Rez Abbasi, Guitarist and composer
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
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
Miami-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
Pianist 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.
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.
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 georgiaraefamilyband.com, 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 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.