Steve Masakowski has long been regarded as one of the top Jazz artists from New Orleans. Born and raised in New Orleans, Steve has played guitar with most of the city’s greatest musicians including Alvin “Red” Tyler, Ellis Marsalis, Earl Turbinton, and James Black. He has also performed with Grammy Award winning artists Bobby McFerrin, Nicholas Payton, and Dianne Reeves at major festivals around the world. As a recording artist, he has released numerous CD’s including two on the prestigious Blue Note Records label. He has been an active member of, and composer for the award winning New Orleans Jazz group Astral Project. He has twice been voted “Best Guitarist”, and won “Best Contemporary Jazz Group” three times by Gambit and Offbeat magazines in their annual reader’s polls. He has published lessons in Guitar Player magazine and authored the book Jazz Ear Training – Learning to Hear Your Way Through Music for Mel Bay Publications. Steve has participated in numerous Jazz concerts and workshops at major universities including Princeton, the University of Chicago, and the University on Indiana. Steve is currently on the faculty at the University of New Orleans where he holds the position of Coca-Cola Endowed Chair of Jazz Studies.
“I remember growing up in a time when every girl wanted to be Little Orphan Annie and so the rest of us had to listen to each one of them sing “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” through her nose. I have also met many very nice young ladies who consider themselves to be singers but probably ought to just keep it a hobby. Sasha Masakowski, I am happy to say, is the exception – she is really, really good.” –Y’Heard Review
a brief biography
Sasha Masakowski is a rising star on the New Orleans music scene. Being raised by a distinguished classical pianist mother and a legendary jazz guitarist father (Steve Masakowski of New Orleans’s Astral Project), she has a natural gift and love for music. Sasha began singing when she was very young and decided at a very early age that she wanted to pursue the career of a musicial artist. In high school she attended the prestigious New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and graduated as a highest level senior with a certificate in Musical Theatre. There she studied intensively the art of singing, as well as acting and dancing, and began frequently performing in major musical works around the city. She successfully continued her studies abroad on a full scholarship to a music conservatory in the Netherlands, this time focusing on the art and study of Jazz music. Returning home recently from her time abroad, Sasha has set out to capture audiences and make a name for herself in her hometown, New Orleans. Sasha is constantly seeking to progress the sound of her music and has deeply explored many sub-genres of jazz music to help cultivate her exotic style. She is a current member of one of New Orleans’ premier avant-garde improvisational bands, Free Jazz, Brah!, and she is also the leader of her own Latin/Electronica band which performs frequently in major clubs and festivals throughout the city. Sasha has also been featured as a modern straight-ahead jazz singer at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, as well as on the stages of prominent New Orleans jazz clubs, such as Snug Harbor, Club 300 Jazz Bistro, Donna’s, BeBee’s, the Polo Lounge, and the Mystick Den.
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“Westfall’s vibes show some Gary Burton heritage, but he’s really not playing it a whole lot like a vibraphone is played; the phrasings resemble more of an electric guitarist.” – Victor Aaron at BlogCritics.com writes. Westfall prides himself on continuing the tradition of breaking tradition. Whether he is performing with The Wee Trio or his solo projects, “Westfall continues to incorporate elements of rock and hip-hop.” – JazzTimes
Westfall was born in Houston, Texas where he attended the High School for Performing and Visual Arts. It was in Houston where he was able to perform with such American idols as Shania Twain and Dr. Billy Taylor. After his grandfather gave him a restored vibraphone, James made the switch from piano to vibraphone with fervor. After graduation he moved to New Orleans to continue his studies at UNO under the faculty of Ellis Marsalis, Harold Battiste, Steve Masakowski, and Ed Petersen. Still at an early age he was performing in bands led by successful New Orleans artists including Harold Battiste and “The Next Generation” and David Torkanowski. It was also around this time that he was chosen to attend Betty Carter Jazz Ahead at The Kennedy Center.
In 2003 Terence Blanchard helped mentor James and encouraged him to audition for The Thelonious Monk Institute. James was accepted and became the first vibe player to have been accepted. “Being the first vibe player doesn’t phase me because I’m a musician before I am a vibraphonist and a human being before I am a musician,” Westfall told The Gadget Press in 2005. While attending the Monk Institue he was able to fulfill his jazz dreams by performing at events/venues like The Tokyo Jazz Festival, Blue Note, and Blues Ally with artists including Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Kenny Garrett, and Clark Terry.
After moving back to New Orleans in 2005 he had a brief stint in New York where he formed The Wee Trio. This collaborative band continues to perform across the country at venues like The Jazz Bakery and Cornelia Street Café, at festivals, and an artist residency at a University. With their debut release of Capitol Diner Vol. 1, they have received rave reviews from the media including The Boston Globe who declares it a “winning debut.” Westfall also released his own record around this time titled Independent, where Jazztimes described it as “uplifting and distinctive.” To promote the recording he toured up and down the east coast hiring such luminaries as Tim Warfield. Also while in New York he was able to gain some sideman experience performing with the likes of Terri Lyne Carrington and Nicholas Payton.
Today Westfall is back in New Orleans and living in the Musician’s Village. He continues to promote both his record and The Wee Trio on a national level while sustaining his own voice in the New Orleans community.
Bassist, composer, and arranger Martin Masakowski is a recent graduate of the New Orleans Center for Creative Art (NOCCA) and currently a freshman in the jazz studies program at the University of New Orleans (UNO). His first experience in music was playing drums for his eighth grade school band. One year later, at age 14, he switched to playing bass shortly before beginning his studies at NOCCA, where he spent four years studying with Michael Pellera, Chris Severin, Jason Marsalis, and the late, great Alvin Batiste. Martin was also accepted into the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz High School program. Though this institute and NOCCA, he toured Miami with saxophonist Antonio Hart and singer Lisa Henry. At the young age of 18, Martin has already played many festivals in his hometown of New Orleans, as well as major festivals throught the US and France, and recently toured with pianist Sullivan Fortiner to Kobe, Japan. Martin is currently playing with his father, guitarist Steve Masakowski, as well his sister Sasha Masakowski, on vocals, in a quintet entitled NOVA NOLA with legendary drummer Ricky Sebastian and vibraphonist James Westfall. Martin Has also preformed with some of the top New Orleans musicians including Johnny Vidacovich, Herlin Riley, Terence Blanchard, Jason Marsalis, Harold Batiste, Don Vappie, Peter Martin, Evan Christopher, Delfayo Marsalis, David Torkanowsky, Hector Gallardo, and Irvin Mayfield. In addition to the acoustic bass, Martin is fluid on a number of other instruments, such as bass clarinet, flute, and bass recorder and is also well known for his visual art and photography. He cites Bill Evans, Scott LaFaro, Ray Brown, Eddie Gomez, and Dizzy Gillespie and being his top influences.
Ricky Sebastian is one of the premier musicians and music instructors in the world today. Born in Opelousas, Louisiana, he started taking drum lessons at the age of eight and excelled at an amazing rate due to the tutelage of two great band directors: Carl DeLeo and Carl Schexnayder. Ricky spent years as the section leader for the drum line in every school he attended into college. He also started piano studies at the age of 14. He attended the University of Southwestern Louisiana on a full scholarship and later attended Berklee College of Music in Boston on a partial scholarship. Ricky returned to New Orleans in 1976 and started working professionally with all the great musicians in every musical genre that the city had to offer. In the next six years, he gained experience playing different styles of music such as Jazz, Afro-Cuban, Traditional New Orleans music, Carnival music, Brazilian, Reggea, Calypso, Funk, Rock, R&B, Cajun, and Zydeco. After exhausting his musical possibilities in New Orleans, Ricky decided to move to New York City in 1983 as most of his musical idols lived there. Over the following 18 years, Ricky built a career as an in demand recording and touring artist with a who’s who in Jazz, Latin, Brazilian, Funk, New Orleans and Louisiana music, Fusion, and the list goes on. He moved back to New Orleans in 1998 and was the head percussion instructor at the University of New Orleans under the direction of Ellis Marsalis.
He’s released his first CD as a leader in 2001 entitled “The Spirit Within” on STR Digital Records featuring the likes of Donald Harrison Jr., Bill Summers, Steve Masakowski, Randy Brecker, and Peter Martin. He has also released a drum set instruction book/CD entitled “Independence on the Drum Set”, published by Hal Leonard in 2005. He is an active clinician for Zildjian cymbals, LP percussion, Remo drumheads, Audix Microphones, and Pro-Mark drumsticks.
Ricky has also taught private lessons and group classes (many of which he implemented and created the course material) for the infamous “Drummer’s Collective”, and “The New School for Social Research”, both located in New York City.
While at UNO, Ricky spearheaded “The World Music Ensemble” and “The UNO Percussion Ensemble”. In both classes, Ricky wrote much of the music that each ensemble performed at the end of the semester, and continues the tradition with a new drum school that he’s recently started in New Orleans, The Crescent City Drum School.