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John Cusick’s Jazz City is in Washington, D.C., a metropolitan area bristling with live jazz, from the nightclubs of U Street to Georgetown to Old Town Alexandria. It’s the home of Duke Ellington, Blues Alley and the Bohemian Caverns. Where big band show drummer Gene Krupa once entertained at downtown theaters. Where Buddy Rich thrilled sell-out audiences on his annual road tours. Where jazz luminaries Wynton Marsalis and Art Blakey have appeared in intimate nightclub settings.
An extraordinary percussionist, John studied with Bill Reichenbach, former drummer of the Charlie Byrd trio. He has performed with other jazz greats that call Washington home, such as legendary pianist John Malachi and Keter Betts, bassist for Ella Fitzgerald. He has entertained jazz fans in the Washington area for more than 30 years, and performed in concert at the Corcoran Gallery amphitheater and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He knows where to find the hottest — and smoothest — players on the local jazz scene.
Jazz has come a long way from its roots in New Orleans’ fabled Storeyville. Today, the art form is taught in universities and performed in concert halls like the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and Lincoln Center in New York City. In addition to their impressive performance resumes, two respected jazz educators perform in John Cusick’s Jazz City quintet. And the youngest member of the group, who has already made a name for himself around Washington, is well on his way to earning his master’s degree in jazz studies.
Ken Hall, guitar, received his master’s degree in jazz composition from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. In 1991, he toured the former Soviet Union on a State Department tour and has performed with jazz luminaries including Max Roach, Archie Shepp, Cecil Bridgewater and Slide Hampton. A faculty member of the National Guitar Workshop, he has taught jazz guitar at Amherst College, the University of Massachusetts, and Westfield State College.
Alvin Trask first heard trumpets in college bands in his native Baton Rouge, La. It was a sound he couldn’t forget. After playing in high school, he went on to earn a degree in classical trumpet performance at Louisiana State University. In 1989, he studied at the Thelonius Monk Institute in Dolo, Italy, and while attending graduate school performed and recorded with the Howard University Jazz Ensemble, one of the finest big bands in the region. He has performed with notable jazz vocalists and musicians including Marlene Shaw, Stanley Cowel, Delfayo Marsalis and Grady Tate. He is an adjunct professor of music at Trinity College in Washington and chair of the Performing Arts Department of St. Stephen and St. Agnes High School in Alexandria, Va.
Eric Wheeler began playing the bass at age ten. He studied music through the D.C. Youth Orchestra program and at age thirteen was accepted at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. There, his passion for jazz exploded under the tutelage of jazz saxophonist Davey Yarborough. After graduating Duke Ellington in 2000, he was accepted into the music program at Howard Universtiy, where he is now a master jazz studies major. He performs at various venues in the Washington area including Twins Jazz, the Bohemian Caverrns, H.R. 57, the Kennedy Center and Blues Alley.