Developing High Level Jazz Musicians
Founded by Cliff Gribble in 2004, the Jazz Studies program offers top quality instrumental and jazz training to young musicians from the Greater Milwaukee area, with a focus on urban students whose culture and heritage are deeply rooted in the origins of jazz and Latin jazz music.
Training by top-notch and highly-experienced faculty emphasizes small jazz combo experience, jazz technique, improvisation, instrumental technique, and basic to advanced music theory.
The Jazz Studies program develops high-level jazz musicians and affords a thorough understanding of various jazz styles, composers, musicians, and their music. The program offers jazz training, performing opportunities, and clinics with local and national jazz artists.
Musicians are placed in one of the five levels of study according to ability and knowledge of jazz, demonstrated by an audition, a music theory test and/or private lesson or school band instructor recommendation. Continuing students are placed based upon their previous season’s performance, an audition, music theory test and/or combo instructor’s recommendation.
At a Glance
- Rehearsals on Wednesday and Thursday late afternoons/evenings
- Prerequisites for admission: Grade 6-12 with two years of prior musical experience, or at least one year of school jazz band experience
- A recommendation from a private teacher or school band instructor is also required
- Director: Mr. Chris Mell
The Jazz Studies Staff
Chris Mell has been part of MYSO since 2008, starting as a drum set technique instructor and in 2012, he became the Jazz Studies Director. Chris has been performing and teaching drums for more than three decades and has taught students ranging in age from 3 to 70 in a wide variety of percussion and drum set styles. He has taught bucket drumming and West African drumming classes for the Boys and Girls Clubs, and for many years taught drum line for Cudahy Middle/High School and Franklin High School. Chris most recently started working for the Milwaukee Public Schools as a traveling music teacher. He teaches private lessons and drum line for six MPS schools including Bradley Tech, Humboldt Park, MacDowell Montessori, Milwaukee School of Languages, Obama, and Washington High School.
Chris graduated from UW-Whitewater with a Bachelor’s degree in music with a jazz emphasis. Over his career he has studied and toured with John Becker, Steve Wiest, Ed Shaughnessy, Brad Leahi, Dave Pietro, Michael Spiro, Billy Cobham, the Maynard Ferguson Big Band, Joan Rivers among many more. Chris was also a founding member of the UW-Whitewater Jazz Symposium that did two tours of Europe playing the North Sea Jazz Festival, the Montreux Jazz Festival and several club dates in Germany, London, and Paris. The Jazz Symposium was so successful that it became part of the UW-W Jazz curriculum. Chris Mell currently lives in Milwaukee and is a freelance artist for various groups throughout the greater Milwaukee area and Wisconsin.
Neil Davis is an emerging talent.
He started playing jazz in Milwaukee in 2002. Also in that same year Neil began teaching private lessons to aspiring guitarists at all levels.
As time went on he reached a peak of 72 students per week. The grueling schedule led him to yearn for an environment where he could focus his methods on students who were interested in jazz.
Davis is honored and excited to be a part of the Jazz Studies Program at MYSO. Neil is sought after as a sideman and also leads his own quartet. He is also half of the Davis\Peplin Duo.
As well as playing jazz Neil uses his talent in the world of Modern Dance. He is has been an accompanist for the UWM dance dept. since 2005.
Born with a passion for percussion and Latin music, Tony Ayala started his professional career at an early age, as the conguero for Rafy Castro y Su Orquesta in the 1980s, which evolved into the award-winning Salsa Syndicate. Thereafter he joined Claudio y la Orquesta, making his directorial debut with Salsa Power.
In the 1990s, Tony got involved in a new genre of music, Pop Rock, with award winners Sister Moon with whom he made a music video, recorded and toured. Also during this time, he had the privilege of working with local and international sensations-LaChazz Jazz Ensemble, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, The Love Monkeys, Punto de Vista, and Bahia.
He has shared the stage with internationally-known artists such as Eddie Santiago, Anthony Cruz, Papo Rivera, Edwin Cepeda, Edwin Sanchez, and Kid Rock’s drummer Stephanie Wildenburg. His repertoire includes recordings with Del Bennet, the Bystanders, Alaria Taylor, Barbara Stephan, Johnny Padilla, and Keith Polvermucker.
Recently, Tony’s love for music and eclectic experiences have given rise to his first original salsa band and WAMI award winner Nabori with whom he also produced music and recorded.
At this time, he is eagerly working on his newest project with a unique twist in salsa called D’CalleSon.
A MYSO alumnus, Isaiah Simons has been playing the double bass for the past 15 years. He earned his Bachelor of Music degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music, and a Master of Music degree from Michigan State University, where he studied on a full graduate fellowship.
Isaiah performs throughout the Milwaukee area as a sideman with a wide variety of local musicians, and also holds a contract as a section bassist in the Lansing Symphony Orchestra. He has also toured throughout Canada for the past three summers with the Orchestre de la Francophonie, where he performed as principal bass.
In addition to his work as a musician, Isaiah enjoys cooking, and is an avid Milwaukee Bucks fan.
John Simons has been playing music professionally since his late teens. His formal training began on the trombone while in middle school and he picked up the guitar and bass shortly thereafter.
Since then, he has studied at UW-Milwaukee, the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, and privately with musicians from the symphony and the jazz community. He continues to play out mostly on upright and electric bass, and is privileged to share the stage with many of Milwaukee’s finest musicians.
His current projects include playing with the North Coast Orchestra, the Stomata Trio, and the Carlos Adames trio.
John has taught in MYSO’s Jazz Studies program since 2011 and teaches math during the day at a local K-8 school on Milwaukee’s South Side.
Jeno Somlai is a jazz and Latin jazz musician. Since first playing professionally at the age of 13, Jeno has worked with a variety of musicians and now spearheads his own projects.
His latest is the Jeno Somlai Sextet, a Latin jazz group heavily influenced by a variety of styles in the Afro-Cuban/Latin genres. The group’s first CD was released in 2004.
Jeno can been seen currently playing with D’Calle Son, The Donna Woodall Group, Eric Jacobson, Isla Adentro and Luis Diaz.
Jason Goldsmith is a fourth generation musician who started playing piano at age three. By age eight, he could play guitar, banjo, and mandolin. In fourth grade, Jason wanted to play trumpet in the school band, but his braces cut his lips when he played, so he switched to saxophone as a compromise. He didn’t take the instrument very seriously until, at the age of 15, he encountered a Charlie Parker recording. That record lit a spark and inspired him to practice with renewed interest. Since that time, he has pursued the art of improvisation.
Jason attended UW-Whitewater, where he received his bachelor’s degree in saxophone performance under the tutelage of Maynard Ferguson alum Steve Wiest, who is currently professor of jazz at North Texas University. He played in the UWW Jazz Symposium, which provided opportunities to play in European jazz festivals, as well as alongside some of our country’s finest jazz musicians, including Ernie Watts, Ed Shaughnessy, Vinnie Calioutta, Bob Mintzer, James Moody, Slide Hampton, Brad Lehli, Dave Pietro, Tim Reis, and Rick Margitza. He also served as a jazz clinician at UWW’s jazz camp for five years.
Jason moved to Milwaukee in 2003 and has performed with local bands including The Booze Brothers, Cold Sweat, Paradise String Band, The Paul Silbergleit Quintet, The Milwaukee Jazz Orchestra, Rockin’ Robins, The Pipe Circus, and The Acid Sextet. He’s also performed with The Temptations and The Dorsey Brothers Band.
Currently, Jason can be heard playing his sax locally with The North Coast Orchestra, with polka icon Steve Meisner, and of course, with the All-Star SUPERband. Watch for Jason’s new jazz quintet to make a splash on the local scene in the near future.