Board of Advisors
“Rapp has his own way of defining jazz, which keeps its standard principles… while delving into the experimental side…”- JazzTimes
“Rapp lives up to his billing as one of today’s exciting young trumpeters.”- AllAboutJazz.com
Mark Rapp earned his Masters in Jazz Studies from the University of New Orleans studying with piano Master, Ellis Marsalis and continuing to live and play in New Orleans for 5 years. He has recorded and released 4 diverse records, including leading and recording the closing track of Disney’s CD “Everybody Wants to be a Cat,” which also features Roy Hargrove, Dave Brubeck, Esperanza Spalding, The Bad Plus, Joshua Redman and more.
Rapp’s celebrated 2009 debut release, “Token Tales,” earned him a spot as a “Top Emerging Trumpeter” by Downbeat Magazine. His CD “Braden-Rapp: The Strayhorn Project” with saxophone great Don Braden features multi-Grammy nominee Gerald Clayton and vocalist Sachal Vasandani.
The Song Project (thesongproject.net), a unique trio co-led with guitarist/vocalist Derek Lee Bronston, released an industry first “Applum” (a complete multimedia album experience packaged and distributed via the iPad and iPhone). Critics praise his latest CD, Good Eats, a tribute to legendary saxophonist Lou Donaldson.
Rapp has quickly established himself as one of the most promising, cross over, contemporary artists in modern jazz.
BRIANNA WILLIAMS, ESQ
Brianna Williams is an attorney practicing in the areas of entertainment, employment, diversity management, and OFCCP compliance.
She is the founder of Mélange, a full service legal and consulting firm specializing in helping individuals and organizations visualize their dreams, implement tools to reach them, and protect them from harm. Through Mélange, Brianna has helped several organizations manage their differences, similarities, and tensions in meaningful ways. She has presented at conferences across the country on the topics of diversity management, OFCCP compliance, and strategic visioning, and her work has been published nationally.
In addition to a rich employment/diversity practice, Mélange’s entertainment practice is a full-service operation geared toward artists in the music industry. Among the clients represented by the firm are Jacquees (Cash Money Records), Rich Homie Quan, Trinidad James, and Reese Johnson (producer for Alicia Keys, Aaron Hall, and Changing Faces).
Brianna is also an active member of the community. She has served as the Director of Communications for the National Bar Association, is a voting member of The Recording Academy; is an active volunteer for the Georgia Lawyers for the Arts; has served as a guest lecturer in Music Business at Loyola University, and is a board member of Music in the Park ATL. In 2010, Brianna was recognized as one of the Nation’s Best Advocates: Top 40 Under 40 by The National Bar Association and IMPACT.
Brianna is admitted to practice in both Georgia and Louisiana.
Justin has served as The Velvet Note’s Music Director since the club’s doors first opened, and is one of the founders of the guiding concept “by musicians, for musicians”. Born in Jacksonville, Florida and residing in Atlanta, GA, Justin Varnes began studying music at 10 – on the trumpet. His father – an avid jazz listener – exposed him to Stan Kenton, Nat “King” Cole and Erroll Garner. After attending Douglas Anderson School of the Arts on trumpet, Justin studied drum set with Ray Charles alumnus Rick Kirkland. Then he studied music at the University of North Florida under Charlotte Mabrey, Bill Prince and Bunky Green while continuing to take privately from Rick Kirkland. After graduating with degrees in jazz studies and percussion, Justin relocated to New York City where he continued to study at the New School and study privately with Jojo Mayer. In New York, Justin began touring with Phoebe Snow, with whom he performed on the Roseanne Barr Show, as well as National Public Radio’s “World Cafe” (Justin would later perform on “World Cafe” with “Five for Fighting”).
While in New York, Justin also studied with Vernel Fournier, Reggie Workman, and Joe Chambers. Outside of private lessons, he received a healthy education on Tuesday and Wednesday nights at Small’s listening to Kurt Rosenwinkle (with Jeff Ballard) and the Sam Yahel Trio (with Brian Blade). He also developed musically through regular rehearsing and performing in groups led by Coby Brown, Oscar Perez, Bob Reynolds, Nate Shaw and Doug Wamble.
Justin has performed with Mose Allison, Wesell Anderson, Kenny Barron, Ann Hampton Callaway, Victor Goines, Wycliffe Gordon, Vincent Herring, The Earl Klugh Trio, Oscar Perez, Bob Reynolds, Lew Soloff, David Sanchez, Annie Sellick, Phoebe Snow, Ira Sullivan, Christian Tamburr and Doug Wamble.
Ron Simblist has been a fan of music (primarily jazz) since his youth. While growing up in Boston, he had the unique opportunity of going to see Dizzy, Monk, Ella and many other greats. He didn’t fully realize who they were, but for obvious reasons understood the greatness of the music.
There was a drought for quite a while after Ron and his family moved to Atlanta. The mid-nineties foun Ron getting active in the local jazz scene in order to help the musicians who played for very little in the city.
The group “In The Spirit” was formed by Ron as a collaborative effort to make things happen. Former members of the group have gone on to win Grammy awards and achieve great success. Lizz Wright became a new member of the group and Ron went on to help her get signed to Verve records and to perform with greats such as Dave Brubeck before she released her first cd. There were management stints with Rene’ Marie, Rebecca Martin (signed to MAXJAZZ), Aaron Goldberg and Willie Joes 111. A fundraiser for the late Billy Higgins enabled Ron to form an everlasting friendship with NEA award winner Charles Lloyd. While relaxing in Atlanta he hangs out with the likes of Freddy Cole and Terreon Gully.
The next phase for Ron was to form Chatt Hills Music www.chatthillsmusic.com in late 2012. CHM has been growing steadily and presents a diverse range of music programs including jazz, Americana and Bluegrass. There has been an outdoor event in a local park featuring the Brubeck Brothers. It has been a privilege to build a music program in a community that was totally underserved for music.
As a graduate of the prestigious Juilliard School and Manhattan School of Music, N’Kenge has been hailed by Variety as “a sensational powerhouse of a singer packed in a lithe body” and has been praised by critics for her show-stopping performances.
N’Kenge’s versatility spans a range of genres, from Opera to Pop. When she made her Carnegie Hall debut with the New York Pops Orchestra, her talent was compared by The New York Times as a “more classically-oriented Lena Horne.” She has performed alongside jazz greats such as Wynton Marsalis and Ornette Coleman at Lincoln Center, and has been a Principal Artist at the New York City Opera. N’Kenge was also honored to perform for the Commander-in-Chief’s Inaugural Ball hosted by President Obama.
N’Kenge’s accomplishments on the musical stage are equally impressive. She made her Broadway debut in Sondheim on Sondheim performing alongside Vanessa Williams and Barbara Cook, and recently returned from starring in the World Tour of the Michael Jackson Tribute Show. She also made her West End debut in London starring in The Genius of Ray Charles show at the Royal Haymarket Theater and has been nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress for the title role in Elton John’s Aida and as a diva in Marion Caffey’s 3 Mo’Divas.
2012-2013 is an exciting year for N’Kenge, during which she will release a new record produced by Berry Gordy of Motown fame, perform as a soloist with Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and a return to Carnegie Hall with the New York Pops Orchestra. N’Kenge will also be portraying the role of Mary Wells in the Broadway-bound Motown musical. Equally at home on the opera stage, N’Kenge has been seen in a range of opera roles and given recitals at the White House, Kennedy Center, and at the Library of Congress which it was broadcast worldwide through NPR.
STEPHANE LE GOUILLE
Mr. Le Gouille hails from Brittany, France, where he attended pastry school and then went on to receive his degree in restaurant management. For the past 15 years, he has served as the Dining Captain/Maitre d’ of the acclaimed Patroon restaurant in New York City.
“Advertising, location and word-of-mouth will drive guests into your living room,” he says, “but it is meticulous focus on each and every table that will keep them coming back. It is fun for me to provide guests with outstanding service and I feel grateful to be able to do this for a living, but you cannot fake your way through it. It is the real knowledge of wines, handling problems, maintenance and décor, a service personality that means the difference between being good and truly being viewed as world class.”
Each year, Mr. LeGouille and his restaurant team serve corporate executives, politicians, and an array of noted celebrities. He is the author of the upcoming book, Conversations with a World Class Maitre d’, and will provide ongoing advice and training to The Velvet Note on all matters of guest service.
Ms. Wytanis received a Bachelor’s degree in Music Education with an emphasis in piano from Rowan University in New Jersey. Her experience includes performances with several professional entertainers such as Paul Anka, teaching several years of public school music education, and offering private piano lessons for many years. Her experience in performing and teaching equips her with a variety of tools in order to encourage a lifelong appreciation of music. Ms. Wytanis currently resides in Suwanee, Georgia with her husband and five musical children.
Matt Williams is a customer experience focused technology manager residing outside of Philadelphia, PA. He has honed his craft and expertise with companies like T-Mobile, Apple and Viddler.
This proud Michigan native is a lower level “digerati” who jokingly “still” loves music after a decade of the violin with a couple of years on the slide trombone mixed in. Matt was a member of the highly regarded Pittsburgh Junior Strings in the mid 90’s.
LINDSEY THORNHILL, PH.D
Lindsey is currently a Vice President and Division Manager for Integrated Solutions for Systems, a small business engaged in a variety of engineering R&D projects. Prior to joining IS4S, Lindsey was a Senior Director for Program Management and Division Manager in the Global Markets and Missions Sector of Science Applications International Corporation. Lindsey manages a diverse staff of scientists and engineers engaged in a broad spectrum of defense-related research and development projects. He earned B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees from the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech, where he currently chairs the Woodruff School External Advisory Board and serves on the College of Engineering Advisory Board. Lindsey also serves on the the Parent Leadership Councils at both Belmont University and the University of Georgia. Lindsey has authored more than 50 publications, served as a reviewer for peer-reviewed journals, and delivered invited talks at international conferences and before the JASON Panel of the Department of Defense. He has served on dissertation reading committees, he co-directed student paper competitions at Georgia Tech and at Clark Atlanta University, and he has mentored students from a local magnet high school for the sciences.
Lindsey has been a passionate devotee of jazz music since the age of 13, when his high school band director took him and several other students to see Buddy Rich and his band. That evening, Lindsey spent more than two hours sitting on the floor, directly in front of the band stand, completely mesmerized by all that he was hearing and seeing. Following that musically transformational evening, Lindsey went on to discover the amazing depth and breadth of musical creativity that is jazz – both from the masters who originated the music and the contemporary artists who continue to innovate and evolve jazz today. The parallels between performing jazz and conducting scientific research fascinate Lindsey, each involving collaboration, improvisation, and the exploration of new ideas.
Lindsey’s greatest privilege is getting to be dad to two terrific sons who are both devoted fans of and participants in jazz music. Their common interest in jazz has provided the Thornhill family with countless hours of enjoyable time together and promises to do so for many years to come.