Meet Our Faculty Musicians
Stephen M. Lee
Founder and Artistic Director
Stephen Lee is a Memphis native who has come full circle. His talent and love for music have carried him miles from home, only to return with the wholehearted desire to enrich and serve his home community.
Stephen found a passion for piano at the age of 8 and has never once looked back. While at the University of Tennessee, he studied with Jazz legend Donald Brown before moving to New York City to formally launch his career as a Jazz artist. The move to New York served him well. It proved to be fertile ground, providing him with access to many of the giants of Jazz and landing him in some of the most hallowed venues in the country such as Smalls, Birdland, and Iridium. During his tenure in the city, he shared a stage with stars including Esperanza Spaulding, Corcoran Holt, Ulysses Owens, Jr., Billy Johnson, Gregory Porter and highly lauded fellow Memphian Kirk Whalum. In addition to his performance credentials, he served as Musical Director for Crenshaw Christian Center under the leadership of Dr. Fredrick Price, one of the most well-known names in ministry. In New York, he completed his undergraduate studies with a Bachelor’s in Jazz Performance from City College.
Upon his move to Memphis in 2009, the growth, opportunities, and accolades continued. He continued his studies, earning a Master’s degree in Education from Freed Hardeman University. In 2012, Stephen received the “Rhythm of Gospel Award”. In 2013 he was nominated for the first round of the “Stellar Gospel Awards” for his album debut, “Music is the Key of My Life”. In 2017, he won the Steinway and Sons “Top Teacher Award” and the “Jimmie Lunceford Legacy Award”. He moves forward in the spirit of service and humility, firmly committed to the youth and music arts community in Memphis. He values the importance and impact of the arts for young people, which he understands firsthand. Stephen says, “Being connected to something you feel passionate about makes a huge difference in a kid’s life. Finding music was a game changer for me.” Stephen put his words into action with his work as a piano instructor initially at Stax Music Academy and currently at Visible Music College. As a Fellow for the Memphis Music Initiative, he also teaches at Overton and Booker T. Washington High Schools.
Stephen is the publisher of “In Concert Magazine”, an e-zine viewed in over 100 different countries promoting Jazz artists from around the world. He is also a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., husband and father to two young girls.
Sam Shoup was born and reared in Memphis. After earning a degree in Music Composition from the University of Memphis, Sam spent ten years as a jingle writer for Media General Broadcast Services. In 1990, Sam began specializing in orchestral and big band arranging. He is currently a staff arranger for the National Symphony Orchestra at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., as well as the New York Pops Orchestra, Houston Symphony, and the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. Sam is currently Professor of Jazz Studies at the University of Memphis.
Sam has performed and recorded with Ringo Starr, Tony Bennett, Willie Nelson, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Aaron Copland and more. Visit http://samshoup.com for more info.
Saxophone & Winds
One of the most accomplished professional musicians in Memphis, Gary Topper, saxophonist, has played wide-ranging genres with Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Jerome Richardson and Tony Bennet. Some of Gary’s credits include Broadway performances in “Saturday Night Fever” and “Phantom of the Opera”. He also contributed to many movie soundtracks and has recording credits which include Keith Richards, Jimmy Buffett, Al Green.
Home-grown, “Johnny” was inspired to play the trumpet while in elementary school by his older brother, a saxophonist. While at Southside High School, he was introduced to Jazz by his band director James Keys. He was mentored by a senior classmate, Donald Brown, who later became an internationally acclaimed pianist with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. Attending Memphis State University, he majored in music education. Always a lover of big bands and Jazz orchestras, Johnny was inspired to form his own group in 2002, the Sanctuary Jazz Orchestra. Johnny is quoted as saying, “Jazz is the true music from the soul and for the soul.”
Philadelphia native, Will Wright, began his studies at age 9 at the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts. In high school he attended the Governor’s School for the Arts, where he received the Louis Armstrong Jazz Trumpet Award. He attended Manhattan School of Music, New School University, and Cheyney University and has toured in the US as well as Europe. After returning from tour, he continued teaching at the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts, where he later received the Berklee Pulse Master Teacher Award.
Will Wright is best known for his energetic teaching and playing styles as well as being knowledgeable and experienced yet efficient and always about the advancement of musicianship. He has shared the stage and performed alongside greats such as Bobby Watson, George Clinton, Jimmy Owens, Ingrid Jenson, Oliver Lake, Bernard Purdie, Cecil Bridgewater, Breakwater and many more.
Jiana has degrees in Jazz Studies Performance (MM) from Western Michigan University and Vocal Music Education (BME) from Kentucky State University. Her experience as a music educator includes over 17 years of leadership and instruction of collegiate and grade school students in various genres of music. She has served as Vocal Division Head for Visible Music College (Contemporary Christian Music, Memphis, TN) and Adjunct and Professor of Vocal Jazz at Oakland University (Rochester, MI). Additionally, she has served as choral and vocal Jazz director for Stax Music Academy.
Born in Paris, TN, Tom grew up in the family’s music store, LONARDO PIANO COMPANY, and in his father’s 10 piece dance band, Tom Lonardo & his Orchestra – “Tops In Dancing and Listening Pleasure.”
Tom has played drums for over 50 years! He holds a BM and MM from The University of Mississippi and attended The Berklee School of Music studying with Alan Dawson, but is mostly “self-taught”. He was inducted into the Ole Miss Jazz Hall of Fame in 1991 and in 2011 received the “Life Time Achievement Award” from The Memphis Musical Heritage Foundation. Tom likes to play the drum set every night somewhere . . . usually around Memphis.
James Sexton’s musical journey began around the age of 5, while taking piano lessons from his aunt. Around the age of 12, he grew a knack for beating on pots, pans, and empty paint buckets. He had a friend in his home church who had a drum set. They would take turns playing with James’ mom, who was the church pianist, each Sunday until one Christmas when James was surprised with his own beginner “Percussion Plus Drumset” – the rest is history. James has worked, played, recorded, and performed live with countless numbers of artist in many different genres of music. He has been everything from the house drummer at the world famous B.B. Kings on Beale St., to the main percussionist for the Bountiful Blessings COGIC Orchestra, under the late Bishop G.E. Patterson. Notable artists with whom he has worked include Mulgrew Miller, Donald Brown, George Duke, Marcus Miller, David Porter, Kirk Whalum, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Ben Tankard, Anthony Brown, En Vogue, and many more. Currently, James is the minister of music of Peace Baptist Church, in Memphis, TN. He is the drummer for the Garry Goin Group, the house drummer for the Memphis Grizzlies, and the drummer and musical director for “Garry Goin Presents ‘American Vinyl'”, produced by Pinnacle Entertainment. He performs for weddings, corporate events, and private functions. For regular solo public appearances, you can catch him at the Zebra Lounge, in midtown Memphis.
Sylvester Sample, a native of Memphis, Tennessee, has had extensive performing experiences including concert performances with: Dihann Carroll, Sammy Davis, Jr, Pat Metheny, Toots Theilmans, Bob Crosby, Carla, Rufus and Vanesse Thomas and more.
Some of his former group affiliations include: (Memphis) Midtown Jazz Mobile, Tony Caselli Orchestra in Chicago and Milwaukee; Dallas Christian Jazz Band; Pecos River Brass Big Band and Les Elgart Orchestra. He is currently performing around Memphis,TN with The Sanctuary Jazz Orchestra; Carl Wolfe's Band; MFNH Band; Charles Scurlock, Sidney Kirk, and Bill Hurd. Some of his recording credits include: James Williams – Flying Colors; Midtown Jazz Mobile – Bakatak, Fugitive ; Gerard Harris – No Strings Attached; Backswing – Backswing, The Big Band Sound of Memphis; Dwight Lenox – Gershwin and Friends. Sylvester earned a B.S. from the University of Memphis and an M.B.A. from the Illinois Institute of Technology.
Eddie Clark has been playing the bass trombone professionally for almost 40 years. He has been a very busy freelance player for almost 4 decades. He has performed with many legendary, A-List artists – Quincy Jones, Frankie Valley and the Four Seasons, Dick Van Dyke, Rita Moreno, Tom Jones, Rosemary Clooney, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Lionel Hampton, even Liberace! There are too many more to name. He has also played on more than 40 albums including Matchbox Twenty’s Mad Season. In addition to the numerous albums, shows and stage performances and over 500 recording sessions, Eddie has played with orchestras across the country from the New York Virtuosi Symphony to the Columbus (GA) Symphony to his home base, Memphis Symphony Orchestra.
A native of Shelbyville, KY and alumnus of North Texas State University, Eddie has called Memphis home for the past 8.5 years. Of his work with Memphis Jazz Workshop he says, “It is my honor to share the benefit of my wisdom of my experiences with young people. We pass the torch but we must also pass along the knowledge.”
In addition to the working with students at Memphis Jazz Workshop, he is currently playing gigs and shows from Memphis to Atlanta