Meet the NJPAC 2016 Summer Programs Faculty


All-Female Jazz Residency Faculty

Geri Allen (Artistic Director)


Geri Allen, An internationally renowned pianist, composer, and educator, Guggenheim Fellow, and Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Pittsburgh.  The list of honors for Geri Allen is extensive, and includes the first ever Soul Train Lady of Soul Award for Jazz. She was the youngest person, and the first woman, to receive the Danish Jazzpar Prize. She received the 2010 Kennedy Center Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Award; Howard University’s Benny Golson Award; and Spelman College’s African Classical Music Award.

Allen’s composition “Unconditional Love” appeared on Terri Lyne Carrington’s Mosaic Project, which won the 2012 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album of the Year. Between 2008 and 2013, Allen released a series of solo piano driven recordings under the Motéma Music label—Flying Toward the Sound, Geri Allen & Timeline, A Child Is Born, and Grand River Crossings. The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra commissioned her to compose Stone and Streams, an original work to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. It was performed in September 2013 as part of the orchestra’s Gala Celebration. In March 2014, Allen spearheaded a project that united scholars and artists around the country in a two-hour cyber symposium on Pittsburgh pianist and jazz legend Mary Lou Williams. She also performed original music of her own and of Williams at “A Conversation with Mary Lou: Geri Allen Celebrates Mary Lou Williams” at the Harlem Stage Gatehouse in New York City, directed by Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actor S. Epatha Merkerson. As artistic director, for the weeklong residency, I would like to nurture and provide exposure and opportunity for these exceptional young talented ladies, with the week culminating in a special concert.

Tia Fuller (Saxophone)

When Mack Avenue recording artist, Tia Fuller picks up her sax to play, something amazing happens as the reverberations of her musical elixir fill the room.   Balancing both worlds of performance and education, it is understood why this touring artist and full-time professor (at the Berklee School of Music), has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music from Spelman College in Atlanta, GA, (Magna Cum Laude) and Master’s degree in Jazz Pedagogy and Performance from the University of Colorado at Boulder (Summa Cum Laude), was selected to be a member of the all-female band touring with R&B star, Beyoncé. As part of the I AM..Sasha Fierce and Beyoncé Experience World Tour promoting the superstar’s CD’s, where Tia has played in various venues throughout the US, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. She is a featured soloist on the Beyoncé Experience DVD (Me, Myself and I), I AM Yours I DVD (Wynn Theatre) and also appeared on number of major television shows, such as The Oprah Winfrey Show, Today Show, Good Morning America, BET Awards, American Music Awards and Total Request Live, and the 2010 Grammy Awards.  As well as having performed as the featured soloist with Beyonce for President Obama at the White House.

An accomplished performer in her own right, Tia has recorded four CDs with her quartet.  The first, Pillar of Strength (2005/Wambui), received praise as being "an exhilarating work that introduced her as a leader who strives for perfection" (Terrell Holmes, All About Jazz Magazine). Her sophomore release, Healing Space (2007/Mack Avenue), is an offering of “melodic medicine” and healing agent. Tia has released her third CD Decisive Steps, March, 16 2010, 2nd under the Mack Avenue label, which has received: the #1 JazzWeek rating for two weeks straight, #3 in JET magazines top jazz cd’s, and nominated for Best Jazz album for JazzWeek. And in 2012, she released her 4th album, Angelic Warrior, which received praise from Wall Street Journal, New York Times and numerous jazz publications.  Tia’s quartet has performed world-wide, including: Angola, Croatia, South Africa, North Sea, Umbria, Edinburgh jazz festivals, and NYC’s prestigious Lincoln Center’s: Dizzy’s Club Coca- Cola, just to name a few.

Tia can also be seen touring regularly with a number of bands, including: Terri Lyne Carrington’s grammy-winning ‘Mosaic’ Project and Money Jungle ‘Provocative in Blue’, the assistant musical director for Esperanza Spalding’s Radio Music Society tour, and Dianne Reeves’ Beautiful Life tour. She has also performed with luminaries such as:  Ralph Peterson Septet,  Rufus Reid Quintet, Geri Allen, the Nancy Wilson Jazz Orchestra, Wycliff Gordan Septet, Jon Faddis Jazz Orchestra, Chaka Kahn, Ledisi, Kelly Rowland, Jay-Z, Jill Scott, Pattie Labelle, Nona Hendryx, Sheila E, Valerie Simpson, Dionne Warwick, Janelle Monet, Patrice Rushen, Erica Badu and Aretha Franklin.

The dynamic saxophonist has been featured on the cover Saxophone Today (March 2014), Jazz Education Journal (2012), and JazzTimes Magazine (June 2010). In addition, she has received numerous awards and marks of distinction including, winning Downbeat Critic’s Poll-‘Rising Star’ two years in a row for Soprano Sax (2014), Alto Sax and Flute (2013).Tia was honored to be the keynote speaker at the Jazz Institute of New Jersey’s 2003 graduation ceremony, where she presented her “Journey to Success” speech.  She also be featured soloist playing The National Anthem in Detroit ‘s Tiger Stadium on Sept. 2009, and interviewed on Fox 5 News and Fox 2 News in Detroit and Washington D.C.

As a devoted educator, Tia is a full-time Professor at Berklee College of Music, where she directs the prestigious Rainbow Big Band and Rainbow All-Stars, in addition to 6 other ensembles including repertoire and jazz improvisation classes. It is here and beyond, that she believes her passion for teaching and inspiring students is due to her parents being educators/administrators in the Denver Public School District.  In addition, she presents lectures, residencies and masterclasses at some of the most respected institutions in  the country including: Duke University, University of  Colorado at Denver, Spelman College, University of Idaho’s Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, New Mexico State University, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, China Residency, and Rimon School of Music in Isreal. Furthermore, this fall Tia will be apart of a two-day seminar led by Geri Allen at University of Pittsburgh, that will also include: Curtis Fuller, Joe Lovano, Terri Lyne Carrington, and Esperanza Spalding.

Tia moved to Jersey City, NJ two days before the events of September 11, 2001. Despite the fact that the jazz community believed there was not much work in the area during that period, she wasn’t discouraged and used the tragic event as a reason to succeed. She got her first gig playing in a big band at a fish fry in South Jersey. Brad Leali, who was playing in the Count Basie Orchestra at the time, spread the word that Tia was a skillful saxophonist who also played the flute. This brought her to the attention of others in the jazz community, including Gerald Wilson, Jimmy Heath, Don Braden and Don Byron, which led to her performing with a number of luminaries in the world of jazz.

With music in her blood and a song in her heart, Tia was born in Aurora, Colorado to jazz musicians, Fred and Elthopia Fuller. Her father, Fred plays bass and her mother, Elthopia sings. She grew up listening to her parents rehearse in the basement of their home, as well as the music of jazz greats, such as John Coltrane, Sarah Vaughn and Charlie Parker.

Inspired by her older sister, Shamie, Tia began playing classical piano when she was just three years old and continued until she was thirteen. She also began studying the flute when she was nine. Her interest in jazz came into fruition in high school.  It was during this time that she began playing the saxophone.

The Colorado native, and 14 year New Jersey resident who now resides in Boston, MA says playing music makes her feel as if she is a vessel for the Spirit to flow through. While listening to her songs, she wants people to be uplifted and experience a sense of restoration, compelling them to move forward not in fear, but in love and faith.




Stefon Harris (Vibes)

Educator, Vibraphonist and Composer, Stefon Harris has been heralded as “one of the most important young artists in jazz” by The Los Angeles Times. A four-time GRAMMY™ nominee, he is a seven-time Best Mallet player by the Jazz Journalist Association, the recipient of Lincoln Center’s Martin E. Segal Award, Downbeat’s Critics Poll Winner for Vibraphone (2015, 2013) and 2014 Expanded Critic’s Poll for Vibes from Jazz Times. He won a 2014 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Album for Wonder: The Songs of Stevie Wonder as a member of the SF Jazz Collective. Harris earned a BM in Classical Percussion and a MM in Jazz Performance from  Manhattan School of Music. He tours worldwide with his bands Sonic Creed, Blackout and Ninety Miles. Harris teaches at New York University and is Artistic Director of Jazz Education at New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC). He has been Artist in Residence at Fontana Chamber Arts, Kalamazoo, The Lied Center in Lincoln, Nebraska, and San Francisco Performances. Harris currently teaches at the Brubeck Institute through their Distance Learning program and at the Institute’s Summer Jazz Colony. Stefon’s landmark TED Talk, “There are No Mistakes On The Bandstand” was the most watched in its 2011 release and has over 500,000 views. He has emerged as a leading informance presenter in Corporate Leadership workshops with Fortune 100 companies around the world. In 2014 Stefon co-founded The Melodic Progression Institute with business partner Clif Swiggett. Their first app, Harmony Cloud™ was released on iTunes in January 2016.

Ingrid Jensen (Trumpet)

Born in Vancouver and raised in Nanaimo, Canada, Ingrid headed east after receiving a number of scholarships to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Since graduating in 1989, her life has contained a whirlwind of musical activities. From her early days playing in the subways of New York, to establishing herself as a leader and soloist in a wide array of musical genres, Ingrid has made her mark. Her three CD's for the ENJA label and her latest CD, At Sea, won her nominations from the Canadian Juno Awards, including an award in 1995 for Vernal Fields.

Her performances as a leader and as a featured soloist have taken her around the world from Canada to Japan, Australia, South America, South Africa, the Caribbean and to almost every country in Europe and Scandinavia.

Jensen can be heard as a soloist with the Christine Jensen Orchestra, her own own quartet and quintet formations, Project O, Nordic Connect and a number of other New York-based bands. She has received rave reviews and a strong reputation among critics and peers. In 2003 she was nominated, for the second time, alongside trumpeter Dave Douglas for a Jazz Journalist Association Award in New York and is seen yearly in the top five of the Downbeat Critic polls in the Talent deserving wider recognition category. Ingrid was featured on Gil Evans' Porgy and Bess at the San Francisco Jazz Festival, under the direction of Maria Schneider and was also a guest in the festival's "Tribute to Woody Shaw and Freddie Hubbard", alongside Terence Blanchard, Eddie Henderson, Bobby Hutcherson and Kenny Garrett. Some of the many musicians she has performed and or recorded with include; Steve Wilson, Jeff 'Tain' Watts, Dr.Lonnie Smith, Marc Copland, Bob Berg, Gary Thomas, Gary Bartz, Jeff Hamilton, Bill Stewart, Terri-Lynn Carrington, Geri Allen, Geoffrey Keezer, Billy Hart, George Garzone, Chris Connor, Victor Lewis, Clark Terry, Frank Wess, Badal Roy, Mike Clark, Jason Miles and Global Noize, Dr.Billy Taylor and the DIVA Big Band. She also performed on SNL with the British soul star, Corrine Bailey Rae and played a number of gigs with comedian/actor/singer Dennis Leary with special guest, Peter Frampton. Ingrid was also a featured soloist with singer Madelaine Peyroux as part of the Tribute to Billy Holiday project in Brazil which included bass legend Ron Carter and piano virtuoso, Mulgrew Miller. Recent gigs and recordings include : The Playboy Jazz Festival with the Bill Cosby All- Stars, The Mosaic project with Terri-Lynn Carrington, Esperanza Spaulding and Geri Allen and The Juno award winning Christine Jensen Orchestra.

Ingrid was on staff at the Port Townsend Centrum Jazz Workshop for five consecutive years and from 1990 until 1992 held the professor of Jazz Trumpet chair at the Bruckner Conservatory of Music in Austria. Currently, she is  an artist-in-residence on the trumpet faculty at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.  Jensen continues to fill her schedule with an astonishing array of artistic creativity as a performer and educator. In addition to performing, she conducts master classes, clinics, and workshops around the world.

Connaitre Miller (Vocal)

Connaitre Miller is currently Associate Professor of Music and Vocal Jazz Coordinator at Howard University in Washington, D.C. She directs the award winning vocal jazz ensemble Afro Blue, teaches vocal improvisation, vocal jazz arranging, and applied lessons in jazz voice. A native of Kansas, Connaitre received a B.M. in Music Education and a M.M. in Piano Performance from Kansas State University in Manhattan. Her post-graduate study was undertaken at The University of Northern Colorado where she majored in Choral Conducting with a secondary emphasis in Jazz Pedagogy. Preceding her tenure at Howard University, Connaitre taught at The Elder Conservatorium of Music (University of Adelaide) in South Australia; at Cypress Community College and Cal State Long Beach in California; and Kansas State University and Junction City Senior High School in Kansas. In addition to her work at Howard University, Ms. Miller performs as a solo jazz vocalist, having appeared at many jazz festivals throughout the US and abroad. She also conducts clinics and workshops on jazz singing, improvisation and jazz choir techniques and has served as an artist-in-residence at several institutions.

Linda Oh (Bass)

Born in Malaysia, raised in, Perth, Western Australia, Linda began playing piano, bassoon and at fifteen dabbled on electric bass playing jazz in high school bands while playing a lot of Red Hot Chili Peppers. Linda studied at the W.A Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) where she graduated with first-class honors.

She was a James Morrison Scholarship Finalist in 2003 and in 2004 was an IAJE Sister in Jazz and received the ASCAP Young Jazz  Composer’s award in 2008. She also received an honorary mention at the 2009 Thelonious Monk Bass Competition and received the 2010 Bell Award for Young Australian Artist of the Year. In 2010 she was nominated for the Jazz Journalist’s Awards for Up and Coming Artist of the Year, and received the award of No. 1 Acoustic Bass Rising Star in the Downbeat Critic’s Poll. This same year she received 2nd place at the BASS2010 Competition in Berlin.

Linda completed her Masters at the Manhattan School of Music in 2008 studying with Jay Anderson, John Riley, Phil Markowitz, Dave Liebman and Rodney Jones. She now teaches the precollege division there and is involved in jazz videoconference master-classes for high-schools around the US. As an active teacher she was also involved in creating a series of lessons for the up and coming BassGuru app for iPad and iPhone.

Linda has performed with the musicians such as Joe Lovano, Steve Wilson, Vijay Iyer, Dave Douglas, Kenny Barron, Geri Allen, Fabian Almazan, and Terri Lyne Carrington.

Linda is an active double bassist, electric bassist and composer, composing music for various ensembles and short films, also participating in the BMI Film Composers Workshop and Sundance Labs at Skywalker Ranch. Linda composed for Sabrina McCormick’s short film “A Good Egg” which was featured in the New York Shorts Festival.

In 2009 her self-released debut trio album “Entry” with Obed Calvaire and Ambrose Akinmusire received some critical attention. It was listed in Artforum magazine as one of Vijay Iyer’s top ten of 2009.

Her second album “Initial Here” released on Greenleaf Records in 2012 features a quartet with Dayna Stephens on tenor sax, Fabian Almazan on piano and Rudy Royston on drums with special guest Jen Shyu on vocals. This album was mentioned several times for album of the year in various jazz polls.

“Sun Pictures” is her third release – a quartet album recorded live at WKCR studios featuring Ben Wendel on tenor saxophone, James Muller on guitar and Ted Poor on drums.

Linda is currently working on her second trumpet trio album and an eight-piece group featuring a string quartet  – with music that was commissioned by the Jazz Gallery in 2012. She is now a member of Pet Metheny’s most recent quartet project.


Ellen Rowe (Piano)

Ellen Rowe has been described as “that rare ‘triple threat’ of pianist, composer-arranger, and teacher” (Arizona Daily Star), a title that until recently kept her too busy to actually record an album under her own name. That situation has been thankfully rectified with the recent debut release of “Sylvan Way,” a dynamic work that combines standards and intriguing original compositions that soar with emotion and expression. Bassist Rufus Reid states "Ellen Rowe has produced an excellent recording that showcases her immense talents as a composer and pianist. This CD definitely invites repeated listening. Enjoy “Sylvan Way,” as I have."

Ms. Rowe has performed at various jazz clubs and concert halls throughout the United States and has toured many parts of Europe and Australia. She has had the honor of appearing on Marian McPartland’s acclaimed NPR show "Piano Jazz" twice, with the most recent taping due to air in the spring of 2003. In 1991 the Ellen Rowe Trio garnered first place in the Hartford CT Advocate Readers’ Poll for Best Acoustic Jazz. In addition to leading her own trio and quartet, she is in great demand as a sideman, performing with a variety of artists including Kenny Wheeler, Ingrid Jensen, John Clayton, Tom Harrell and Jiggs Whigham. In keeping with the eclectic nature of her earliest musical influences, Ms. Rowe also continues to play classically, recently performing the Stravinsky Piano Concerto with the University of Michigan Wind Ensemble.

Her compositions and arrangements have been performed and recorded by a wide variety of jazz ensembles and orchestras around the world, including the legendary Village Vanguard Orchestra, the BBC Jazz Orchestra, the U.S. Navy Commodores, the Berlin Radio Jazz Orchestra and the big band DIVA. Her big band compositions are currently published by Sierra Music Publications.

Born in Ridgefield, Connecticut to musician parents, Ms. Rowe began playing the piano by ear when she was 4. “Being constantly surrounded by wonderful music in the house was an incredible gift,” she says. “I was hearing everything from Brahms trios and Beethoven symphonies to English folk music, musicals, the Beatles and Dave Brubeck.” Informed by her high school band director that she could not play in the school’s jazz band unless she started to study the art form more seriously, she embarked on her first formal piano lessons with jazz pianist and pedagogue John Mehegan. She comments, “I was so fortunate to be able to work with John. He had been a part of the New York scene in the ‘40s and ‘50s and was one of the very first people to put together a methodical approach to studying improvisation.” Becoming aware of and listening to such jazz luminaries as Bud Powell, Bill Evans, and Horace Silver at the age of 14 had an extremely powerful impact on the young pianist.

After working with Mehegan for four years, she entered the Eastman School of Music in 1976, where she continued her studies with Bill Dobbins and Rayburn Wright. While attending Eastman she had her first significant professional success, winning the Kansas City Womens’ Jazz Festival Combo Competition with her jazz quintet “Joyspring.” The group subsequently performed at that festival as well as at the New York City Womens’ Jazz Festival. The Kansas City Star reviewed the performance and praised Ms. Rowe as a “gifted composer and pianist who can move with ease from thumb-popping funk to straight ahead bebop.” It was during this time period that she also acquired her first professional arranging experience, writing orchestral features for Marian McPartland and Gene Bertoncini as well as big band features for Red Mitchell and Bob Brookmeyer.

Ms. Rowe is currently on the faculty of the University of Michigan School of Music, where she is Associate Professor of Jazz Piano, Chair of the Department of Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation, and directs the University of Michigan Jazz Ensemble. Her music resounds at once with melodic depth and compelling intensity, defining Ellen Rowe as a formidable talent poised to take her place among the top jazz artists of today.

Jeff Watts (Drums)

Jeff Watts, the drummer they call "Tain," spent his formative years with Wynton and Branford Marsalis, and his compositional skills now command equal attention. Jeff initially majored in classical percussion at Pittsburgh's Duquesne University, where he was primarily a timpanist, followed by enrollment at the Berklee School of Music. Jeff joined the Wynton Marsalis Quartet in 1981 and proceeded to win three Grammy Awards with the ensemble: Black Codes From The UndergroundJ Mood and Marsalis Standard Time. Watts left Wynton Marsalis in 1988. After working with George Benson, Harry Connick. Jr. and McCoy Tyner, he joined the Branford Marsalis Quartet in 1989, winning Grammy's for I Heard You Twice the First Time and Contemporary Jazz. In the film and television industry Jeff has appeared as both a musician on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and as an actor, Rhythm Jones in Spike Lee’s "Mo Better Blues". Jeff joined Kenny Garrett's band after returning to New York in 1995 and continued to record and tour with Branford Marsalis as well as Danilo Perez, Michael Brecker, Betty Carter, Kenny Kirkland, Courtney Pine, Geri Allen, Alice Coltrane, Greg Osby, McCoy Tyner, Steve Coleman, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Harry Connick Jr, and Ravi Coltrane.

Jeff has an extensive discography as a side-man, as well as eight albums as a leader: 

  • Citizen Tain (Sony 1999) 
  • Bar Talk (Sony 2002) 
  • MegaWatts (Sunnyside 2003)
  • Detained, Live at the Blue Note (Half Note 2004)
  • Folk's Songs (Dark Key Music 2007)
  • WATTS (Dark Key Music 2009)
  • Family (Dark Key Music 2011)
  • Blue, Vol. 1 (Dark Key Music 2015)

Along with explosive power, blinding speed and mastery of complex rhythms and time signatures, Watts brings a rare sense of elegance, tried-by-fire composure, and a gritty street funk to his music. His artistic ingenuity expresses itself in his incomparable technique, sweltering sense of swing, and an extraordinary ability to imbue his music with majestic grace and elegant repose. A true jazz innovator, Watts never fails to deliver the percussive magic that has been his trademark since his emergence on the contemporary jazz scene.

*Grammy Awards of 1986

Wynton Marsalis for Black Codes From the Underground performed by the Wynton Marsalis Group

*Grammy Awards of 1987

Wynton Marsalis for J Mood performed by the Wynton Marsalis Group

*Grammy Awards of 1988

Wynton Marsalis for Marsalis Standard Time - Volume I performed by the Wynton Marsalis Group

*Grammy Awards of 1993

Branford Marsalis for I Heard You Twice the First Time performed by the Branford Marsalis Group

*Grammy Awards of 2001

Branford Marsalis for Contemporary Jazz performed by the Branford Marsalis Quartet

*Grammy Awards of 2011

Mingus Big Band for Live at the Jazz Standard performed by the Mingus Big Band.




Bruce Williams (Saxophone)

Bruce Williams is a powerful young jazz saxophonist who hails from our nation's capital of Washington, D.C. He has made his presence known on the jazz scene by garnering critical attention with his own enthusiastically received CD releases - "Brotherhood" and "Altoicity" - issued on Savant Records. He's made an indelible impression as a sideman on over twenty other CD and video recordings. Bruce has performed, toured, and recorded with a long roster of jazz legends - Little Jimmy Scott, Frank Foster, The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Stanley Cowell, Louis Smith, Cecil Brooks III, The Count Basie Orchestra, The World Saxophone Quartet, Russell Gunn, Curtis Fuller, and Roy Hargrove to name a few.

Bruce Williams is a versatile saxophone stylist, performing in a variety of diverse playing environments - from traditional to hip-hop to the avant-garde. He has been an honored recipient of awards from DownBeat magazine and The Charlie Parker Music and More Foundation. His ability to perform masterfully in a range of jazz styles has placed him on two Grammy nominated recordings and sent him to numerous cities throughout the US and abroad - France, Italy, Germany, Scandinavia, Switzerland, the West Indies, and Japan.

Bruce Williams is a versatile saxophone stylist, performing in a variety of diverse playing environments - from traditional to hip-hop to the avant-garde. He has been an honored recipient of awards from DownBeat magazine and The Charlie Parker Music and More Foundation. His ability to perform masterfully in a range of jazz styles has placed him on two Grammy nominated recordings and sent him to numerous cities throughout the US and abroad in France, Italy, Germany, Scandinavia, the West Indies, Lebanon, and Japan.

Bruce Williams is currently the newest and youngest member, of the internationally recognized jazz group, "The World Saxophone Quartet". Bruce is currently a member of a newly founded group by legendary drummer Ben Riley, the "Thelonious Monk Legacy Septet". Bruce also leads four bands of his own - a quartet, a quintet, a jazz organ trio, and a progressive electric jazz group.

A noted jazz educator and mentor to young jazz musicians; Bruce has given master classes at Ohio State, Iowa State, The Jazz Institute of New Jersey, The University of the District of Columbia, Princeton University, The New Jersey Performing Arts Center "Jazz For Teens" program, and the Paris Conservatory in France. He has served as adjunct saxophone instructor at both the New School for Social Research (Mannes School of Music) in NYC, Princeton, and William Paterson Universities in New Jersey while continuing to nurture a healthy rooster of private students of his own.

Bruce Williams has been mentored by some of the best in the business including Frank Foster, Branford Marsalis, Joe Ford, Laura George, William Shadle,Oliver Lake and Cecil Brooks III.

All of the above experiences have aided Bruce Williams in becoming a confident doubler and one of the premier jazz alto and soprano saxophonists in the world today.


Young Artist Summer Intensive Faculty

Betsy True (Artistic Director)

Janeece Freeman Clark (Musical Theater Advanced Division Instructor)

Janeece.JPGJaneece Freeman has spent most of her career simultaneously performing and educating. She has a great love for both, and would have it no other way. As an actor, she can be seen as Miss Molly on PBS KIDS award-winning children’s series Dittydoodle Works. She has appeared on and off Broadway in productions including Urinetown the Musical, The Ark, A Band of Angels, and Africa Plumbridge. She has also performed in many regional theater houses across the country, her favorites including: Westport Playhouse, Westport, CT; Arena Stage, Washington, DC; Center Stage, Baltimore, MD; Dallas Theater Center, Dallas, TX; Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT; Theater Building Chicago, Chicago, IL; Cape Playhouse, Cape Cod MA, and Ogunquit Playhouse, Ogunquit, ME. Some of her favorite roles have been Charlayne in Ain’t Misbehavin’, Brenda in Smokey Joe’s Café and Ida B. Wells in Constant Star. Freeman received her Bachelor's in Music from the University of Michigan (Go Blue!), where her concentration included musical theater, vocal performance and music education. During her tenure there, she reluctantly admits to having been first runner-up in a Miss Michigan competition. As an educator, Freeman teaches vocal technique to musical theater students attending NJPAC’s Young Artist Institute. She is also a vocal instructor at the Institute of Music for Children in Elizabeth, NJ. She has worked as a teaching artist in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx through Periwinkle National Theater Company and has directed and choreographed several musical productions at Brooklyn High School of Legal Studies. She has conducted various children, youth and gospel choirs in New York City and abroad and heads her own private vocal studio in South Orange, NJ.

Daryl Stewart (Musical Theater Advanced Division Instructor)


Daryl Stewart comes from a uniquely diverse background in the performing arts. As a performer, he has performed on renowned stages across the country. He has portrayed roles in musical productions like the Gershwins' My One and OnlyFive Guys Named MoeLeader of the PackThe Wild Party, CarouselRagtimeInto the Woods and Disney’s Aida as well as a host of TV/film projects. Additionally, he has worked with the New York Musical Theater Festival, Downtown Theater Festival, regional and several off-Broadway theaters in new musical theater works. As an educator, Stewart is a sought-after clinician, coach and teaching artist who specializes in working with young talent. He has served as the Associate Director/Choreographer of several productions, including FameOnce on This IslandHigh School MusicalOnce Upon a MattressSeussical, and The Wiz. He has studied dance with Kate Swan, Sherry Alban and Tori-Lockett Kruse. In addition to his theatrical work, his choreography has been commissioned for festivals, concerts, competitions, music videos, and performance workshops in the industry. At NJPAC, Stewart serves as the Musical Theatre Dance Instructor for the Young Artist Institute and is a musical theater teaching artist for In-School Residencies. He is also a teaching artist and performance coach at the All Stars Project Inc., Snyder High School of the Arts and Burnet Middle School. He is the recipient of the Wasserman Award for Excellence in the Arts, two-time Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star nominee and a BMC Award for Entertainment nominee. Stewart is a proud alumnus of the New York Conservatory of Dramatic Art, Paper Mill Playhouse Musical Theater Conservatory and New York University.​

Lisa Gunn Becker (Vocal Music Apprentice Division Instructor)

Gunn_Lisa_160x160.jpgLisa Gunn-Becker, a native Californian, comes to the NJPAC summer program by way of Philadelphia, New York and Brooklyn.  Lisa has performed on Broadway in the 20th Anniversary production of Annie; with composer great Marvin Hamlisch, and at numerous regional theatres such at The Walnut Street and Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey.  Lisa’s work includes stage, commercials, television, and film.  She has represented such products as Chevy, Dominos, Band-Aid, and was the spokesperson for Tom Kean Jr.  She can be seen in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening, Christmas Present, The Last Days of April as well as episodes of All My Children, As The World Turns, and Law and Order.  She has been a teaching artist for NJPAC for the past five years with the Dancing Classrooms, Musical Theatre, and Explore a Story programs.  She has taught at Temple University, Saint Anne’s in Brooklyn, E-Arts, and many public schools in New Jersey.  She also facilitates improv seminars for Destination Imagination.  Lisa coaches business executives in Performance Skills and Accent Reduction work.  She holds a BA in Theatre Arts from CSU Fresno and an MFA in acting from Temple University.  She has also trained at the National Theatre of Great Britain and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  Lisa lives in a 1725 farmhouse with her husband, two daughters, and two collie dogs.  Lisa believes creative expression can empower and transform individuals.


Brandon Jones (Dance Advanced Division Instructor)

Brandon_Jones.jpgBrandon Joshua Jones has been a student of dance for twenty-four years. Trained in seven genres, he competed regionally and nationally from ages eight to eighteen. He was awarded a full artistic scholarship to attend the Conservatory of Performing Arts at Point Park University, finishing in the summer of 2007. Brandon has danced works by classical and contemporary concert choreographers such as Peter Anastos (Company of Dance Arts, NJ), Kim Gibilisco; formerly of the Alwin Nikolai/Murray Louis ensemble (KGDances, NYC), Cleo Mack (Cleo Mack Dance Project, NJ), Obediah Wright (Balance Dance Theatre, NYC) and Attack Theatre (PA.), under the artistic direction of Michele de la Reza and Peter Kope. From fall 2008-spring 2009, he was also blessed with an opportunity to perform with international recording artist Crystal Waters. This led Brandon to the cities of Vienna, Salzburg, Belgrade, Tel Aviv, Moscow, Bucharest, Amsterdam, and Brisbane. Brandon has recently been performing with ModArts Dance Collective (CA) under the artistic direction of Leah Tubbs and has also performed with the Tiny Starr Productions Theatre Company (NYC), under artistic director Pamela Eatman-Skinner. This is currently Brandon’s third season with Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company.  

Danielle Thompson (Acting Advanced Division Instructor)

Danielle_Thompson.jpgDanielle Renee Thompson is an actress and a teaching artist. She had the honor of winning the $40,000 NJPAC Star-Ledger Scholarship in 2000. Danielle received a BFA in acting at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University in NJ. She recently starred in the Off-Broadway production of the world premiere of My Occasion of Sin by Monica Bauer and directed by Frances Hill at Urban Stages Theater in NYC. Over the past couple of years, Danielle has had the honor of touring a one women show, Warriors Don’t Cry, by Eisa Davis directed by Trazana Beverly through the Urban Stages Outreach program. Danielle has also been teaching for various NJPAC Arts Education programs such as the Young Artist Summer Intensive (formerly Summer Youth Performance Workshops), Young Artist Institute and the Artist-in- Residency programs in the fields of theater, performance techniques, and ballroom dance. 

Hip-Hop Institute Faculty

Sheikia Norris, aka “Purple Haze” (Hip-Hop Institute Artistic Director)


Sheikia S. Norris, lyrically known as Purple Haze or Haze, was born in the birthplace of hip-hop, The Bronx. Currently residing in Newark, New Jersey, Haze challenges audiences with a natural ease and a voice that inspires audience movement and positive thoughts. Enthusiasts of the art form appreciate her energy, her impeccable flow and a clever deliverance of truth. Haze has mastered her own rich style of spitting lyrics with both power and substance. As the Hip Hop 101 Edutainment Program Facilitator & Recruiter for the Hip Hop Culture Center, a member of the Rhyme Like A Girl Collective (Freestyle Union) and up and coming curator for hip-hop art and performance, Haze is a diversified talent poised for success in a host of arenas. She is recording her highly anticipated EP, pH Balance for a 2014 release and “Painting It Purple” all over the globe!

The Second City Summer Workshops Faculty

Jonny Nelson (Teen Improv Workshop Instructor)


Jonny Nelson grew up a Michigander and attended Grand Valley State University, receiving a double major in Philosophy and German. In Chicago he has been improvising and performing at iO with June Boy, Berserker, and his one-man show Social Science; at Comedy Sportz with Battle-Prov and house teams, with his two-man improv show Eisbär, and The Kickback. He is thrilled to be teaching at the place he loves!​

Jessica Mitolo (Teen Improv Workshop Instructor)


Originally from Youngstown, Ohio, Jessica received her degree in Acting and Directing from Bowling Green State University. Since moving to Chicago, Jessica has studied, performed and directed at various schools and venues throughout the city. Her most recent directing credits include Nostalgia Sucks: But It Used To Be Awesome!, Second Day Party Hair and Forty Winks. Jessica is proud to have worked as Assistant to the Director on The Second City Mainstage production, South Side of Heaven.

Nick Johne (From the Inside Out Instructor)


An alumnus of Toronto’s award-winning Second City Main Stage cast, Nick Johne has been teaching improvisation in various capacities since 1983. He is currently teaching at The Second City Chicago and in the Theater Department of DePaul University where he is adjunct faculty. He has performed all over the world and was an original member of the workshop production of the Tony award-winning musical The Drowsy Chaperone. Nick Johne currently lives in Chicago with his wife and daughter.

Molly Fisher (From the Inside Out Instructor)


Molly Fisher grew up in a northern suburb of chicago, Kenilworth. She graduated from St Lawrence University with a BFA in Speech and Theater. She then decided to work in the Special Education Department at New Trier High School for two years before going back to get her MFA in Acting at DePaul. While she was at New Trier she was also the director of No Questions Asked Improv. Another love of Molly’s is dance. She danced all throughout college and started a dance theater program, telling the story of shows through movement, at St. Lawrence University.

Ryan Bernier (Adult Improv Instructor)


Ryan Bernier (Director) is thrilled to be directing this wonderful cast. His directing credits include Second City e.t.c.’s A Clown Car Named Desire and the Jeff Award–winning We’re All in this Room Together (Best Revue, Best Director), Second City’s Girls Night Out and Six Degrees of Desperation, Him & Her, Deadly Sins, and An Unscripted Romance. He studied at Suffolk University and Improv Asylum in Boston, as well as the Annoyance, iO, the Second City Conservatory and directing programs in Chicago. Ryan teaches at the Second City Training Center.