Jazz Fest Masters

Jazz Fest 2015

27th Annual Prairie State College Jazz Fest
Friday, February 20, 2015

This year's Fest features ...

Ernie Adams — Drummer

Ernie Adams is a very experienced, high profile all-styles drummer, who has performed and recorded with many of the worlds greatest musicians. He is known for his perfect timing, solid groove, and brilliant technique that he combines with great musical taste and a wonderful personality. He has performed, recorded, and toured with the likes of Ramsey Lewis, AI DiMiola, Joe Williams, Billy Dickens, Arturo Sandoval, Steve Cole, Dianne Reeves, Stanley Turrentine, Ahmad Jamal, Richie Cole, James Moody, Joe Zawinul, Slide Hampton, Clark Terry, Orbert Davis, the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, and the list goes on.

Having graduated as a Jazz major from University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee, Ernie has been a Ravinia Jazz Mentor since 1995, tutoring young drummers and percussionists.


Orbert Davis—Trumpet

ORBERT DAVIS is cofounder, conductor, and artistic director of Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, a symphonic jazz orchestra dedicated to multi-genre projects. Winner of the 1995 Cognac Hennessy National Jazz Search, Orbert was chosen as one of Chicago Tribune’s 1995 Arts People of the Year. Chicago Magazine named him Chicagoan of the Year for 2002.

Along with his business partner Mark Ingram, Orbert owns and operates Orbark Productions, LLC. Recording credits include projects for Atlantic, Capitol, CBS, Epic, MCA, and the Warner Brothers record labels. Feature film credits include A League of Their Own, starring Tom Hanks, Madonna, and Rosie O’Donnell for Columbia Pictures and The Babe starring John Goodman. Orbert was jazz music consultant to Academy Award winning director, Sam Mendes, on the DreamWorks Pictures feature film Road to Perdition, starring Tom Hanks and Paul Newman, where he also had a cameo appearance.

Orbert recently won a Chicago Emmy for composing the score for the critically acclaimed public television documentary DuSable to Obama: Chicago’s Black Metropolis, produced by WTTW.  He also recently composed, “Concierto for Generation I,” a work commissioned by Nissan/Infiniti, inspired by the 2007 Infiniti G35 Sedan. “Concierto for Generation I” was part of the 2007 “Infiniti In Black” national advertising campaign which included a two-page full-color Ad of Orbert and the G35 Sedan inEbonyVibeEssence, and Black Enterprise magazines, as well as a very high-end online marketing interactive campaign.

Orbert’s 2004 CD release entitled Blue Notes, was the follow-up to his critically acclaimed Priority CD, which  garnered an L.A. Times 4-star review, hit Top-50 “most played on national radio” Jazz CDs in 2002 and was named Top-10 best Jazz CDs of 2002 by the Chicago Tribune. His latest audio disc, Chicago Jazz Philharmonic’s Collective Creativity (2009), an amalgamation of classical music and jazz, received rave reviews on the national stage as well.

Orbert has a Bachelor’s degree in trumpet performance from DePaul University and a Master's degree in Jazz Pedagogy from Northwestern University. He lives in Chicago with his wife Lisa, their two daughters, Zoe and Sydney, and two sons, Donovan and Benjamin.


Larry Gray—Bass

Larry Gray, Assistant Professor of Jazz Studies at University of Illinois since 2007 began his musical studies at the age of six when his father brought home an accordion and introduced him to his first teacher. Invigorated by this study, Larry added the guitar to his arsenal and studied piano seriously for many years thereafter. It was not until he was in his twenties that he decided to switch to the double bass. Larry went on to study classical music extensively, eventually adding the cello to his long list of loved instruments. His principal teachers were Joseph Guastafeste, longtime principal bassist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and cellist Karl Fruh, a highly regarded soloist and teacher. Under Mr. Fruh's guidance, he received Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Cello Performance from the Chicago Musical College of Roosevelt University.

Throughout his long and varied career, Larry has worked with numerous exceptional artists and jazz legends, including McCoy Tyner, Jack DeJohnette, Danilo Perez, Branford Marsalis, Benny Golson, Steve Turre, Lee Konitz, Bobby Hutcherson, Sonny Stitt, Phil Woods, Jon Faddis, Roscoe Mitchell, Eddie Harris, Les McCann, Kenny Burrell, Joe Pass, Tal Farlow, and Donald Byrd, among many others.

Larry has toured extensively, and continues to do so, performing at jazz festivals and clubs around the globe, including the Umbria Jazz Festival, the Havana Jazz Festival, Rio Sao Paulo Festival, North Sea Jazz Festival, ECM Festival in Poland, Monterey Jazz Festival, the Chicago Jazz Festival, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Hollywood Bowl, Village Vanguard, Blue Note (New York and Tokyo), Kennedy Center, and the Ravinia Festival, with such jazz luminaries including Marian McPartland, Clark Terry, Nancy Wilson, Frank Morgan, James Moody, Larry Coryell, Louis Bellson, Joe Williams, Doc Severinsen and the Tonight Show Band, Kenny Drew Jr., and Ramsey Lewis. As a classical musician, Larry has worked on many occasions with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under master conductors Erich Leinsdorf, Rafael Kubelik, Carlo Maria Guilini, and Sir George Solti. He was principal bass of Civic Orchestra of Chicago, and also has worked with Lyric Opera of Chicago. Larry is an arranger and composer whose work has been widely recognized as uniquely melodic and exceptionally refined.

His discography includes 1,2, 3,..., on Chicago Sessions, the solo bass record, Gravity, One Look, and Solo + Quartet, all on Graywater Records, as well as the Ramsey Lewis and Nancy Wilson collaborations Meant to Be and Simple Pleasures. He can also be heard on Appassionata, Time Flies, With One Voice, and Songs From the Heart. The newest CD by the Larry Gray Trio, 3=1, was released in April, 2011. Larry is a first-call studio musician, and his playing can be heard on many jazz recordings as well as commercial radio and television jingles and studio projects. He also was part of the PBS television series, Legends of Jazz, where he can be seen performing alongside Jim Hall, Benny Golson, Chris Potter, Phil Woods, David Sanborn, Chris Botti, Clark Terry, and Roy Hargrove. Larry's original composition for double bass and guitar, Five Movements, was commissioned and performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chamber Ensemble at Symphony Center in Chicago. Most recently, Larry has composed two commissioned works for the Jazz Institute of Chicago. Tribute to the Bass Masters Suite was premiered at the Poznan Festival in Poland in 2008 to much acclaim. A second work, String Thing, was first presented in Chicago in October 2010 as part of the Jazz Institute of Chicago Jazz in Chicago series. Larry's newest work is Seven Views of Three Bassists, with bassists Rufus Reid and Joseph Guastafeste, that was premiered in March of 2011 in Chicago. His website is www.larrygraymusic.com. www.larrygraymusic.com.


Valerie Nicholson—Piano

Valerie Nicholson is professor of music at Prairie State College where she has been a faculty member since 1986. She is currently a doctoral candidate in music theory at the University of Chicago. In addition to serving as coordinator of performing arts at the College, she teaches music theory and music appreciation courses, and serves on the executive council of the College’s faculty union. She was named Faculty of the Year in 2005 by the Prairie State community. As a pianist, she has performed at the Chicago Jazz and Chicago Blues Festivals with the Burgess Gardner Big Band and with the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2007, she was invited to guest conduct the University of Chicago student band for a concert honoring Chicago women in jazz.  More recently, she conducted the Jazz Combo and Jazz Band II at the IMEA District One festival and has become active adjudicating high school and university jazz festivals and competitions.

Nicholson was recognized for excellence in jazz composition by the International Association for Jazz Education and has written new music and arrangements for a number of individuals and high school and college ensembles. A lifelong resident of Park Forest, she is the director of music at Grace United Protestant Church, a current board member of Grande Prairie Choral Arts and Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra, and formerly served on the board of the Tall Grass Arts Association. She is a member of the Park Forest Area League of Women Voters, was a frequent guest lecturer for the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra and was involved in helping launch the Chicago Southland Arts Alliance. Founder and producer of the highly regarded annual Prairie State College Jazz Festival, Nicholson was named by The Star Newspapers as one of “21 Leaders in the Arts for the 21st Century” in 2001. In 2010, she was recognized by Tall Grass Arts Association for her myriad contributions to the arts in the southern suburbs.