2023 Awardees

2023 awards

Each year, JEN is proud to recognize the efforts of hard-working students and educators, who are engaged in creating excellence and making an impact in jazz education. The following awards were presented a the 2023 JEN Conference in Dallas, Texas. 

Nominations OPEN Spring 2024

Ellis Marsalis, Jr. Educator of the Year Award

John LaPorta Jazz Educator of the Year Award

LeJENds of Latin Jazz Award

LeJENds of Jazz Education Award 

Donald Meade Legacy Griot Award

Presidents’ Service Award

michael dease

Michael Dease is one of the world’s eminent trombonists, lending his versatile sound and signature improvisations to over 250 recordings and artists as diverse as David Sanborn, Christian McBride, Michel Camilo, and Alicia Keys. Born in Augusta, GA, he played the saxophone and trumpet before choosing the trombone at age 17. In 2001, Dease moved to New York City to become part of the historic first class of jazz students at The Juilliard School, earning both Bachelors and Masters degrees, and quickly established a reputation as a brilliant soloist, side musician, and bandleader.

Best Next Thing (Posi-Tone, 2022), Dease’s 16th and latest release, his ninth on Posi-Tone, gathers a team of exceptional musicians to help him interactively explore the essence of the blues and reframe the abstract truths of jazz as the “Best Next Thing” for today’s audience of listeners.  Critical listeners agree that this is possibly Dease’s most excited recording to date, and awarded a coveted 4 star review in the featured HotBox in DownBeat Magazine.

Dease, the winner of the 69th and 70th Annual DownBeat Poll for Trombonist of the Year and multi-Grammy award winner as a member of the Christian McBride Big Band, is also a sought-after lead and ensemble trombonist with today’s leading jazz orchestras. His experiences include bands led by Christian McBride, the late Roy Hargrove, Nicholas Payton, Charles Tolliver, Rufus Reid, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Rodney Whitaker, and the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band. However, it is on the frontline of quintets and sextets led by master musicians like The Heath Brothers, Winard Harper, Renee Rosnes, Bill Charlap, Claudio Roditi, and Lewis Nash, where Dease has revitalized the trombone’s image. Not content to simply improvise, Dease arranges and composes for many different bands, constantly adjusting his tone and timbre to add just the right flavor to the music.

Dease’s unique blend of curiosity, hard work and optimism has helped him earn worldwide recognition, including awards from JazzTimes Magazine, ASCAP, The International Trombone Association, Yamaha USA, Eastern Trombone Workshop, New York Youth Symphony, Hot House Magazine, Jazz Education Network and The Airmen of Note, among others. Dease was profiled in Cicily Janus’ book, The New Face of Jazz: An Intimate Look at Today’s Living Legends (Random House). His experience in the studio has led him to produce 14 commercial albums for emerging artists, often creating original compositions and writing liner notes for the releases on his D Clef Records label.  

Dease is an effective and prolific music educator, resulting in invitations, master classes and residencies at venerable institutions such as The University of North Texas, Berklee College of Music, Eastman School of Music, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Brevard Music Center, CSUN Northridge & Fullerton, Temple University, Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, UNC-Greeley, UC – Boulder, UT – Arlington, Texas Tech, Arizona State University, University of Delaware, Southern Miss, University of Kansas, UT – Knoxville, NCCU, Vanderbilt University, UNC – Chapel Hill, New World School of the Arts, UW – OshKosh, University of South Florida, Texas State University, University of Iowa, UNLV, University of Central Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University, Northeastern State University, Augusta University, Interlochen Arts Academy, Bard College, Rutgers University, University of St. Louis, Sam Houston State University, Texas A&M Kingsville, UNC School of the Arts, Hunter College, Elizabeth City State University, Brevard College,  and many schools abroad. 

He serves as Professor of Jazz Trombone at the award-winning Michigan State University jazz program, where he has been chosen as the MASU Distinguished Professor of the Year and a recipient of the MSU Teacher-Scholar Award. Prior to MSU, Dease had been on faculty at Queens College – CUNY, The New School of Jazz & Contemporary Media and Northeastern University. Many of Dease’s current and former students have released acclaimed recordings, received international recognition and are enjoying successful careers in the music world collaborating with artists like Michael Buble’, Bruno Mars, Revive Da Live Big Band, The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, the Downbeat award-winning Ulysses Owen’s Big Band and the Grammy-winning Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra led by Arturo O’Farrill.  

Always an informed, but forward-thinking musician, Dease learned the craft from trombone legends Wycliffe Gordon, Steve Turre, Dr. John Drew & Joseph Alessi. His associations have run a wide spectrum of musical experience: Alicia Keys, Paul Simon, Paul Schaffer and the CBS Orchestra, Elton John, Neal Diamond, Illinois Jacquet, Slide Hampton & The World Of Trombones, Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker, WDR Big Band, George Gruntz, Billy Harper, Andy James and numerous others.  Dease channels this experience into his love for Jazz Education, serving as Artistic Director of the Jazz Institute of Brevard Music Center (North Carolina) and Faculty Leader at the Seiko Summer Jazz Camp (Tokyo). Michael Dease also teaches at the Skidmore Jazz Institute and the JALC Summer Jazz Academy.  Michael Dease is a lifetime member of the International Trombone Association, a member of ASCAP, the Jazz Education Network, voting member of NARAS, and currently serves on the advisory board of JazzEmpowers, having previously served on the ITA Advisory Board.  

Dease enjoys spending time with his extraordinary wife and Professor of Percussion at MSU, Gwendolyn Dease, and their daughters Brooklyn & Charly. Michael Dease is a Yamaha Performing Artist and plays Yamaha trombones exclusively.  Dease also plays Vandoren Reeds and Mouthpieces, Pickett Brass Mouthpieces, Key Leaves, Robinson’s Remedies Lip Renew and uses Gard Bags for his many instruments.  

curtis gaesser

Curtis Gaesser has been teaching in the Folsom/Cordova School District since 1984. He

has been at Folsom High School since 1987. He currently teaches Marching Band,

Chamber Orchestra, Jazz Choir, 3 Jazz Bands, Concert Band, Color Guard, and Drum

line. His Jazz Band I has been awarded ‘Best High School Jazz Band’ 17 times from

Downbeat Magazine since 1993, including the last 16 of 18 years in a row. The Folsom

HS Jazz Choir I have won “Best High School Vocal Jazz Group” 26 times since 1994,

including the last 24 years in a row. Curtis received the Folsom Cordova School District

“Teacher of the Year” in 1990 and 2011. He was the ‘California State Jazz Educator’ of

the Year in 2003. In 2008, he was awarded the “Annual National Achievement Award in

Jazz Education” by Downbeat Magazine, and in 2008 the “Music Achievement Award”

by Sacramento News and Review. The city of Folsom presented him with the ‘Person of

the Year’ award in 2001. In 2016 he was awarded ‘Most Outstanding” Teacher award

from the city of Folsom, and the Northern California Band Directors Association ‘Most

Outstanding Educator Award’. In 2017 he was awarded best “Music Educator” for

Northern California by the California Music Educators Association.

Curtis Gaesser was a top 10 finalist nominee for the Grammy Educator Award in 2018.

Curtis started the Folsom Jazz Festival in 1989 and it is now the largest educational Jazz

Festival in California.

The Folsom High School Jazz Band has won sweepstakes as the best Instrumental group

at the Reno Jazz festival 7 times and the last 6 years in a row. The Folsom High School

Jazz Choir has won sweepstakes at the Reno Jazz Festival 13 times as the best Vocal


The Jazz Band has won the Monterey Next Generation Jazz Festival twice as the best

Jazz Band in 2013 and 2020. The group has made the finals as the top three thirteen times

since 1990. The Band has performed as an artist at the Monterey Jazz Festival 13 times

since 1992.

The Jazz Choir has won the Monterey Next Generation Jazz festival 16 times since 1993.

They have performed as an artist at the Monterey Jazz Festival 23 times.

Both the Jazz Band and Jazz Choir have been a part of the Monterey Jazz Festival every

year since 1990.

The Folsom High School Jazz groups have performed throughout Europe 5 times since


john santos

Five-time GRAMMY nominated percussionist, educator, producer, composer, John Santos, is one of the foremost exponents of Afro-Latin music in the world today. He is known for his innovative use of traditional forms and instruments in combination with contemporary music, and has earned much respect and recognition as a record and event producer.

Born in San Francisco, California, November 1, 1955. Percussionist, composer, writer and educator John Santos was raised in the Puerto Rican and Cape Verdean traditions of his family, surrounded by music. The fertile musical environment of the San Francisco Bay Area shaped his career in a unique way. His studies of Afro-Latin music have included several trips to New York, Puerto Rico, Cuba and Colombia.

He has performed, recorded and studied with acknowledged masters of the Afro-Latin and Jazz idioms such as Cachao, Dizzy Gillespie, Tito Puente, Lazaro Ros, Armando Peraza, Eddie Palmieri, Patato Valdes, Francisco Aguabella, Orestes Vilato, Rene Lopez, Max Roach, Walfredo de los Reyes, Milton Cardona, Roberto Borrell and Chocolate Armenteros. He was the director of the Orquesta Tipica Cienfuegos (l976-1980) and the Orquesta Batachanga (1981-1985).

From 1985 through 2006, Mr. Santos directed the Machete Ensemble, a world-class Latin Jazz band of international renown that recorded nine CDs, mostly on his own Machete Records label. In 2003, he recorded the duo CD La Mar, with Cuban piano phenom, Omar Sosa. This experience has provided a solid foundation for Mr. Santos’ ground-breaking work in bringing together styles, rhythms, concepts and artists from different generations.

Widely respected as one of the top writers, educators and historians in the field, Mr. Santos is a member of the Latin Jazz Advisory Committee of the Smithsonian Institution and has contributed to the international magazines Percussive Notes, Modern Drummer, Modern Percussionist, and Latin Percussionist. The San Francisco Bay Area community in which he still lives and works has presented him with numerous awards and honors for artistic excellence and social dedication.

kim nazarian

Kim Nazarian is a world renowned performing grammy nominated jazz artist, educator and clinician. Besides her work as a sought-after solo vocalist, she has been performing all over the world with the vocal group “New York Voices“ (NYV) for more than 30 years. She is a jazz voice teacher via Skype for Vocal Jazz Majors at Ithaca College and she shares her perspectives on music and life as a musician through teaching private students in clinics, workshops, jazz camps and masterclasses, as well as through festival adjudication and guest conducting for singers on all levels in the US and abroad.

Nazarian was recognized as one of the top 50 most influential Armenian artists in 2012 and inducted into her High School’s Hall of Fame. She is the lead vocalist for the Latin influenced jazz ensemble “El Eco“, led by Argentinian drummer and composer Guillermo Nojechowicz, and sang as a guest vocalist on the latest CD of Gabriel Espinosa in 2018.

Besides many recordings of NYV, Kim Nazarian can be heard in many different projects as a soloist. In 2015 she released her solo CD entitled “Some Morning“ with remarkable guests including Paquito D’Rivera, Gary Burton, John Pizzarelli and Sean Jones. Her record was met with critical acclaim stating: “This set sets the gold standard for Jazz vocalists“ from Midwest Records, Chris Spector and Best Jazz Vocal CD 2015 from W. Royal Stokes, Jazz Historian and Critic.

Kim is proud to be one of the featured voices on Bobby McFerrin’s “VOCAbuLarieS“ CD that gathered three grammy nominations. She also collaborated with the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra and the Manchester Craftman’s Guild on a concert tour dedicated to the late, great Ella Fitzgerald. 

Nazarian’s work as a lyricist can be heard on the NYV CD’s and in other projects throughout the world, e.g. with Brazilian composer Ivan Lins and the Metropole Orchestra. Most notably, Nazarian wrote “World of Possibilities“, the title track to the accompanying CD of Bill Strickland’s best selling book “Making the Impossible Possible“.

Kim Nazarian is a dedicated teacher of vocal technique and the art of ensemble singing and a highly valued clinician at numerous vocal festivals, including all over Europe. She has been representing the USA as a judge for the International A Cappella Competition “vokal.total” in Graz, Austria since 2011 and was a member of the 2017 jury at Vocal Asia. Touring the globe over the last 30 years, Kim Nazarian has given concerts at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, and at the Montreal International Jazz Festival, to name a select few. Furthermore, Kim has conducted several All State Choirs in the US for NY, Arizona, Colorado, Washington and Maine.

Kim Nazarian is a magna cum laude graduate of Ithaca College and holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting. When not making music, she loves to be home in Oberlin, Ohio with her husband and son on her 6.5-acre farm…….cooking and gardening.

dorthaan kirk

Dorthaan Kirk—recipient of the 2020 A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship for Jazz Advocacy—has been a major force at WBGO Jazz 88.3 FM, Newark Public Radio—the only full-time jazz format station in New York and New Jersey—working in various roles for more than four decades. Called “Newark’s First Lady of Jazz,” Kirk has been active as a curator and producer of jazz events primarily in and around Newark, New Jersey, and is an avid supporter of musicians and jazz education for children.

Kirk grew up in Texas and lived in California before moving to the East Coast in 1970 with husband Rahsaan Roland Kirk, a jazz great known for playing multiple horns simultaneously, whose career she managed. Kirk was already a jazz fan before marriage, but her husband introduced her to more musicians and new venues, and she became more knowledgeable about jazz history through him.

When her husband died unexpectedly in 1977 at age 41, Kirk wanted to continue to work in the jazz business. She was introduced to Bob Ottenhoff, who was working on getting the Newark Board of Education to transfer their underutilized broadcast license to create the first public radio station in New Jersey, as a full-time jazz station. Ottenhoff hired Kirk as one of the original employees that launched WBGO in 1979. Before retiring in 2018, Kirk was the special events and community relations coordinator; the curator of the station’s art gallery, which is open to the public; and managed the annual WBGO Jazz-a-thon as well as the WBGO Children’s Jazz Series, which offers free jazz concerts by top-name musicians specifically for young people since 1993.

Kirk has been active for decades in the Newark community presenting jazz events. In 2000, she coordinated with the Rev. Dr. M. William Howard Jr. of the Bethany Baptist Church in Newark to present free-of-charge monthly Jazz Vespers, live jazz events during the months from October to June, that have featured nationally renowned performers, such as Jimmy Heath, Jon Faddis, and Gregory Porter. Since 2012, Kirk has been the consultant producer for a monthly jazz brunch series titled Dorthaan’s Place in her honor at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s Nico Kitchen & Bar in Newark. In addition to recruiting talent, she has also acted as master of ceremonies for these events.

She continues to be the keeper of the flame of her late husband’s musical legacy: managing his music; acting as administrator of his publishing company; and organizing special events in his honor, such as the tribute at St. Peter’s Church in New York City in December 2007.

Kirk has been the recipient of numerous awards from the City of East Orange, City of Newark, and New Jersey State Assembly for her community-based initiatives in the arts.  In 2013, she received the Humanitarian Award from the American Conference on Diversity, Essex County Chapter. For her 80th birthday in 2018, the Dorthaan Kirk Scholarship Opportunity Fund was created to support jazz students in the Newark area.

john blane

John Blane is a professional bass trombonist/tubist and music copyist/engraver. 

He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. In addition to his early years as a music educator, Blane has been most active in show and recording work over the past 30 years in the Chicago area.

His performance credentials include the Ringling Bros. Circus, Johnny Mathis, Manhattan Transfer, Liberace, Tony Bennett, Wayne Newton, Lou Rawls, Gladys Knight, Burt Bacharach, Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck, Mel Tormé, Bob Hope, Sammy Davis, Jr., Aretha Franklin, Natalie Cole and many more. He has played in the Chicago runs of Miss Saigon, Show Boat, Beauty and the Beast, Will Roger’s Follies, Damn Yankees, The King and I, His Way, Ragtime, The Lion King, Mary Poppins and Les Misérables. He is a former member of the Chicago Jazz Ensemble.

He is also active in the recording of T.V. and radio commercials including spots for United Airlines, Miller Brewing Co., State Farm Insurance, Samsonite, McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Ameritech, Kelloggs, WBBM-TV News, among many others. 

Currently, the bulk of his energies are spent doing computer-aided music preparation for publication, recording and performance. Major clients include Hal Leonard Publishing Corp., Alfred Publishing (formerly Warner Bros. Publications, Inc.), Disney, Kendor Music, The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Music Theatre International, Theatrical Rghts Worldwide, G. Schirmer, Inc., among others. Some of his publishing work includes the music of Frank Mantooth, Bob Mintzer, Bill Holman, Louis Bellson, Joe Henderson, Steve Turré and Bill Watrous as well as Andrew Lloyd Webber, Alfred Reed, Michael Kamen, Alan Menken, and John Williams. Significant musical theater projects includes composers Julie Shannon, Paul Libman, Stephen Flaherty, Eric Whitacre and Jason Robert Brown.

charlotte lang

Swiss/Dutch saxophonist Charlotte Lang was born in 1996 in Basel and studied the bachelor and master program at the JAZZCAMPUS Basel under the guidance of Domenic Landolf and Daniel Blanc. She is currently studying the Master of Music in Global Jazz at the Berklee College of Music in Boston under the artistic direction of Danilo Pérez. In addition she is part of Terri Lyne Carrington’s Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice.


From 2015 to 2018, Charlotte she was a member of the Swiss National Youth Jazz Orchestra under the direction of Christian Muthspiel. Since 2020, she became a member of the German National Youth Jazz Orchestra (Bundesjazzorchester Deutschland), under the direction of Niels Klein and Ansgar Striepens. She also plays is the Austrian FJO (Frauen Jazz Orchester→Women Jazz Orchestra of Austria).


In 2021, Charlotte founded her own Quintet the „Charlotte Lang Group“, for what she is composing, arranging and booking. In the fall 2023, her first album will be recorded and hopefully released by a renowned label.


Charlotte plays in the “Swiss Jazz Orchestra” and the “Zurich Jazz Orchestra”, the two professional Big Bands of Switzerland.

Charlotte recently got the unique opportunity to write a monthly blog for the Swiss Jazz & Blues Magazine called JAZZTIME, to tell readers about her time at abroad and specifically her time at Berklee. Her graduate program lasts only until the summer of 2023. She hopes to stay in the United States to enlarge her network and build her musical career.