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Musicians Roster

Abe Lagrimas Jr.
Drums, Co-Founder

Abe Lagrimas, Jr. is a musician, composer, educator, and author who plays the drums, vibraphone, ukulele, and studied at Berklee College of Music. He competed in the highly prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Drums Competition and has worked with many different artists such as Eric Marienthal, Eric Reed, Kamasi Washington, Katisse Buckingham, Lalo Schifrin, Barbara Morrison, Michelle Coltrane, Jake Shimabukuro, Kenny Endo, and continues to be an in-demand session musician in Los Angeles.

As a solo ukulele artist, Abe is a Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award (Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts) recipient and has released multiple albums in the United States, Japan, and South Korea. He has headlined many ukulele festivals throughout the United States, as well as Canada, Mexico, U.K., Germany, China, Japan, Philippines, Thailand, and Australia. Abe is also an active educator who has conducted workshops, currently teaches private lessons, and is an instructor for the Fender Play series. He is the author of Jazz Ukulele: Comping, Soloing, Chord Melodies (Berklee Press & Hal Leonard), which is available in stores worldwide and on Amazon. He currently endorses Canopus Drums, Paiste Cymbals, Vic Firth Drumsticks, Beato Bags, Ko'olau Ukulele, Analysis Plus Cables, Fusion Gig Bags, and Roswell Pro Audio.

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Randy Wong
Bass, Co-Founder

Hawaii-born and raised, bassist Randy Wong seeks adventure with every musical endeavor. As a symphony musician, he has performed with Kenny Loggins, Bela Fleck, Yo-Yo Ma, sitarist Anoushka Shankar; violinists Joshua Bell, Midori, Ray Chen, and Augustin Hadelich; conductors Leonard Slatkin, JoAnn Falletta, Gunther Schuller, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski and dozens of others. As a sideman, he has supported ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro, American singer-songwriter Susan Werner, soul singer Ron Artis II, and the open flow organization Honolulu Art Ensemble. He has produced and recorded albums for Exotica, pop, classical, world, and Hawaiian musicians, performed in operas and ballets, played the space-age bachelor-pad music of Juan Garcia Esquivel with the Orquesta Nacionale de Jazz de México in Cuernavaca, and even jammed with Brother Ah and George Clinton at one of Obama’s inaugural balls!

Known for his passion for the midcentury aesthetic—from music to cocktails—Randy has been profiled on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, the Department of Defense/Armed Forces Network’s America: Who We Are, PRI’s Global Village, Radiomultikulti, the Australian Broadcast Company, and Hawaii Public Radio. He has been cited in books, publications, and apps by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Martin Cate, Food & Wine, Travel & Leisure, Boston Magazine, Improper Bostonian, Honolulu Weekly, Boston Globe & the Boston Herald; has written articles for Hana Hou (Hawaiian Airlines), Honolulu Magazine, SUMMIT, Tasting Panel, NMG; and has consulted for Don the Beachcomber (Huntington Beach, CA), Drink (Boston), and more.

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Tim Mayer
Reeds, Arrangements

Graduating from Berklee College of Music in 1996, and returning to teach in 2002, Tim has been active as both artist and educator has lead to regular appearances in Colombia and Mexico with Berklee Latino, and acting as Artistic Director of the JazzUV International Festival in 2015, 2017, and 2019 in Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico, where he also taught for several years. 

Tim has performed and recorded with a wide range of jazz and latin jazz artists such as Maynard Ferguson, Slide Hampton, John Faddis, Danilo Perez, Arturo Sandoval, The Brubeck Brothers and most recently Maraca & His Latin Jazz All-Stars; with Cape Verdean artists such as Bana, the Mendes Brothers, and Bius;  received a Grammy nomination in 2009 with La Clave Secreta, and is credited on many critically acclaimed recordings, including his first as a leader, Resilience, released by Jazz Legacy Productions in 2011. 

Recent tours include a tribute to Horace Silver leading a quartet which performed in Mindelo, Sáo Vicente, and with Orlando Maraca Valle and his Latin Jazz All Stars, featuring Steve Turre and Robby Ameen.  In 2021, Keeper Of The Flame, his second CD as leader, is released, featuring Rodney Whitaker, Ulysses Owens, Michael Dease, Miki Hayama, and Emmet Cohen in a swinging set for octet.

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Helen Liu

A native of Potomac, Maryland, Dr. Helen Liu is an active performer and educator in solo, chamber and orchestral settings. She is a member of the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra, violinist of the Galliard String Quartet and Chamber Music Hawai‘i.

Dr. Liu holds received her doctorate in violin performance from Stony Brook University and graduate degrees from New England Conservatory, and bachelor’s from the University of Maryland – College Park, where her principal teachers include Pamela Frank, Philip Setzer, and James Buswell IV. She has also spent many summers with the Aspen Music Festival, Castleton Festival, Longy International Baroque Institute, National Repertory Orchestra, National Orchestral Institute, and the American Institute of Musical Studies in Graz, Austria. She has collaborated with Wu Han, Ani Kafavian, Colin Carr, Arthur Haas, the Emerson String Quartet, and others, and has given recitals at Carnegie Hall and Suntory Hall (Tokyo).

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Jim Benoit

James Benoit, a native of Niskayuna, New York, is the newly appointed Principal Timpanist of the Seattle Symphony. Previously, Benoit was the Associate Principal Percussionist and Assistant Principal Timpanist with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and spent three seasons as a section percussionist with the Sarasota Opera.

As an educator, Benoit was on faculty at the University of Pittsburgh and at the Luzerne Music Center. An avid supporter of music in the classroom, he also has worked as a teaching and performing artist with Associate Solo Artists, a non-profit organization that provides artistic interdisciplinary programs to children, teachers, businesses and social establishments by giving concerts, masterclasses and workshops in schools throughout New York.

Benoit received his Artist Diploma from Duquesne University, his Master of Music degree from The Juilliard School and his Bachelor of Music degree from the Berklee College of Music.

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Augie Lopaka Colon
Percussion & Birdcalls

Born in Hawaii, Lopaka Colón Jr. is an established percussionist and multi “Na Hoku Hanohano” award winner (Hawaii’s version of the Grammy’s). He's the son of the famous percussionist Augie Colón, and has since a young age followed in his father steps - he attended the University of Hawaii for 6 years majoring in Ethnomusicology.

In the late 90’s, Lopaka was part of the successful Pure Heart band, rated in the top-50 Musical Groups of All Times of Hawaii and also one of Hawaii’s youngest musical groups ever to take the local music scene by storm in such a short period. The group later evolved into Colón (named in honor of Lopakaʻs father). Both bands won the People's Choice award at the Hokuʻs as Favorite Entertainers of the Year for 2 years in a row. He has collaborated with majority of Hawaii’s top-notch musicians either doing studio work, live performances, or just having fun “Kanikapila”(musical jam).

Lopaka is a member of The Waitiki 7, in which he performs percussion and exotic birds and animals sounds, and he is also a key component in the success of several local bands like the Grammy-nominated Wild Hawaiian (a project with the Henry Kapono band), the Barefoot Natives, the Makana trio, The Mana Maoli Collective, Don Tiki, to name a few. He has performed with many other Hawaii's top musicians, including Mick Fleetwood's Island Rumours Band and Michael McDonald.

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Zaccai Curtis

After graduating from New England Conservatory in 2005, Zaccai Curtis moved to New York City where he performs regularly with artists such as: Donald Harrison, Cindy Blackman Santana, Eddie Palmieri, Christian Scott, Ralph Peterson, T.K. Blue, Brian Lynch, Ray Vega, and Eric Person amongst others.

Curtis composes and arranges for his own quartet, trio, Big-Band and more. In 2003 he was chosen as a winner of the ASCAP Young Jazz Composer’s competition and each year consecutively through 2006. Zaccai and his quartet were selected by the U.S. State Department to be in the American Music Abroad (Jazz Ambassadors) program two times in 2006. They performed in Bangladesh, Calcutta, Bangalore, Mumbai, Sri Lanka and Maldives. In 2007 Zaccai Curtis was awarded the ‘Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism’s Artist Fellowship’ for ‘original composition.’ In 2017 Curtis became a Chamber Music America: “New Jazz Works” grant recipient.

Zaccai currently performs his own music with his group ‘Curtis Brothers Quartet’ and released his album, Syzygy(2017) after three successful releases; ‘A Genesis,’ ‘Blood Spirit Land Water Freedom’ and ‘Completion of Proof.’

Zaccai, along with his brother Luques, has developed a recording collective (TRRcollective) of musicians that produce music on their own terms. He is proud to have been a producer for the GRAMMY nominated album (Entre Colegas 2016) released on the label (Truth Revolution Records/TRRcollective). 

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Greg Paré
Nick Mancini

Nick Mancini began his professional career as a drummer, at the age of 15. His undergrad studies earned him an A.S. from Schenectady County Community College and a B.M. (with honors) from The Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam. By the age of 23, he was a heavily called upon drummer in upstate NY but was feeling the tug of pursuing jazz more avidly. That was when he moved to NYC to attend Manhattan School of Music. DRUM Magazine’s Reader’s Poll named him “Best Jazz Percussionist” (on vibes).

Nick has performed and recorded with such diverse luminaries as Arturo Sandoval, Peter Erskine, Poncho Sanchez, Solange, Kenny Werner, Amos Lee, and Jennifer Holliday; and with the greatest young and emerging stars such as Kamasi Washington, Miguel Atwood-Fergusson, and Ben Wendel. 

Nick is on the jazz and percussion faculty at the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music at CSU Long Beach, and is a Jazz faculty member at CSU Northridge (CSUN). He serves a recurring faculty post for the Thelonious Monk Institute. Nick is endorsed by Majestic vibes and Innovative Percussion mallets.

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Matt Politano

Originally a trumpeter playing in the prestigious One O’Clock Lab band at the University of North Texas, Matt made the decision to switch to piano and transferred to the Manhattan School of Music where he studied under pianist Garry Dial. Since graduating and moving back to California he has become one of the best out here on the West Coast.  Having an endless stream of gigs backing up other musicians is admirable and a testament to his ability, but the downside is it has kept Matt from fully establishing himself as a creative artist in his own right, which is a travesty for such a transcendental improviser. He explores music with such artistry and imagination while still showing a deep respect for the beauty of a melody.

Matt has worked with many artists including Benny Green, John Clayton, Chris Potter, Walter Smith III, Jane Monheit, Sara Gazarek, Scott Weiland, Tom Scott, Bob Brookmeyer, Carol Kay, Kathleen Grace, Perry Smith, Kevin Kanner, Tom “Bones” Malone, Sam Minaie, Hamilton Price, Nate Wood, Robby Marshall, Peter Gallagher, and Clayton Cameron. In addition to his performing schedule, Matt is on faculty at Mt. San Antonio College, performs as part of Jazz at Lincoln Center, giving youth concerts throughout Los Angeles, and maintains his own private studio.

Nando Michelin

Discography as a bandleader includes more than 15 albums featuring artists such as Esperanza Spalding, George Garzone, Jerry Bergonzi, Chico Pinheiro, Ebinho Cardoso, Renato Braz, Sergio Santos, Jeff Ballard, and more

Recordings with Felipe Salles include seven albums featuring Randy Brecker and Dave Liebman

Performances with the Rogerio Boccato Quartet (New York), Katie Viqueira (Argentina), Jamelão (Brazil), and Jair Rodrigues (Brazil)

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Mark Walker

Grammy Award–winning drummer, percussionist, author, and educator Mark Walker began playing drum set at age 10 and played his first professional club, concert, and recording gigs barely out of high school. After studying with the great Roy C. Knapp, he gained valuable experience performing a wide range of styles in the Chicago, Illinois, area and later became a first-call session drummer and percussionist, playing on film scores, jingles, and record dates. 

Since moving to New York in 1995, he has performed on many Grammy Award–winning albums and earned several Grammy nominations (including best instrumental composition in 2008) for his work with various artists, including Oregon, Donato Poveda, Paquito D'Rivera, and the Caribbean Jazz Project. He has also earned Indy and Jazz awards (German record manufacturers) for his work with Oregon. He has performed and recorded extensively with Michel Camilo, Dave Samuels, Andy Narell, WDR Big Band, NDR Big Band, Eliane Elias, Lyle Mays, Dave Liebman, Cesar Camargo Mariano, Rosa Passos, and many more. He has appeared on major television shows such as Late Night with David Letterman, The Rosie O'Donnell Show, PBS Presents, and BET On Jazz. He also appears on screen with Paquito D'Rivera in Fernando Trueba's Latin jazz documentary Calle 54

Walker is a professor in the Percussion Department at Berklee College of Music. At Berklee, he has created new curriculum, served on the Education Committee, and taught drummers, percussionists, and ensembles since 2001. He also has served on the faculty at Drummers Collective in New York City and has conducted master classes, clinics, and workshops in South America, North America, and Europe, both as a solo artist and with various groups. His book World Jazz Drumming, which features recorded performances by Paquito D'Rivera, was released in 2009 to critical acclaim. He also wrote for the all-star instructional drum set book Killer Grooves.

Walker continues to tour with Oregon and Paquito D'Rivera. He writes for and leads Rhythm of the Américas, a jazz octet incorporating Caribbean and South American rhythms. His solo projects include the sample/loop discs Chameleon Drums, Vol 1 & 2 and Ritmo de las Americas.

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Eguie Castrillo

Ever since he moved to the United States from his native Puerto Rico, percussionist Eguie Castrillo has been fulfilling his childhood dream: becoming a successful and world-renowned percussionist. Castrillo has performed and recorded with prominent world music figures such as Tito Puente, Jennifer Lopez, Steve Winwood, Blood Sweat & Tears, Arturo Sandoval, the Boston Pop, Donna Summer, California Transit Authority (CTA), Paquito D’Rivera, KC and the Sunshine Band, Celia Cruz, and Michael Brecker, just to name a few. Eguie brings this incredible talent to every Introduction TCE show.

Castrillo is a Grammy Award winner (Arturo Sandoval’s Latin Jazz 1998 record of the year) and an engaging showman who performs year-round along with his Big Band in concerts, festivals, corporate parties, and clubs all around the United States. He sometimes adds to his band electrifying Mambo dancers to evoke the New York’s Palladium Ballroom era. His latest CD, Palladium Tradition, has been described by music critics as a “must-have” in anyone’s Big Band music collection.  In Italy, Palladium Tradition was named record of the month. Castrillo currently teaches at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. He also conducts music clinics and workshop tours around the world. Eguie Castrillo is endorsed by some of the most important musical instruments companies: Zildjian, Remo, Vic Firth and Toca Percussion.