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BOARD OF DIRECTORS

Shireen Dickson
President, Choreographer/Producer

Shireen Dickson has worked in dance and arts education for over 20 years – as a performer, teaching artist, lecturer, curriculum developer, and NYC Dept of Education classroom teacher.  She spent 10 years performing with and assisting award-winning choreographer Dianne McIntyre at renowned performance venues, dance and jazz festivals throughout the country.  In addition to currently directing the 25-year old Okra Dance Company (which presents programs featuring African American vernacular and world rhythmic and folk dances) Shireen has developed programs and presented for a diverse range of institutions including NY Dance Parade, Elizabeth Streb, Pilobolus, National Black Arts Festival, and United Federation of Teachers. Shireen is a founding member of the Collegium for African Diaspora Dance based at Duke University and directs their bi-annual international conference.

Roberto Benitez
Educator

Over his more than 30 year career as a public school educator in New York City schools, Roberto Benitez has served as a teacher of foreign languages, principal and assistant principal in middle schools, citywide project director for the Office of the Chancellor, and Professional Developer and Arts Liaison for the UFT Teacher Center. From his early days teaching at Stuyvesant High School to his most recent role, Roberto has always understood, valued and incorporated the arts into all his endeavors for students, knowing how inspiring, essential and motivational the arts are as part of a well-rounded education.  Roberto now looks forward to sharing the expertise and experience he has gained as he worked with arts and cultural organizations throughout the City with the Jazz Drama Program.

Phil Bertelsen
Filmmaker, Producer, Director

Phil Bertelsen is an Emmy and Peabody award winning filmmaker who works in fiction and non-fiction. His feature film and documentary work represents a range of stories—from contemporary to historical. Most recently, Bertelsen has contributed to series’ hosted by Harvard scholar Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. for PBS. There, he produced and directed episodes for the award winning history series Many Rivers to Cross-­The African Americans, as well as Finding Your Roots. Currently airing on public television, it traces the ancestral genealogy of celebrated Americans. Phil has served on the Advisory Board of The Jazz Drama Program for many years and filmed the first Jazz Drama, “When Malindy Swings” in 1999.

Rondi Charleston
Jazz singer, Lyricist, Composer, Recording Artist

Motema Music recording artist, Rondi Charleston, is an award winning jazz singer, lyricist and composer whose work has appeared in film, TV and on stage through the U.S. and in Europe. She recently collaborated with pianist Fred Hersch on music for the award winning film, “No Place on Earth,” which had worldwide theatrical release and was shown on the History Channel. Her fifth solo album, Signs of Life charted on JazzWeek, and JazzTimes says, “She is a songwriter whose poetic, narrative and compositional skills are comparable to such modern masters as Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon.” She has performed to sold out crowds at Yoshi’s, Catalina’s, Dakota, Birdland, Blue Note, Joe’s Pub and at Jazz at Lincoln Center as part of the the Women in Jazz Festival Jazz at Dizzy’s. Rondi is also an Emmy and Peabody award-winning journalist, having worked with Diane Sawyer at ABC News PrimeTime Live.

Ron Claiborne
Journalist and Correspondent for ABC News

Ronald Eldridge “Ron” Claiborne is an American journalist and correspondent for ABC News, he is the current “more news reporter” for the weekend edition of Good Morning America, anchored by Dan Harris.

Tom Dempsey
Guitarist, Composer, Assistant Professor of Music, LaGuardia Community of College

Guitarist Tom Dempsey’s reputation for hard swinging sophistication and pure musicality have made him a distinct voice in the New York jazz scene. Dempsey has performed and/or recorded with a virtual “Who’s Who” of world renowned jazz musicians including: Wynton Marsalis, George Coleman, Kenny Barron, Roy Haynes, Bobby McFerrin, Paquito D’Rivera, Jack McDuff, Jim Hall, John Abercrombie, Brad Mehldau, John Scofield, Tal Farlow, Buddy Montgomery, Gerald Wilson, Mel Torme, Richard Wyands, Muhal Richard Abrams, and Dave Brubeck. He has recorded four CDs as a leader and has also recorded as a sideman on many recordings. Since 1992, Tom has been performing as a leader and a sideman at some of the top jazz venues throughout the world including the JVC Jazz Festival, SF Jazz Festival, The Blue Note, Yoshi’s, Smalls, and Smoke.

Known for his versatility as a musician Dempsey has made numerous appearances on New York radio and television including performances on The Rosie O’Donnell Show, the HBO series Sex and the City, and NPR. Dempsey has also performed for many Broadway shows including Bring In ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk, Patti Lupone on Broadway, and Aida. Along with his active performing career, Tom Dempsey’s talent as a composer is receiving noteworthy attention. His music has been featured on his four CDs as well as television and radio programs throughout the world including the HBO hit series Sex and the City.

Tom received his Bachelor of Music Degree in Jazz Studies from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University in May 1991. In May 1996, he acquired his Masters Degree in Jazz/Commercial Music at Manhattan School of Music. Tom’s deep commitment to education has made him a highly sought after educator and clinician. In recent years he has been teaching at Jazz at Lincoln Center, SUNY New Paltz, Rutgers University, and the National Guitar Workshop where her serves as Artistic Director for the Jazz Summit and Director of Music for all of the campuses.

Patricia Pastor
Board Secretary, Commercial Litigation Attorney

Patricia Pastor is a commercial litigation attorney and serves as general counsel to business clients on a wide variety of legal matters. Her work with major New York City firms includes large scale transactions, sales, acquisitions and reorganizations. She advises her clients on contract, employment, regulatory and compliance issues; litigates commercial and civil disputes in federal and state courts; and defends clients in government agency proceedings. Ms. Pastor’s prior work investigating child abuse charges for the NYPD brings a unique perspective to her role as an attorney. She is a pro bono advocate for victims of domestic violence in family, civil and criminal court proceedings; and serves on the Board of the National Organization for Women – New York State. She has petitioned for asylum in the U.S. on behalf of individuals fleeing political and religious persecution in their countries of origin.

Becca Pulliam
Board Treasurer, Radio Producer, Writer

Becca Pulliam produced 23 seasons of the weekly series JazzSet from NPR Music, hosted by Dee Dee Bridgewater and Branford Marsalis. One edition featured a story with actualities from the Jazz Drama Program’s first production,When Malindy Swings, at Louis Armstrong Middle School in Queens. In addition, Pulliam produced 28 consecutive live, all-night, coast-to-coast Toast of the Nation specials, live on New Year’s Eve from NPR and WBGO Jazz 88 in Newark, NJ. In 2014-15, she has written the Berlin Philharmonic in Concert series for WQXR in New York, and the Spring Gala for the John F.  Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. As Please Repeat the Question Productions, Pulliam makes the podcasts from the annual conference of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education, Hunter College.

Wendy Rothman
Organizational Psychologist

Wendy Rothman, business entrepreneur and organizational psychologist, is a renowned and sought after professional with a focus on developing human capital. With a background that combines successful entrepreneurship with advanced training in psychology, she brings unique breadth and perspective to the work of performance management. Combining measurement rigor with real world business success, Wendy is a practical and inspiring advisor to executives at all levels. Her academic training combines a PhD in Psychometrics (the scientific discipline of testing and measuring human characteristics) with a Masters in Organizational Behavior. While completing her post graduate studies, she went on to build and grow 4 businesses in the discipline of managing and developing Human Capital – the largest of which grew to over $110 million in revenues. This experience grounded her academic training with real world understanding of the issues and choices facing executives in general and executive women in particular. Since 2001 she has been the President of Wenroth Consulting, Psychology at Work – a consortium of business psychologists specializing in leadership development, executive assessment & performance coaching as well as career transition counseling. Today, Wendy is an elected member of The Committee of 200, an organization for preeminent women Presidents and CEOs. She is a published author, speaker, broadcaster, and recognized expert in maximizing human behavior at work.

Eli Yamin
Pianist, Composer, Educator and Founding Board President

Mr. Yamin is currently the Managing and Artistic Director of Jazz Power Initiative. A jazz composer and musician, he is on the music faculties of Marymount College Manhattan and Lehman College, where he teaches jazz and blues history, piano and voice. As a Steinway artist and band leader, Mr. Yamin has performed at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall in New York, and at The White House and the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. He has performed at major festivals in Western Europe and served as a cultural ambassador touring on behalf of the United States Department of State, performing at concert halls and festivals  in Albania, Brazil, Chile, China, Guatemala, Greece, India, Mali, Montenegro, Romania and Russia. His multiple recordings include Live Burghausen, with tenor saxophonist and jazz icon, Illinois Jacquet, I Feel So Glad with his Blues Band, You Can’t Buy Swing with Jazz Quartet and Louie’s Dream – for our jazz heroes with clarinetist Evan Christopher. Mr. Yamin led Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Middle School Jazz Academy for its first decade growing the program from 13 students in Manhattan to 75 students on three. His videos for Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Jazz Academy have received well over one million views. He composed his first jazz musical with Mr. Carlson, When Malindy Swings (based on a poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar), with grants from Meet the Composer/New Music for Schools and The Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation. The musical gained a national broadcast audience when it was featured with an excerpt on National Public Radio’s Jazz Set with Branford Marsalis. Mr. Yamin and Mr. Carlson were inspired to write four more jazz musicals of their own over the next four years. Their success led to the organization’s launch as a non-profit founded on a groundbreaking idea to provide jazz education as it had not been done before, and based on the jazz principles of “swing rhythm unites, blues expression heals, improvisation empowers and story engages and enlightens.” By combining the power of experiential learning with story-telling and immersion in the language and culture of jazz, children and teenagers have the unique opportunity to experience jazz music across a multidisciplinary curriculum, and a potent tool for communication with audiences of all ages.

ADVISORY BOARD

Jim Anderson
Recording Engineer, Producer

Kenny Barron
Pianist and Composer

Dena Engelhardt
Visual Artist, Founding Board Member

Fred Hersch
Pianist and Composer

John Hollwitz
Fordham Graduate School of Business Professor

Kirk Imamura
President of Avatar Entertainment

James McBride, Author and Musician

Kate McGarry
Vocalist and Composer

Kristy Nguyen
Business Manager, Queens Satellite High School for Opportunity

Joe Norton
Director of Education and Outreach for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS

Ari Roland
Bassist and “Jazz Diplomat” touring over 50 countries for the U.S. Deparment of State

Phil Schaap
Historian, Radio Host “Bird Flight” on WKCR Radio

Debra Vanderburg Spencer
Independent Curator and Art Historian