As part of the Jazz in Progress: The Next Faces of Jazz Series – The Borough of Manhattan Community College Tribeca Performing Arts Center hosted a special evening of jazz from emerging jazz ensemble SULA on March 30th. The series is a partnership between BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center and the DC Jazz Festival. DCJazzPrix – a part of DC Jazz Fest, is a global competition created to recognize and support top rising jazz band talent and designed to help launch and promote the careers of emerging jazz ensembles. This past year’s competition was held on June 15th, 2017 at the University of the District of Columbia.
SULA, a NYC-based crossover jazz group led by drummer Diego Joaquin Ramirez were finalist of the 2017 Jazz Prix Competition. Formed in 2016, they’ve been refining their sound with individual performances around New York City. The line up includes Caili O’Doherty (piano), Michael Mayo (vocals), Wayne Tucker (trumpet), Diego Joaquin Ramirez (drums), Tamir Shmerling (bass), and Asaf Yuria (sax).
SULA’s sound is a unique fusion of traditional jazz and modern jazz with an occasional journey into other musical genres. The chemistry is ever present in their music as each highly talented musician maintain their own busy schedules performing at different jazz venues across New York City. Vocalist Michael Mayo has an extraordinary voice with wide range. A native of Los Angeles, Mayo received his Masters Degree at Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance (and only the third vocalist ever to be accepted into the program). At only age 24, he has already worked with jazz greats Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Luciana Souza, John Pattitucci and many others. Mayo’s silky vocals provide the perfect overtone and harmony in each composition whether joined by the piano, trumpet, saxophone, or by himself singing solo. Emerging pianist Caili O’Doherty brings her own unique creativity to SULA by way of both piano and keyboard. A Portland, Oregon native and graduate of Berklee College of Music, Caili has had the opportunity to perform with Joe Lovano, Dave Liebman, Terri Lyne Carrington and many other distinguished jazz musicians at jazz festivals in Monterrey, Toronto, Panama, Dominican Republic and a host of other locations around the world. Hearing her play, one can fully understand why she’s in demand on the NYC jazz scene and beyond. O’Doherty’s solos are both mesmerizing and powerful, lending a dynamic piano sound that pulls SULA closer together throughout each composition.
Drummer and founding member Diego Joaquin Ramirez was born in Ireland and played his first gig on drum set with his father’s band at age 4! He has attended Berklee College of Music, the Betty Carter Jazz Ahead Program and The Banff International Jazz Workshop with past performances at Montreal Jazz Festival, SXSW, and the DC Jazz Fest. Ramirez displays impeccable timing on SULA’s more complex arrangements with a disciplined ear for navigating through the softer tunes that highlight both Michael Mayo’s vocals and the horns. Bass player Tamir Shmerling, born in Israel, also studied at Berklee College of Music. He has recorded and performed with artists such as Terri Lyne Carrington, Kevin Eubanks, and Nona Hendrix at festivals in Tokyo, Toronto, Montreal, and Newport. Shmerling’s play on both upright and electric bass provide an amazing backdrop to SULA’s sound, giving the music a solid foundation.
SULA brass Wayne Tucker and Asaf Yuria complete the ensemble. Tucker – trumpet player, composer, and arranger is based in New York City and a graduate of the Jazz Studies Program at SUNY Purchase. He has performed with Dee Dee Bridgewater, Taylor Swift, and Ne-Yo with television appearances on The Today Show, America’s Got Talent, and Ellen DeGeneres. Tucker’s trumpet playing is skillfully varied to be improvisational when belting out solos and conforming when matching the saxophone of Yuria along with the silky voice of Michael Mayo. His stage presence exudes strict attention and energy into each song. Saxophone player Asaf Yuria is one of the leading young voices of the New York jazz scene. He graduated with honors from the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music under the tutelage of music masters like Reggie Workman, Billy Harper, George Cables and more. He has performed with notable musicians such as Freddie Redd, Kirk Lightsy and drummer Jimmy Cobb. Yuria’s saxophone style seperates him from many others. He plays with power and passion – something that is often void in many modern jazz ensembles. His solos were amazing and much like Tucker on the trumpet, he also demonstrates skillful discipline when matching his fellow bandmates to provide a dynamic unified sound.
SULA’s perfomance at BMCC-TPAC capped off an amazing exhibition of jazz talent made possible by the partnership between BMCC-Tribeca Performing Arts Center and DC Jazz Festival. The partnership is critical to the development and legacy of jazz music in all forms. Having had the opportunity to hear all three finalist in last year’s DC Jazz Prix (AMP Trio, SULA, and Ernest Turner Trio) along with the 2016 DC Jazz Prix winners (New Century Jazz Quintet), it is clear to witness how vital these competitions are at promoting and supporting emerging jazz band talent. Not only do the ensemble members play at an exceptionally talented level, but they also reflect an impressionable maturity and demeanor that resembles those greats that came before them. The success of this partnership and program has the possibility to catch on in major cities across the nation and most importantly revive the rich legacy of jazz music.
SULA is emerging onto the jazz scene with beautifully composed music and a diversely talented group of young musicians eager to share their talents with the world. Be sure to check them out!
– Jamaal Bailey (Urban Heat Advisory)