Skip to main content

47th Carolina Jazz Festival and 18th North Carolina Regional Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Festival – Thursday-Saturday, February 15-17, 2024

Carolina Jazz Festival Schedule – February 15-17

The UNC Jazz Studies faculty and students thank Howard Aldrich and Jeff Chandler for their generosity in providing support which enables UNC Jazz Studies to host the annual Carolina Jazz Festival/Essentially Ellington Regional Festival.  We thank Jamey Aebersold for sponsoring our guest artists who are brought to campus as part of the Jamey Aebersold Visiting Artist Series.  We thank Thomas F. Steward for his generous gift which funds the day-to-day operations of UNC Jazz Studies. We also thank Dr. Jesse White for his generous contributions in honor of Jim Ketch which have provided support for the purchase of instruments that are used in the UNC Jazz Band.  We thank the Kyser family, Fred and Gail Fearing, Jim and Jo Ann Harllee, Andy Shapiro and Anna Libers, and other anonymous donors for their kindness in supporting student scholarships and student initiatives.  We also thank Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Caviness and Mr. Jonathan Edward Lewis, and Mr. Nick Sengstaken for their generous contributions.


Christian McBride moved to New York in 1989 to pursue classical studies at the Juilliard School. There he was promptly recruited to the road by saxophonist Bobby Watson. Call it a change in curriculum: a decade’s worth of study through hundreds of recording sessions and countless gigs with an ever-expanding circle of musicians. He was finding his voice, and others were learning to listen for it.

In 2000 the lessons of the road came together in the formation of what would become his longest-running project, the Christian McBride Band. Praised by writer Alan Leeds as “one of the most intoxicating, least predictable bands on the scene today,” the CMB—saxophonist Ron Blake, keyboardist Geoffrey Keezer, and drummer Terreon Gully—have been collectively evolving McBride’s all-inclusive, forward-thinking outlook on music through their incendiary live shows, as chronicled on 2006’s Live at Tonic. Part excursion, part education, the CMB is a vehicle built on a framework of experience and powered by unfettered creativity: a mesmerizing dance on the edge of an electro-acoustic fault line.

In 2009 McBride began focusing this same energy through a more traditional lens with the debut of his critically-acclaimed Inside Straight quintet, and again with the Christian McBride Big Band, whose 2012 release The Good Feeling won the GRAMMY for Best Large Ensemble Jazz Album. As his career entered its third decade, McBride added the role of mentor, tapping rising stars pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr. for the Christian McBride Trio’s GRAMMY-nominated album  Out Here.

He is also a respected educator and advocate, first noted in 1997 when he spoke on former President Bill Clinton’s town hall meeting “Racism in the Performing Arts.” He has since been named Artistic Director of the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Summer Sessions (2000), co-director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem (2005), and the Second Creative Chair for Jazz of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association (2005).

In 1998 he combined roles, composing “The Movement, Revisited,” a four-movement suite dedicated to four of the major figures of the civil rights movement: Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The piece was commissioned by the Portland (ME) Arts Society and the National Endowment for the Arts, and performed throughout New England in the fall of 1998 with McBride’s quartet and a 30-piece gospel choir. For its tenth anniversary, “The Movement, Revisited” was expanded, rewritten, and revamped to feature an 18-piece big band and four actors/speakers in addition to the gospel choir. It was performed in Los Angeles at Walt Disney Concert Hall, and praised by the Los Angeles Times as “a work that was admirable—to paraphrase Dr. King—for both the content of its music and the character of its message.”

Currently he hosts and produces “The Lowdown: Conversations With Christian” on SiriusXM satellite radio and National Public Radio’s “Jazz Night in America,” a weekly radio show and multimedia collaboration between WBGO, NPR and Jazz at Lincoln Center, showcasing outstanding live jazz from across the country. With his staggering body of work, McBride is the ideal host, drawing on history, experience, and a gift for storytelling to bridge the gap between artist, music, and audience. He brings that same breadth of experience to bear as Artistic Advisor for Jazz Programming at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC).

Completing the circle is his work with Jazz House Kids, the nationally recognized community arts organization founded by his wife, vocalist Melissa Walker.  Exclusively dedicated to educating children through jazz, the “Jazz House” concept brings internationally renowned jazz performers to teach alongside a professional staff, offering students a wide range of creative programming that develops musical potential, enhances leadership skills, and strengthens academic performance. This shared celebration of America’s original musical art form cultivates tomorrow’s community leaders and global citizens while preserving its rich legacy for future generations.

Whether behind the bass or away from it, Christian McBride is always of the music. From jazz (Freddie Hubbard, Sonny Rollins, J.J. Johnson, Ray Brown, Milt Jackson, McCoy Tyner, Roy Haynes, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, to R&B (Isaac Hayes, Chaka Khan, Natalie Cole, Lalah Hathaway, and the one and only Godfather of Soul himself, James Brown) to pop/rock (Sting, Paul McCartney, Carly Simon, Don Henley, Bruce Hornsby) to hip-hop/neo-soul (The Roots, D’Angelo, Queen Latifah) to classical  (Kathleen Battle, Edgar Meyer, Shanghai Quartet, Sonus Quartet), he is a luminary with one hand ever reaching for new heights, and the other extended in fellowship—and perhaps the hint of a challenge—inviting us to join him.

Saxophonist, Composer and Educator Sharel Cassity (pron. “Sha-Relle”) is prominent on the New York and Chicago jazz scenes. Listed as “Rising Star Alto Saxophone” in Downbeat Magazine for the past 12 years, Sharel has appeared on the Today Show, Good Morning America, The Colbert Show, is in the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, and is a recipient of the ASCAP Young Jazz Composers Award.

Sharel has worked with Multi-Grammy Award-winning artist Jennifer Hudson; Top 40 hit singer-songwriter Natalie MerchantAretha Franklin, Vanessa Williams, Trisha Yearwood, Ruben Blades, & DJ Logic among others. Sharel has also worked with NEA Jazz Masters Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Jimmy Heath, and Christian McBride; she has also appeared as a guest soloist with the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. As a bandleader, Sharel’s five albums have received top-rated reviews in publications like the Chicago Tribune, New York Times, JazzTimes, Jazziz, Downbeat & American Indian News, & Saxophone Journal. Cassity runs her record label “Relsha Music” and directs the educational program “Jazz Up.”

 A skilled and versatile sideman, Sharel is a current member of the Dizzy Gillespie Latin Experience and All-Star Big Band. She has also performed frequently alongside renowned Grammy-winning artists Roy Hargrove, Nicholas Payton, Lewis Nash, Joe Chambers & Darcy James Argue. Sharel has toured 24 countries and performed at leading venues like the Newport Jazz Festival, Monterey Jazz Festival & the North Sea Jazz Festival. Additionally, Sharel was lead alto in the Diva Jazz Orchestra from 2007-2014 and performed in Wynton Marsalis’ Broadway musical After Midnight. Selected to attend The Juilliard School under full scholarship for a Masters in Music, Sharel earned her BFA from The New School for Jazz & Contemporary Music in 2005.

Sharel appears in publications “I Walked with Giants” by Jimmy Heath, “Three Generations Under the Lens” by Adrianna Mateo, and “Freedom of Expression: Interviews with Women in Jazz” by Chris Becker. Sharel is also alumni of  IAJE Sisters in Jazz, Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead, and the Ravinia Summer Residency.

Steeped in the classical tradition, Sharel placed third in the Disney International Piano Concerto Competition at 10 and was offered a full scholarship to North Texas State University for classical saxophone at 18.

Moving frequently throughout her childhood, Sharel graduated high school in Yukon, Oklahoma. In 2000 she moved to New York City and relocated to Chicago in 2017 with her family. Currently, Cassity is a professor in the Chicago area at Columbia College, DePaul University & Elgin Community College. Sharel is a proud Yamaha and Vandoren Performing Artist.

Learn more about the North Carolina Regional Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Festival
2024 Registration Information Here!


Dr. Stephen Anderson, Director of Jazz Studies, Jazz Piano, Composition
Rahsaan Barber, Director of the UNC Jazz Band, Saxophone, Improvisation
JC Martin, Lecturer, Jazz Guitar
Jason Foureman, Lecturer, Jazz Bass
Dan Davis, Lecturer, Drumset
Dr. Juan Álamo, Associate Professor of Percussion, Jazz Studies


If you have questions about the festival, please contact Dr. Stephen Anderson.

Dr. Stephen Anderson, D.M.A.
Professor, Composition and Jazz Studies (piano)
Director of Jazz Studies
Department of Music, CB #3320
The University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3320
919.537.1358 Cell (Artist Site) NEW Desde Lejos CD!