JAM: Meet the Neal Smith Jazz Ensemble, A Worldly Unit From Berklee And More

Apr 6, 2018

Helmed by  Neal Smith, a drummer, professor and ensemble coach at the Berklee College of Music, The Neal Smith Jazz Ensemble is a handpicked ensemble featuring some of the top players from the school, all of whom separately play around the Boston area.

The Neal Smith Jazz Ensemble consists of Garyfallia (Gary) Despoina Kerkezou from Greece (drums), Oren Hardy from Israel (bass), Giuseppe Cucchiara from Italy (bass), Dabin Ryu from South Korea (piano), Rina Yamazaki from Japan (piano), Tobias Meissl from Austria (vibraphone), and Milena Casado Fauguet from Spain (flugelhorn and trumpet). Also pictured is director Neal Smith (far right).

The ensemble performed classics by Irving Berlin and Oscar Peterson:

"Russian Lullaby" (Irving Berlin): Rina Yamazaki on piano, Oren Hardy on bass, Garyfallia Kerkezou on drums.

"Thag's Dance" (Oscar Peterson): Dabin Ryu on piano, Giuseppe Cucchiara on bass, Garyfallia Kerkezou on drums.

Another ensemble organized, directed and conducted by Neal Smith at Berklee is the Jazz Ahead Ensemble, featuring drummer Julian Pardo-Valdez. They perform Emmet Cohen's "You Already Know." 

The Unity Ensemble of Berklee College of Music

We also feature a track by The Unity Ensemble, a female fronted group formed last year by drummer Ivanna Cuesta Gonzalez, of the Dominican Republic. Along with Gonzalez, the band features saxophonist Carla Restivo, from Italy; bassist Dana Roth, from Israel; and pianist Kento Tsubosaka, from Japan. They performed "Cuban Exchange," by 2018 NEA Jazz Master Joanne Brackeen.

Finally, two star pianists study under Smith, and both join in our JAM celebration by presenting their original compositions.

Rina Yamazaki Records with her Trio
Dabin Ryu

Rina Yamazaki, from Japan, began her in-depth jazz studies with Makoto Ozone and Sadao Watanabe while living in Tokyo. She is currently attending Berklee College of Music, studying with teachers such as Billy Kilson, Ralph Peterson, Joanne Brackeen and Drummer Neal Smith, who is a member of her newly formed trio with Bassist Peter Washington. She released her Trio's debut recording recently and presents two tracks from it for JAM.

Dabin Ryu, from Seoul, South Korea started playing piano at age four. She first started studying classical music and then moved to studying jazz.  She is in her final year at Berklee College of Music where she is a piano performance jazz composition dual major. Her quartet performs a tune she calls “Goodies” for JAM. Dabin is joined by Allison Burik from Kansas City, MO (Alto Saxophone), Benjamin Young from Lakeville, MA (Bass), James Davis from Carlisle, MA (Drums)