Creative Strings Workshop Faculty

2018 Featured Guest Artist:

Rez Abbasi, Guitarist and composer

Voted #1 Rising Star Guitarist in the 2013 DownBeat Critics Poll and placed in the “top-ten Guitarists” in 2015’s poll, Rez Abbasi continues to push boundaries.

Born in Karachi, Pakistan, removed at the age of four to the vastness of Southern California, schooled at the University of Southern California and the Manhattan School of Music in jazz and classical music, along with a pilgrimage in India under the tutelage of master percussionist, Ustad Alla Rakha, Rez Abbasi is a vivid synthesis of all the above stated influences and genres. Making New York home for the past 25 years, Abbasi has developed a unique sound both as a composer and an instrumentalist and is considered by many to be one of the foremost modern jazz guitar players in the world. He has honed his skills with performances throughout Europe, Canada, the U.S., Mexico and India. He has performed and recorded with many jazz greats including, Grammy winner Ruth Brown, Peter Erskine, Kenny Werner, Barre Phillips, Tim Berne, Michael Formanek, Billy Hart, Marvin ‘Smitty’ Smith, Gary Thomas, Dave Douglas, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Mike Clark, Tony Malaby, George Brooks, Ronu Majumdar, Kadri Gopalnath, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Marilyn Crispell, Greg Osby, Howard Levy and a host of others.

Christian Howes, Violin 

Christian Howes is the founder of Creative Strings, a 501 (c) (3) organization with a mission to expand music education through online curriculum, outreach in schools, and this annual summer conference.  “I design the ensemble experience at CSW so that participants have the opportunity to work closely with bandleaders in rehearsal and performance scenarios. The faculty are handpicked by me to guide you in a journey through their music. ” He endorses Yamaha electric violins and D’Addario strings.

Since 2011, performer, educator and composer, Christian Howes was voted #1 in the Downbeat Critics Poll (“Rising Stars/Violin”), named among the top three jazz violinists in the JazzTimes critics poll, and nominated for Violinist of the Year by the Jazz Journalist Association. He received the Residency Partner Award through Chamber Music America for residencies in school orchestras, earned a USArtists grant through the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, and was invited by the U.S. State department to teach and perform as a cultural ambassador in Ukraine and Montenegro. His 2013 release on Resonance Records, “Southern Exposure” earned recognition in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Downbeat, Jazz Times, as well as a six-night run at Lincoln Center. His 2015 release, “American Spirit” was named among the Best Jazz Albums of 2015″ by the Huffington Post. Howes is the founder of “Creative Strings“, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with a mission to expand music education through the creation of online curriculum, an annual summer conference, and dozens of visits to schools annually teaching improvisation, contemporary styles, and related subjects.

Jason Anick, Violin and Mandolin 

​Talk to the abundantly gifted violinist and mandolin player Jason Anick and the phrase “jazz without borders” will invariably come up. What the axiom means to Anick is a contemporary jazz that is stylistically inclusive in nature, a jazz that brings whatever it can to the party, unwilling to cut something out of the mix for fear of it not fitting prescribed boundaries. An inviting demonstration of the maxim in action can be found on Anick’s recent release, United, which was picked by Downbeat Magazine as one of the top jazz albums of 2017.

One of the youngest violin professors at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, Anick is considered “a rising star in the world of jazz violin and mandolin” (Downbeat Magazine). In addition to leading his own contemporary jazz ensemble and performing with the Rhythm Future Quartet, Anick has been touring and recording with Grammy award-winning Nashville guitar virtuoso John Jorgenson since 2008 when he was recruited while still a senior at the Hartt Conservatory.

A versatile musician and sought after side-man, Anick has also shared the stage with an array of artist like Stevie Wonder, Tommy Emmanuel, The Jim Kweskin Jug Band, John Sebastian, Delta Rae, and Girls, Guns and Glory. With performances all over the world from China, Europe, and Japan and renowned venues like the Montreal Jazz Festival, Blue Note, Smalls Jazz Club, Scullers Jazz Club, Yoshi’s, Iridium, TD Garden, Regattabar, NPR, and The Late Night Show, Jason has proven himself to be a leader in the ever-growing contemporary string world.

Jennifer Vincent, Cello and Bass

jennifer vincent jazz cellist

Quoting Smalls Live, “Jennifer Vincent, bassist and cellist, has been an active force on the music scene in New York City for well over a decade. She plays and has played and toured with the likes of Betty Carter, Abbey Lincoln, the famed Boy’s Choir of Harlem, Willie Martinez y La Familia, Son Sublime, the Xavier Cougat Orchestra, the Roberto Rodriguez Septet, Carmen Lundy, Harry Whitteaker (longtime artistic director and keyboardist for Roberta Flack), Jon Hendricks, the Duke Ellington Orchestra, and many other jazz and Latin notables.”

“Jennifer, who started as a classically-trained cellist at Oberlin Conservatory, is equally comfortable in the jazz, Latin-jazz, and traditional Cuban musical idioms. Her bass teachers include jazz icon Ron Carter, Andy Gonzales, Ed Bennett, Buster Williams, and Cuban bass legend Orlando ‘Cachaito’ Lopez of the Buena Vista Social Club, with whom she traveled to Cuba to study with.

Jennifer delves into music that utilizes West African, Japanese, and Middle Eastern influences with artists such as Sogbety Diomande form the Ivory Coast, the Pan-Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble, and Algerian pianist Maurice el Medioni’s ‘Descarga Oriental’, which won the 2006 BBC Music Award for Best World Crossover. According to Songlines World Music magazine, ‘Vincent’s thick, measured New York Latin Bass, so different from anything el Medioni has previously recorded with, is perfect!’. For the past 5 years she has been touring the world over with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, carrying on the tradition of the longest-running and most legendary jazz orchestra in American history.”

Cedric Easton, Drums

From the moment Cedric Easton could walk, he was playing the drums. At the age of 4, Easton began playing in church and won his first regional music competition at age 8 through the FOX KIDS television network.

He has performed with internationally recognized jazz musicians such as Wess Anderson, WyCliff Gordon, and Kenny Banks, Sr., and has played in Christian Howes’ band for over ten years.

While Cedric has been immersed in the music of jazz, he has always stuck with his roots — gospel music. After serving for years as musical director of the New Covenant Believer’s Church and as a faculty member of Jazz Arts Group’s Jazz Academy in Columbus, he now resides in NYC and works for Jazz at Lincoln Center.


Nicole Yarling, Fiddle and Vocals

Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 10.43.15 AMMiami-based Nicole Yarling defies description – performing on voice, violin and fiddle with technical skill and personality to boot. According to the Miami Sun Sentinel, “Every musical hat fits Nicole Yarling. ..working in jazz, rock, R and B, experimental music, et al.” Nicole’s musical excursions have brought about stints with Dizzy Gillespie and three years on tour as a featured soloist with Jimmy Buffet. Her chosen instruments are voice, violin and fiddle (in that order).

Via the Miami Jazz Cooperative, “Her myriad of personal influences have created a product that begs attention across the board. Her chosen instruments are voice, violin and fiddle (in that order). Nicole is a rich velvet voice with technical skill and personality to boot! She is a rising star in the jazz community who, like many others, has been at it for years.”

Born and raised in and around Brooklyn, New York, a musical household laid groundwork for Nicole’s career. She was inspired very early by her father, who plays jazz organ and piano, and her father’s records, which all made an impact on Nicole’s musical tastes: Artists such as Etta Jones, Miles Davis, Stuff Smith, J.J. Johnson, and Sonny Rollins, to the Beatles and Motown classics were in regular rotation. As early as age nine, Nicole would jam on the violin with her father. It was then that she caught the bug to perform for a living. Aside from the familial influences, Nicole’s education is extensive, ranging from a B.A. in Music from Baruch College, to a Masters in Music Education at Columbia University. as well as private training in composition, arranging, voice and violin. She uses her various music skills today to conduct master classes and give vocal lessons.”

Micah Thomas, Piano/Composition/Arranging

12803230_849642701824386_7572676720062316229_nPianist and composer Micah Thomas grew up in Columbus, Ohio. From his sophomore year of high school onwards, Micah began gigging regularly with violinist Christian Howes, accompanying him on tours across the country, and has been a regular faculty member at his annual Creative Strings Workshop since 2015. He also frequently appears with the Columbus Jazz Orchestra as a guest artist, performing with John Clayton and Joshua Redman for their 45th anniversary concert series in 2017. He has also performed throughout Ohio with many other distinguished musicians including JD Allen, Billy Contreras, Eddie Bayard, George Delancey, Cedric Easton, and Bobby Floyd.

In 2015, Micah Thomas moved from Ohio to New York to pursue a BM in Jazz Studies at the Juilliard School, and is now performing in venues throughout the city both as a leader of his own groups and as a sideman for such luminaries as Lage Lund, Etienne Charles, Immanuel Wilkins, Joel Ross, Gabe Schnider, Tivon Pennicott, Harish Raghavan, Stacy Dillard, and Joshua Redman. He also appeared as a guest with Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in 2017 alongside Sullivan Fortner, Aaron Diehl and Joel Wenhardt and will perform solo piano at the 2018 Newport Jazz Festival.

Gabe Valle, Violin/Piano/Bass 


Hailing from New York, violinist and composer Gabe Valle developed his violin skills at William Paterson University, where, while pursuing an undergraduate degree in jazz and classical violin, he immersed himself in the local music scene, playing everything from jazz, pop, and folk to indie rock and funk.

He has performed/recorded with artists such as Anne Hampton Calloway, Sherrie Maricle, John Feeny, Adam Nussbaum, Christa Benion, Steven Reineke, Robert Sabin, Jermaine Paul, Tao Seeger-Rodriguez and Barrage. He is currently the Minister of Music at Harriman United Methodist Church and piano/violin/voice teacher at Shamrock School of Music, as well as an in-demand free lancer (on three instruments) on the NYC scene.

Paul Brown, Guitar/Composition


Paul Brown has been active in the Columbus jazz scene for decades. He was an integral mentor in Christian Howes’ development as jazz fusion player and composer.

Paul Brown was awarded “Best Unsigned Guitarist, 1990” and 2nd place in the “Ultimate Guitar Competition 1992” by Guitar Player Magazine. In addition he was Capital University’s Featured Composer at their New Music Festivals in 1999 and 2003 and Denison University’s featured guitarist at their 2004 Jazz Guitar Festival. Paul has been a professional musician most of his life and is well versed in all American guitar styles, including Rock, Pop, Folk, Blues, Country and Jazz. Paul’s 40+ years of teaching experience include seminars at Capital University, Denison University and Fort Hayes High School for the Arts as well as an adjunct professorship of guitar at Kenyon College.


Alex Hargreaves, Violin 

Newest member of the world renowned, Grammy award-winning, Turtle Island Quartet, Alex Hargreaves is an innovative, cross-genre violinist described as “one of the greatest improvising violinists in America today” by virtuoso mandolinist/composer Mike Marshall, and “the best young jazz violinist in America” by Matt Glaser, artistic director of Berklee College of Music, American Roots Program. Since 2008, Alex has been performing regularly on stages around the world, including Austin City Limits, Panama Jazz Festival, A Prairie Home Companion, Grand Ole Opry, Cambridge (UK) Folk Festival, Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals, Bonnaroo, Telluride Bluegrass Festival, as well as in France, Italy, Spain, and South Korea. He joined the Turtle Island Quartet in January, 2016.

At age 17, Alex, along with bassist Paul Kowert (Punch Brothers), teamed with Mike Marshall to form The Big Trio, and performed together extensively following the release of their self-titled album (Adventure Music 2008). From 2007-2014, Alex toured with Grammy-nominated singer/multi-instrumentalist, Sarah Jarosz, appearing on her three critically acclaimed albums, Song Up In Her Head, Follow Me Down and Build Me Up From Bones (Sugar Hill Records), as well as being featured on her Grammy-nominated instrumental, “Mansinneedof.” In between, he has also toured with Jerry Douglas, David Grisman, Bela Fleck, Danilo Perez, Darol Anger, Noam Pikelny, Leftover Salmon and has performed with many others including Mark O’Connor, Chris Thile, Brian Blade, Tim O’Brien and Sam Bush.

Throughout his career, Alex has received countless honors including the Daniel Pearl Memorial Violin from Mark O’Connor’s Strings Conference, and the Alternative Styles Award from the American Strings Teachers Association (ASTA). He is the youngest ever (age 15) to win the Grand Champion division at the National Oldtime Fiddlers’ Contest in Weiser, Idaho, and won the 2009 Grand Masters Fiddle Championship in Nashville. At the 2010 Monterey Jazz Festival, Alex was awarded the Jimmy Lyons Scholarship, a full tuition scholarship to the Berklee College of Music.

Andy Reiner, Fiddle 

Andy Reiner, an award-winning fiddler, composer and educator originally from Lexington, MA, began playing at age five with the Reiner Family Band. He has since developed his own style featuring creative, rhythmic melodies, and thoughtful fusing of world styles. Earning a BM in Violin Performance from Berklee College of Music in Boston launched Andy into a flurry of touring and teaching around the globe – including Heavy Metal with Devil in the Kitchen, Folk/Hip-Hop with FiddleFoxx, Swedish/Appalachian with Blue Moose and the Unbuttoned Zippers, Electronic/Celtic with Firecloud, and Bluegrass with The Earth Stringband, which toured Southeast Asia on the 2011 American Music Abroad tour for the State Department and Jazz at Lincoln Center. Also known as the “Skiing Fiddler,” Andy skis every month of the year and many of his compositions are influenced by mountains and nature. Andy currently tours both as a solo artist and with groups Half Pelican and Whitewater Ramble, and composes fiddle tunes, songs, new works, and arrangements for string orchestra. He teaches improvisation, composition and fiddle styles privately and at music camps across the US.

Greg Byers, Cello/Bass

Greg started playing cello at The Family Suzuki School of Rochester, NY at age 2.5. By age sixteen, he was a talented cellist, but was frustrated with the lack of personal expression he found in youth orchestras. This led Greg to explore the possibilities of the cello in a jazz context.

At University of Miami,  Greg became the first person to double major in Instrumental Performance/Studio Music & Jazz on cello and bass, Summa Cum Laude.

As a performer, Greg enjoys balancing technical prowess and improvisation freedom. Hefty recording experience  allows Greg to work directly with any musician or producer. As a composer, he strives for melodies that reach the layman, and harmonies that challenge the stereotypes of Western popular music. As an educator, Greg is passionate about helping students avoid the pitfalls of traditional music instruction, with the student truncated from any sort of creativity or expression. Rather, Greg works to bring out the creative potential residing in every student by integrating improvisation, theory, and ear training into his pedagogy.

Robert Anderson, Violin

Robert Anderson, a South Carolina native, has been an advocate for creative string playing since his first exposure to jazz at age 16. Since that time, Robert has been a part of the contemporary string community, working to expand the role of string instruments non-classical music and endeavoring to build upon the achievements of pioneering performers in this space including Stéphane Grappelli, Jean-Luc Ponty, Didier Lockwood, the Turtle Island String Quartet, and Christian Howes. Robert moved to Los Angeles in 2000 seeking performance opportunities with like-minded creative string players. In 2001, he joined the Supernova String Quartet, a collaboration that worked to craft original quartet compositions and arrangements in the jazz idiom.

Robert has been a violin instructor in the Contemporary Music division at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music since 2009, where his responsibilities include applied lessons in non-classical styles and directing the Thornton Pop String Ensemble, which he founded in 2017. Robert studied with Bert Ligon at the University of South Carolina and Bob Mintzer and Russell Ferrante at the University of Southern California. He will complete a master’s degree in jazz studies at USC in the spring of 2018. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife Carly and daughter Lydia. Robert performs on Yamaha electric violins.

Creative Strings Workshop Youth Program Faculty


Georgia Rae, Violin

Georgia Rae is a state fiddle champion 7 times (WI, IL, MN), 5 time state twin fiddle champion (MN, CO) and is the 2016 National Twin Fiddle Champion (NOTFA, ID). She has been performing before audiences since the formation of the Georgia Rae Family Band in 2011. She has played at various venues such as the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, Chicago Botanic Garden, Jackpine Jamboree, John Hartford Festival, and country fairs and festivals throughout the Midwest.

Georgia Rae recently recorded her first solo CD with songs on her loop pedal, “Wingin’ It” and her band just released its 5th CD project, their first of all original songs, “Into Our Own” available at live shows, on their web site, Spotify, iTunes, and anywhere you can find music on line.

Georgia Rae has 6 years teaching experience including bringing workshops to middle school orchestras.

Neil Fong Gilfillan, Cello, and Rachel Samson, Violin/Viola

“Neil possesses the extremely rare combination of being both a dedicated teacher as well as a cellist who understands classical AND non-classical styles on an exceedingly high level. I can count on one hand the cellists I have met around the world with such an openness and ability to continually develop such a wide range of skills and bring them into the private teaching studio.” Christian Howes

Cellist Neil Fong Gilfillan hails from Arlington, Texas, where he studied with Elizabeth Morrow at the University of Texas at Arlington and co-founded the cello rock group The 440 Alliance. Since earning his Master’s in Cello Performance minoring in Music Education at the University of North Texas under Nikola Ruzevic, he has held positions as an assistant orchestra director (Denton ISD), cello teacher (Suzuki Royal Oak), and performed on stage with groups such as the Las Colinas and Lansing Symphony Orchestras. He continues to learn as a full-time teacher and performer, training in the Suzuki Method (with Tanya Carey and Andrea Yun) and creative string playing with jazz violinist Christian Howes. Neil finds real joy in helping his students access the cello with ease and confidence, instructing classical and modern styles, both in the studio and through his content online.

Rachel Samson’s first years of experience with the viola and violin took place in Columbus, Ohio, but she considers Cleveland her home and her heart. She started playing the violin at the age of 12 and the viola at the age of 13, when she heard a string quartet (and viola) for the very first time. She attended high school at Hathaway Brown School and the Cleveland Institute of Music, as part of the Young Artist Program. She also received her Bachelor of Music degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music, where she studied privately with Jeffrey Irvine and Lynne Ramsey, as well as chamber music with all members of the Cavani String Quartet, and Suzuki Pedagogy with Kimberly Meier-Sims. Rachel recently earned her Master of Music degree at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance, where she was awarded a fellowship scholarship in viola, and studied with Caroline Coade and Yizhak Schotten.

Together, Neil and Rachel run Chili Dog Strings, a Texas-based studio which works from the Suzuki Method to teach string playing to students of all ages.

“We combine our University training (both of us studied Music Performance and Music Education in college) with Suzuki teacher training (studying across state lines with the best of the best teacher trainers), and continue to refine our pedagogy by attending conferences and seminars regularly with other established teachers. As students are learning, their teachers should continue to learn, too.

​The two of us work closely with local orchestra programs and draw on our extensive music ed background to help students in school know how to put their best foot forward for contests and tests. As professional musicians, we perform regularly, delivering the sounds that today’s audiences want to hear, and helping students relate in their roles as 21st century artists. We believe in a strong setup for beginners, and guide advanced players to keep their technical skills sharp to maximize the versatility of their instrument.”