Noted Rutgers-Newark jazz alumni join forces to perform for centennial gala June. 19

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There will be a meeting of Jazz Masters at Rutgers University Newark’s Centennial Gala celebration and fundraiser, Thursday June 19, as music graduates form the Rutgers- Newark Alumni Jazz Ensemble to provide the musical soundtrack for the party.  The event marking the University’s 100th years in Newark will raise funds for scholarships and will be held at the Paul Robeson Center, 350 Dr. Martin Luther King, Blvd., Newark.
“We are thrilled to know that Rutgers-Newark inspires such loyalty and devotion among its alumni that they return willingly to school to help us celebrate our centennial” said Rutgers-Newark Chancellor Dr. Steven J. Diner.

The Ensemble will perform under the direction of Leo Johnson, who has taught at Rutgers-Newark and has directed of its Mosaic Jazz Ensemble. Johnson, who holds a masters degree in jazz history from Rutgers, has performed throughout Europe and the United States, and was named one of Newark’s “Jazz Elders” by former Newark Mayors Kenneth Gibson and Sharpe James.

“We’ll be playing a variety of numbers, focusing on the music written by one of the greatest jazz musicians ever, Duke Ellington,” Johnson said, adding “at some point, we will have played something for everyone.”

Johnson has played Birdland in New York City and has been a band member and recorded music with such recognized artists as Chico Mendoza, Jimmy McGriff, Jack McDuff quintet with David “Fathead” Newman, Jimmy Witherspoon and Johnny Hammond. Selections from his recent CD “It’s About Time,” have aired on WBGO Jazz 88.3.

Of the eight-member ensemble; six are recent Rutgers graduates, all boast a Masters degree in jazz. Two hold diplomas from different schools, but both are New Jersey musicians.

Johnson will be joined on saxophone by April Grier, currently with the Institute of Jazz Studies, John Cotton Dana Library at Rutgers-Newark, and Ryan Maloney, a 2006 graduate of Rutgers with a Masters in jazz history. Maloney works with Grier at the Institute in reference and as an archivist.
He is also works in program development and outreach at Jazz House Kids in West Orange, the mobile educational laboratory dedicated to improving the quality of life for young people through the medium of jazz.

A 2004 Rutgers-Newark graduate with a Masters in jazz history, Edgar Jordan joins the ensemble on the trumpet, with Corey Rawls on drums.  Rawls is a Masters graduate of the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University in New Brunswick.

Rawls has recorded with Soul Cycle; their most recent effort: “Urban Organics.” Their sound has been described as fusion jazz, with R&B, gospel, reggae, Latin and African influences and one of the “hippest, contemporary soul combos.” Soul Cycle was featured at the 2007 NJ PAC “Sounds of the City” concert series and the (Brooklyn Academy of Music) BAMCafé, Brooklyn Next Festival and at the Blue Note.

Rawls also worked with Sean Jones in 2005 on his CD Gemini and plays on Primordial Jazz Funktet behind Dan Furman.

Joseph Peterson, a 2000 Masters graduate with a degree in Jazz History joins the ensemble on bass, while John Wriggle, a 2005 graduate with a Masters in jazz history plays trombone.

Peterson, of West Long Branch, is currently with a four-piece ensemble, while Wriggle completed a stint in Hollywood, working as a music editor for film composer Howard Shore to score “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, before earning his Masters in jazz history and research at Rutgers.

Wriggle is collaborating with New York City new music collective Anti-Social Music and played in the debut concert in 2001. He is leading the John Wriggle quartet and assures his fans on his website that he is still writing music.

Dan Kostelnik, a graduate of William Paterson College in Wayne, completes the ensemble, joining on jazz organ, the Hammond B3. Kostelnick has been working continually with German guitarist Michael Arlt’s WE THREE since 1996, both on extensive European tours and on CDs.
Johnson, in planning the musical agenda for the celebration on June 19, said that the band will be playing the American classics of jazz.
“This is what the country has contributed to art,” Johnson said. “As Jimmy Heath once said, if it was good then, it’s good now.”