, Ms. Weisz’s musical journey has included stops in Phoenix, Las Vegas, and New York City, where she has lived since 1993. She has performed and written music for commercial, classical, and jazz projects.

Ms. Weisz has been a committed educator, sharing her love of music with students of all ages. Along with her current teaching work out of her private studio in New York, she is a trombone instructor and contributing arranger for Middle School Jazz Academy and is an adjunct jazz faculty member at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, Connecticut.

ELI YAMIN (MSJA, Head of Instruction)

Eli Yamin, pianist, composer, educator and organizer is five-time jazz ambassador for the United States Department of State.  Training specialist at Jazz at Lincoln Center since 2003, he has been director and head of instruction of Middle School Jazz Academy at Jazz at Lincoln Center since it started in 2005.  He is also the co-founder and Artistic Director of The Jazz Drama Program, has co-written five jazz musicals for children including Nora’s Ark and Holding the Torch For Liberty and recorded numerous CDs as a band leader including You Can’t Buy Swing, I Feel So Glad and Louie’s Dream, for our jazz heroes.

Mr. Yamin holds a master of arts degree in music education from Lehman College, City University of New York and was raised on the bandstand and mentored by jazz masters Walter Perkins, Barry Harris, Illinois Jacquet, Mercedes Ellington, and Amiri Baraka.