The Charleston Jazz Orchestra (CJO) is comprised of the crème de la crème of South Carolina jazz musicians. The orchestra is an entertaining, educational and stellar example of the rich history and legacy of jazz in Charleston. The CJO has become known for unique, enthusiastically received concerts that contribute mightily to the ever-evolving Lowcountry arts scene.

Meet the Band

Charlton Singleton


Music and Artistic Director, Band Leader, Trumpet, Vocals

Walk with Charlton before he leads a CJO performance.

An hour before sound check, Charlton arrives to review essential cues in the music. Following a meal with the band, he dons his tuxedo then he steps out alone for a stroll. During that walk around the block Charleston’s ambassador of jazz and the CJO bandleader invites strangers to the performances.

That’s just part of the pre-show ritual Charlton has followed before many of the performances in a nine-season run at the helm of the 19-piece ensemble.

The journey to this position has a humble start in a close-knit musical and faith-based family in Awendaw when his older siblings took up the piano and Charlton wanted lessons too. At age 3 that not so shy youngster gave his first concert in his father’s church on a toy organ.

Not to be outdone he went on to the violin, trumpet and cello, eventually returning to his signature instrument, the trumpet. After earning a music degree at S.C. State University he joined a ska band in Charleston called Skwzboxx (squeeze box.) “We made a few recordings and traveled the east coast and southeast. I then became a public school teacher for seven years.” In 2007, he stepped out of the classroom and onto the stage to make a living as a musician.

Music is now an all-consuming profession that includes not just performing jazz and playing in his church, but also writing and arranging music. He’s a CJO co-founder and he has launched a variety of groups and released three recordings.

His music is reflective of his Gullah roots in the Ten Mile community of Awendaw. “The Gullah sound is what I was raised on. It is the basis for everything that I play.”

A few of Charlton’s musical notes:

  • He also plays a variety of band instruments;
  • Recordings are The New Deal, Soul Cavern, and Delicate;
  • Resides in North Charleston;
  • He likes jazz that combines traditional jazz and popular music. Artists with that style he likes are Rene Marie and Etienne Charles; and

He once met Dizzy Gillespie by chance in the JFK airport. He was so excited that he talked really, really fast. Dizzy stopped him and asked if he plays as fast as talks.

Stephan Berry


Trumpet

When Stephan sits with the CJO trumpet section, his eyes say what’s on his mind and where the music carries him.

In the glare of the stage lights, Stephan squints to scan the audience for his wife.

When he raises his trumpet for a solo his eyes are closed as he travels beyond the stage. “Playing makes me feel like I’m somewhere else. And if I am soloing with my eyes closed, I am somewhere else. Took a long time to achieve that.

In addition to the CJO, Stephan plays with the New South Jazzmen, a traditional jazz band that reminds him of the style of music he played with his mother while growing up in Cadiz, Ohio. “But I also enjoy bebop and, of course, big band.

Like many musicians who’ve reached his level of ability that journey started early. At age 10 he picked up the cornet and five years later he was playing publicly.

Early on his play list was sparse. At age 11 he listened to Chet Baker but as a pro his ear enjoys an endless array of music.  The listening and the hours of practice are part of his goal to take his talent to a higher plateau. “I would like to be a much better improviser and take my range on trumpet up to double C.”

A few of Stephan’s musical notes:

  • Studied music at The Ohio State University and Ohio University;
  • Sailing is the reason he’s in Charleston;
  • He has a classic sports car and cooking is a passion; and
  • During a performance for his master’s degree he passed out. Before he hit the floor he saved the school’s trumpet from disaster

Chuck Dalton


Trumpet

Chuck’s musical resume is a walk down memory lane – he’s performed with Frank Sinatra and Elton John, Tony Bennett and Sammy Davis Jr., the Temptations and Four Tops.  It’s a stunning tour. Chuck’s trumpet has played alongside Doc Severinsen (for three months!), Stevie Wonder, Cher, Roberta Flack, Wayne Newton, Lena Horne, Glen Campbell, Josh Groban, LeeAnn Rimes … and the list goes on (Bobby Vinton, Debbie Reynolds, Joan Rivers, Charo, Vic Damone, Little Anthony and the Imperials).

Born and bred in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, Chuck has been deeply influenced by the gospel and soul music native to rural Kentucky (“I can hear both in my playing”). His career took flight after his junior year at the University of Kentucky (where he earned a Bachelor of Applied Music) when he joined a touring company with the Broadway Musical “Hair.”

Two years later he returned to Lexington, KY, joined the Lexington Symphony, then headed next to Seattle before settling in Las Vegas where, for 20 years, he was first trumpet at the hotel house orchestras of the Desert Inn, Tropicana and Stardust hotels.

Now breathing Charleston air for a dozen years (“Charleston is a wonderful place”), Chuck works regularly with the Jennifer & Brad Moranz Productions, co-leads the party band 17 SOUTH and subs as trumpet for the Charleston Symphony’s pop concerts. He also plays with touring Broadway shows at Charleston’s Performing Arts Center.

A few of Chuck’s musical notes:

  • He wrote jingles for a living in the mid-70s.
  • He enjoys listening to Hard Bop, Bop Dixieland and Funk and Big Band.
  • He makes his living playing trumpet: “I love music. I personally think that’s the real key to being motivated to practice. If you love music enough, it’s not so much work to practice.”
  • When not practicing (an hour a day, but 2.5-4 hours/day leading up to a gig), he enjoys playing with his dog Ricky, reading history and watching good movies.

Frank Duvall


Acoustic and Electric Bass

“A great way to spend a life.”

That’s how Frank describes his life in music.  As composer and musician, he’s performed professionally on trumpet, bass and piano, and met dozens of talented musicians along the way. As Frank says, “a great way to spend a life.”

Growing up in the South – he was born in Rome, Georgia – he was educated on country, bluegrass and gospel. “I’m sure it’s played a part in my musical development,” he says. He played trumpet in the 5th grade band, began his serious study of music at age 12, then gave his first performance at age 15 (in high school he took up electric bass, then acoustic bass in college, as a jazz major). His professional training took place at the Armed Forces School of Music and the University of South Carolina (undergraduate and master’s degrees).

Frank has performed with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Greco, Bill Eckstine, Marian McPartland (“I had the pleasure of performing multiple duo concerts with Marian … she was a joy to work with, and also had a great sense of humor”), Bob Alberti, Buddy DeFranco, Harry Allen, Scott Hamilton, John Colinai and Bill Charlap.

A few of Frank’s musical notes:

  • His advice to aspiring musicians: “Learn to be a professional in all aspects of the music business”
  • Off stage, Frank manages real estate and a small business, and teaches part-time at the College of Charleston, where he’s the jazz bass instructor

Ken Foberg


Trombone

Breakfast with Frank Sinatra at 3 in the afternoon.

One liners with Don Rickles in Biloxi, Mississippi.

A conversation with Duke Ellington on the composition of Mood Indigo.

Ken’s musical footprint is broad, and wide, and historic. He’s performed with the greats of all time:  Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Henry Mancini, The Glenn Miller Band, Kenny Rogers, The Boston Pops, the Platters. And he’s crossed paths with the likes of Fred Astaire, Johnny Mathis, John Wayne, Shirley Jones, Wayne Newton, Joan Rivers, Robert Mitchum, Henry Mancini, Mel Brooks, Dom Deluise, Madeline Kahn and the Rat Pack.

Born and raised in Everett, Massachusetts (he currently lives in North Charleston), Ken fell in love with the trombone after watching Glenn Miller’s movie “Sun Valley Serenade.” He studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston where he touched shoulders with jazz legends, including Duke Ellington, Bill Basie, Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Buddy Rich, Phil Wilson, Bill Chase, Paul Fontaine, Jimmy Mosier, Thad Jones, Mel Lewis, and more.

Passionate about teaching – he works with students at local schools and offers private lessons at home for lower brass – Ken also spends his time building. Over the years he’s restored nearly 200 homes from California to Colorado to Louisiana to Charleston (he built a music studio in his friend’s home in Los Angeles).

A few of Ken’s musical notes:

  • “Playing music energizes my soul,” says Ken, “it makes me feel invigorated. It makes me happy!”
  • With jazz music, he most enjoys big band, small groups and Latin jazz;
  • His goal is to practice 2-4 hours a day;
  • He loves to make people laugh; and
  • His current goals: “Strengthen my playing in technical areas, improve my improvisational skills and learn doodle tonguing!”

Gerald Gregory


Piano and Keyboards

If you’re ever roaming the streets on concert night, and spot a man in a tux, skateboarding at top speed to the Charleston Music Hall, well then, you’ve probably just seen CJO pianist Gerald Gregory (“quite a sight,” admits Gerald).

Born in Roanoke, Virginia, Gerald grew up listening to the likes of Erroll Garner and Oscar Peterson (“I felt like they were magicians. I’m a big fan of magic so I wanted to figure out what was going on”). At home with piano and keyboard, Gerald has also played the saxophone, electric bass and Amazonian decorative wooden flute.

He’s performed with some of the greats here in Charleston, as well as the Brooklyn Philharmonic, Erykah Badu and NAS, Darius Rucker, Jeff Sipe, Kebbi Williams, John Ellis and Diane Schurr. And he studied under both Randy Hurt in Roanoke, and Tommy Gill at the College of Charleston.

Of late, he’s fallen in love with piano trio style jazz (Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, Brad Meldhau, etc.) and plays in a free improv trio with Mike Quinn on sax and Ron Wiltrout on drums. “It’s the most exciting, scary and at times transcendent music I play currently on a regular basis.” He’s also working with Robert Lewis and his wife, Jill Terhaar-Lewis in a group called In Between, with two albums due out soon.

Some of Gerald’s musical notes:

  • He enjoys skateboarding (with his 15 year old Siberian husky), painting, comedy, cooking as forms of art, doing card tricks, going to the gym, making people laugh, reading, watching a good movie, cooking homemade pizza.
  • Embarrassing moments: he once fell off stage backwards mid-performance!

How does he feel when playing music? “I feel relaxed and grateful mostly.”

Kevin Hackler


Trumpet

Kevin revels in Big Band music, “The style played on Duke Ellington’s Live at the Blue Note. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

He was born in bluegrass country, in Galax, Virginia. “I still love that music, similar in ways to gypsy swing, which I play on my regular Friday gig at Pane e Vino.” He first learned guitar, at age six, then piano, then cornet. At 12 he joined his first band; years later he performed his first gig, with the Andrew Thielen band.

The best teacher he ever had? That was Lyle van Wie, trumpet professor at the College of Charleston –  “our 1 hour lessons regularly went on for 3 hours or more.”

But he learned Big Band from trumpet legend Flea Campbell, who in his storied 73-year career played with the likes of Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and Les Brown.  Kevin first played with Flea at age 16, and “Flea would say: ‘Pay attention, follow my lead and if it’s marked short, play it f-ing short!’ This was all yelled at me in the middle of songs, along with other colorful bits of advice. I didn’t mind. He was the real deal.” Adds Kevin: “Flea taught me 90% of what I know about Big Band section playing.”

By day Kevin, who lives on Johns Island, is a general practice lawyer with Theron Law Firm; by night he enjoys his family, recording original music, cooking, fishing, hiking or reading. His next musical plateau? “I want to write and record more original music in a large ensemble.”

When he’s up on stage with the CJO, “I feel like I am in a hyper-focused trance-like meditative state.

Cameron Handel


Trumpet

Her music has been heard around the world – in a stunning five-year stretch, touring with the Broadway hit “Blast!”, Cameron visited 47 countries! During that extraordinary period, she worked her way up to a featured solo performer, playing an extended solo with piano onstage while Michael Bolton did a quick change. Said Cameron: “It helped me grow immensely as a performer.”

A Charleston native, Cameron attended Laing Middle, Wando High, the University of Georgia and the College of Charleston. Over the years she’s performed with Adele, Bolton, Seal, Kenny G, Smoky Robinson, Davy Jones, Orianthi, Ruben Studdard, Dave Mason, Wycliffe Gordon and Arturo Sandoval (as a child).

Classically trained, Cameron began learning jazz late in her career (she compares it to learning mandarin, explaining: “I still have a long way to go before I’d consider myself fluent. . . . I’m looking forward to the day I can carry on an incredibly elaborate and confident conversation”). She’s been inspired by Louis Armstrong, Wnyton Marsalis, Trombone Shorty, Clark Terry and Blue Mitchell.

When she’s not up on stage, or caring for her young children (“I practiced a lot more before I had two babies in two years!”), Cameron’s giving lessons at local middle schools (Laing, Cario and Moultrie) and Wando High. And who’s the band director at Wando? Her husband, a percussionist, who’s also the drummer in her New Orleans Funk band.

A few of Cameron’s musical notes:

  • Aside from trumpet and flugelhorn, she’s played the piccolo trumpet and the ukulele. Asked how it feels when she plays music, Cameron said, simply: “Free.”
  • When it comes to jazz, she loves “easy, laid back New Orleans style!”
  • Cameron enjoys surfing, yoga and spending time outdoors (and she can dance! She was a backup dancer when she worked with Michael Bolton)

Simon Harding


Baritone Saxophone, Clarinet, and Flute

From Northampton, England, where he fell in love with the classical music he discovered in his father’ music collection, Simon found his way as a baritone saxophone and bass clarinet player on the CJO stage.

At an early age he listened to Mozart, Bach and Beethoven then studied and performed music. That early exposure led to a decision years later to study music at Coastal Carolina College and the College of Charleston.

Since then he has played with some of the best who span the musical spectrum from The Darius Rucker Big Band, the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and the Charleston Symphony Orchestra. “I will always strive to become the best musician possible and to play with the best players possible. I would like to get to a point where I can play only the music I love.” Straight ahead jazz.

Simon has arranged and composed music. “Composing is much more enjoyable to me than arranging. I love trying to capture a moment or feeling with music. It’s like an aural picture that can continue to evolve as you play it more and more.”

In the midst of a performance Simon is divorced of feeling and thought. “That’s the beauty of it. Music transcends life and feelings and just takes you somewhere that’s unexplainable. You just are there. Listening to music is a different experience for me, however.”

Music is his full-time job. “I have a studio of around 20 private students most of the time. Some studying just the saxophone and others studying jazz.”

Simon says an aspiring musician must develop the ability to listen. “Listen until you hear the language being spoken through the music. Sadly, most musicians can’t do this.”

A few of Simon’s musical notes:

  • Plays bari, alto and tenor sax, flute and clarinet;
  • Likes video games, walking, hanging with the family and cooking;
  • Practices an hour or two daily; and
  • Being able to play the sax to support a family has always been a goal

Jay Jehl


Trombone

The woman who gave Jay life led him to music.

Jay’s mother had been a band director for more than three decades. It is not surprising that music was the path he followed. The Charleston resident teaches middle school bands.

As much as he enjoys growing musically he gains even more satisfaction and happiness watching his music students succeed. “I get the wonderful opportunity to share both music and life lessons with 150 teenagers each day!”

Growing up in Wayne, Ind., also had musical advantages. “The town I grew up in had a lot of great musicians and hearing them play motivated me to improve my own level of ability.”

The town heard the 12-year-old trombone player give his first solo performance of “When the Saints Go Marching In” during an ensemble festival. Today, he plays the trombone with the CJO. With each song he experiences a different mood.

Before a CJO performance, Jay naps after the sound check to ensure he’s well rested. “Performance days are mentally draining as the level of focus required through the sound check and both shows is extremely high.”

Jay is optimistic about jazz’s future. “As long as we continue to educate students about jazz music and its history it will survive. I feel jazz has influenced many other styles or genres of music so in that sense it is absolutely evolving.”

If his parents are in town for a CJO concert, he looks for them in the audience. No doubt mom is pleased.

A few of Jay’s musical notes:

  • Recorded “Steppin’ Out” with the Glenn Miller Orchestra;
  • Studied music at Ball State University and earned a master’s degree in music education at Sam Houston State University;
  • Band director at Fort Johnson and James Island Middle schools;
  • Likes to run, play, and attend the theater; and
  • Practices as much as required so not to embarrass himself on a gig

Phil King


Trombone

Inspiration has come in many ways to trombonist Phil King.

First it was listening to some of the music’s great trombone players such as J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding, who influenced many young players with their intertwined harmonies.

Second, and probably most meaningful, was the musical talent in Phil’s family that included a sister who played the flute, a grandmother who played the violin and an uncle and neighborhood friend who each played the trombone.

Today, Phil draws his inspiration from some of the great CJO musicians and others who perform in the Charleston area. Yet after playing the trombone since he was 12, Phil continues to rise as a much more proficient jazz improviser.

Now that he’s a retired construction estimator, he has more time for music. He co-leads two groups, 17 South and River City. His hometown of Charleston has given him opportunities to “start something that I may never have done in countless other towns had I been born and raised elsewhere.”

He is also thankful to have had an opportunity to play and meld with the music he calls a living creature. “It breathes, thinks, feels, flexes and just causes those special one-time moments to happen that never quite happen again until the next time the unexpected happens with a different set of people, a different place and music.”

A few of Phil’s musical notes:

  • Aspiring musicians must listen, practice, take chances and play often;
  • Hobbies are boating, the beach, a vacation now and then in another part of the country;
  • In elementary and high school studied with the Leonard’s School of Music and then at the University of Arizona; and
  • Greatest achievements are his wife, four children, eight grandchildren and home on Folly Beach. (You are all invited.)

Robert Lewis


Artistic Director; Alto and Soprano Saxophone, Flute, Clarinet

This musical polymath – he plays four instruments for the CJO, and in younger days was accomplished on both the piano and bassoon – began his musical journey at the age of 8, studied jazz at University of Idaho and Western Michigan University and performed his first pro gig was in a 50s Rock-and-Roll show band. He was “Spider Lewis.”

Now Director of Jazz Studies at the College of Charleston, Robert is the triple threat of jazz – composing, performing and teaching jazz on a full-time basis.

Growing up in Kennewick, Washington (he now lives in Summerville), Robert “had to seek out good music. I grew up in suburbia of a tech heavy town, [with] pretty limited artistic options.” Creating options, and focusing on process, is what drives Lewis. His favorite musical experience is in “small groups, with lots of improvised interaction. I love the creative musical conversations.”

For Robert, “Music is a process. I don’t find it useful to focus on goals or milestones, which generally don’t have much to do with the real artistic development happening.” How often does he practice? In years past, it was up to eight hours a day. These days? Closer to 1-2 hours per day.

On stage, his ideal mode is “very focused, relaxed, open to possibilities.” Off-stage he enjoys family time, judo and training the family dog.

A few of Robert’s musical notes:

  • His greatest achievements: “Raising a couple of good kids and having a great marriage.”
  • His advice to aspiring musicians: “If you want to make a living in the arts, you’ll need to commit 100%. Keep focused on what really excites you, and work incredibly hard at it.”

Jack Pettit


Tenor Saxophone, Flute, and Clarinet

Over the last two decades, Jack’s has taken his musical and linguistic skills to more than 30 countries – he’s fluent in French, proficient in Spanish and Swedish and has studied German and Italian as well!

Jack spent his youth chasing one of the greats of our time. He explains: “While in middle school, I ended up sitting next to future jazz saxophonist extraordinaire Chris Potter . . . Who can say they recall witnessing the first time John Coltrane ever breathed into a tenor sax or Charlie Parker play through an alto?” (years later Jack frequented Pugs, a Columbia, SC bar where Potter played with CJO bassist Frank Duvall). Highly skilled in his own right, Jack recalls once hearing high school band director Marc Svaline remark: “If you were second chair to this Chris kid, he must be amazing.”

Jack has performed with Darius Rucker, Ruben Studdard and (Jack’s words) “the great Robert Lewis!!!” His inspiration comes from all quarters, including some of the greatest saxophonists of all time – David Sanborn, Cannonball Adderley, Charlie Parker, Stan Getz, and dozens of others (“the list is endless”).

Some of Jack’s musical notes:

  • His day job? He teaches music to 650 area students each week, and serves as long time member and former chair of the Behavior Incentive Committee.
  • On concert day? “I am pre-occupied with making sure I load everything into my car to take to the performance hall. Did I pack my dress shoes? My bow tie? Cummerbund? Studs? My wallet? My saxophone? Clarinet, flute? Reeds? Neck strap? Sax stand? Music? Pad papers for sticky pads? These eternal questions haunt me.”
  • Memorable moment? The day he “lost” his mouthpiece, confounding the entire CJO orchestra for a week! In a most bizarre manner it lodged itself in his tenor sax, and though air still passed freely through the horn, the “upper register was having serious intonation problems!”

Jon Phillips


Alto Saxophone, Flute, and Clarinet

Jon’s music career has followed a circuitous route like that of his idle Charles Ives.

Ives, a mid-20th century composer, had been an insurance executive before he became a full-time composer.

“He worked a day gig in the New York investment industry for decades. He wrote his amazing music in the evenings and weekends in obscurity and with no encouragement. Only later in life did he finally achieve recognition. The power of faith in oneself is perseverance.”

By the time Jon turned 20 he realized that journalism was boring and math was frustrating. So he picked up the saxophone, flute and clarinet. But he never strayed far from another math-related profession. He teaches technology at the Academic Magnet. “It is the last job I ever hope to have.”

Jon started to play when he was five and he studied music at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. As a professional he’s “pretty much there.” But he’d like to “bring up my flute and clarinet chops.” Unlike Ives, Jon does not compose music. He’s a self-taught arranger. “I owe a great debt of gratitude to all my Charleston musician friends who have instructed me along the way.”

On performance days, Jon follows a ready-set-go routine. He sleeps late followed by a heavy dose of caffeine. Practice, warm up and listen. More caffeine then another nap. Warm-up again before he’s ready to play.

A few of Jon’s musical notes:

  • Native of Greenfield, Illinois, now living in Goose Creek
  • Certified as a diamond grader by the Gemological Institute of America;
  • Mentors an 11th grade saxophone student at the School of the Arts. Jon has spotted a musical diamond that needs more polish;
  • Sings; and
  • His attention is drawn to smiling faces in the CJO audience.

Tyler Ross


Guitar

Tyler was born and bred in Neenah, Wisconsin and credits his strong work ethic (“I’m happiest when I can get three solid hours of practice in a day”) and devotion to music to his upbringing. “Wisconsin folks work harder and play harder than any culture I’ve been a part of.”

Tyler took to guitar at age 12, and “as soon as I picked up the guitar, I was writing songs,” jazz tunes, and the like. “I work at writing every day.”

Inspired by dozens, including the Beatles, The Allman Brothers (specifically Dickey Betts) and Neil Young, Tyler first began performing guitar duos with his father; years later he worked taverns and clubs in Wisconsin “until 2am!”

His craft was honed at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, and Western Illinois University, and beyond traditional guitar, he also plays the lap steel guitar, Rickenbacker bass guitar, and rock-n-roll drums.

As a member of the College of Charleston Jazz Faculty, Tyler has between 15-20 guitar students – he teaches jazz combo, guitar ensemble and jazz repertoire class.

A few of Tyler’s musical notes:

  • What’s performance day like? “After the sound check, I stay downtown ’til the show and bum around King St. with trumpeter Kevin Hackler.  We usually stop in to Pane e Vino down the street (where Kevin and I play every Friday) to show off our handsome tuxedos.”
  • And how does he unwind the next day? “In the fall I look forward to watching the Packers on Sunday; in the spring, it’s fishing out on the Stono River.”
  • Three things you didn’t know about Tyler:
    • He’s an avid water skier;
    • He’s currently building a recording studio in his home

Stephen Spalding


Bass Trombone

Steve’s musical awakening came early, piano lessons at the age of five, his first musical performance at the tender age of six. He grew up surrounded by music – his parents met in a choir, his older siblings all took piano and he followed suit – learning piano, then guitar, then trombone.

Hailing from Long Island, NY, and currently living in West Ashley, Steve studied music at Florida State University and was inspired by the great Jim Pankow, trombone player and composer best known as a founding member of the rock band Chicago (among other songs, Pankow wrote “Make Me Smile”). When Steve isn’t performing with the Charleston Jazz Orchestra, or teaching (35-40 lessons a week), he serves as the Assistant Band Director at Moultrie Middle School.

Looking back on his storied career, Steve says he “always recalls fondly the experience of performing in outdoor music festivals for thousands.”

His greatest achievements?

  1. “Still being alive is probably the most impressive”;
  2. “Being able to find the most amazing woman in the world to marry me is a very close second;” and
  3. “My two daughters are definitely third. Music stuff comes after.”

A few of Steven’s musical notes:

  • A personal highlight: “Having an average of at least 10 students in the All-Star bands per year.”
  • His advice to aspiring musicians: “Breathe and count!”
  • And what’s next: he’d “love to do a symphony gig at some point.”

Mark Sterbank


Tenor and Soprano Saxophone, Clarinet, and Flute

As the third child in a family of five children, Mark learned early while growing up in a Cleveland, Ohio, suburb that juggling responsibilities would be a skill he’d have to master throughout his life.

Being the middle sibling was challenging enough, but then he was also in a musical family whose father was an aspiring concert pianist. Children in the Sterbank home got early musical instruction on the piano, but after three years on the 88’s a nine-year-old Mark picked up his uncle’s saxophone. Later on he chose music education as a profession, his mother’s career.

“There was a very high standard in music education in my community. That led to me working hard to excel both as a soloist and ensemble musician.” Mark juggles the sensibility of caring for animals and the boyish appreciation of a corny joke with the outward demands of a busy teaching and performance schedule.

He is approaching the 13th season of directing an annual Hymns & Spiritual concert at Charleston Southern University, where he is an associate professor of music. He directs the university’s jazz ensembles and teaches a variety of subjects, including big band combo, saxophone studio, performance class and arranging for worship leaders.

In addition to the CJO, he has performed with his jazz quintet and locally with the Quentin Baxter Quintet and the Charlton Singleton Quintet. Regardless of who his playing with, Mark comes even more alive and connected with those around him.

“I have a very full heart and feel very moved by what is being played.” Yet this accomplished musician strives to be even better and creative. He seeks to achieve an even deeper chemistry with his band mates and audiences to bring more of himself to his music.

A few of Mark’s musical notes:

  • Has performed with Mary Wilson, Wynton Marsalis and the Savannah Jazz Orchestra;
  • Earned a BA degree from Eastman School of Music and master’s of music from the University of New Orleans;
  • Plays saxophone, soprano saxophone, piccolo piano and upright bass;
  • Recordings, Hymns & Spirituals, Hymns & Spirtuals 2 and Dayspring; and
  • After a CJO concert he unwinds with milk and cookies and enjoys talking about the concert with his wife.

Ron Wiltrout


Drums and Percussion

Music was Ron’s path to appreciating a diversity of expressions within his Navy family and among his school friends. Then as an adult, he discovered music quietly and it became his discipline.

The Charleston native remembers that his father liked the 70’s rock sounds, his mother preferred 80’s soft rock but older sister jammed to 90’s grunge. But there was more to life than just rock.  Most of his middle school and high schools friendships grew through music. “I liked how everyone had different tastes and exposure.”

As a professional drummer, Ron has forged long-lasting relationships across many genres. “Some of my greatest achievements are when I spend a week playing six different gigs with six different groups playing six different styles or roles, and they all feel good and natural. It makes people smile at the end.”

After breaking free of the bland confines of Navy housing, Ron began to travel. It opened a floodgate of music. “I wanted to absorb as much as I could and understand it all. There was no great music spot where one kind of thing was being championed.” So he was never pegged to one style.

Being so versatile means he does not follow a specific routine before performances. Yet he does follow a few habits. “I like to walk around and breathe before sitting down.” That helps him establish a connection with his band mates. By doing so “most other worries go away with the focus I need to play. I feel connected to humanity through my band mates and that we can make a difference in people’s lives.”

That connection creates a mood for intentional music that is self-aware. “I like interactive jazz, but I also like the very constrained jazz if it communicates something unique from the ensemble. I don’t like jazz where the individuals aren’t playing with one another. That’s just bad jazz.”

A few of Ron’s musical notes:

  • Studied music at the University of South Carolina;
  • Practices three to five hours a week. Not enough;
  • Bourbon neat helps him unwind after a gig;
  • Spotted Bill Murray a couple times at a CJO performance; and
  • Likes literature, movies, comedy, modern art in its many and varied forms and a good conversation