Victor "Red" Atkins

Victor "Red" Atkins on his upcoming JAZZ ROOM playing Horace Silver!

Victor “Red” Atkins is known for being a “powerful and unconventional” piano player. Victor is a native of Selma, Alabama and currently lives in New Orleans, Louisiana. Atkins had an early start with Jazz as his father loved Charlie Parker. At home he learned how to appreciate music and develop an ear for more complex music.

He began his professional career on Delfeayo Marsalis’ “Pontius Pilate’s Decision” record. After recording he moved on to be a professional pianist alongside many notable musicians such as Elvin Jones, Mark Whitfield, Nnenna Freelon, Joshua Redman, Wynton Marsalis, and Leroy Jones. Subsequently he returned to school to finish his Masters at the Manhattan school of Music. He was inducted into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame in 1998. Atkins is well-known for his work with Grammy-winning, New Orleans-based Los Hombres Calientes as well as his re-working of Duke Ellington's "Such Sweet Thunder," a tribute to William Shakespeare.

Not only is Victor Atkins a professional musician but also a tenured professor at the University of New Orleans, where he teaches theory, composition, jazz keyboard, and applied piano. He also works with the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra on compositions, and has played with them numerous times. Victor Atkins credits Donald Brown as his mentor. His studies with him had the largest impact, and it is when he developed a sincere appreciation for Jazz.

He currently says that Horace Silver is his favorite professional pianist. Victor Atkins says that he is looking forward to the JAZZ ROOM and playing Horace Silver. “He’s a recognized musician and arranger. Horace covered a lot of ground and came along at an important time in history and music. His writing was impeccable and his playing is recognizable; both of which draw from a very sincere place. He had a unique way of combining hard bop and soul…most people wouldn’t marry the two well... Horace Silver is an essential piece of American music history.”   While he is here he will concentrate on quintet arrangements, and says “it will be party.” Victor is looking forward to the JAZZ ROOM audience experiencing music he calls “accessible, but so incredibly melodic, sophisticated, and complex.”

About Eileina Dennis

We had the chance to catch up with renowned jazz vocalist, Ms. Eileina Dennis last week as she prepares to grace the JAZZ ROOM with a tribute to the legendary, “divine” Sarah Vaughn (with strings).

Here is what we learned about the talented internationally renowned vocalist…..

When did you start singing? How have you learned to be a vocalist?

Eileina has a strong gospel music background, with much of her earlier experiences singing in church as a child. Several family members are musicians, including her father and siblings. Amazingly, Eileina is a self-taught professional artist. “The stage is my teacher” says Dennis, and “I learn on a daily basis” from being on the stage and performing. As a musician, she says her learning will never end.

Who are some of your most favorite musicians, and musical influences?

Eileina had a large list of those who influenced her music. Some of those notable musicians are “Jelly Roll Morton, Buddy Bolden, Louis Armstrong, Stanley Turrentine, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Wynton Kelly, Roy Haynes, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Bessie Smith, Josephine Baker, Leontyne Price, Maria Callas, Billy Eckstine, Johnny Hartman, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae, and Betty Carter .... There’s an endless list.  Each adds and brings a high level of creativity, excellence and depth to the art form of Jazz which I strongly admire and believe in.” From her own experience, she does not know who she is truly influenced by until performing on the stage.

What musical genres do you study? Are there any particular ways that you practice?

Eileina studies different musical genres, all while doing other daily tasks. (This would be considered her “practice regiment”.)  Dennis says, “this ranges from Brazilian, classical and of course Jazz.  At best, I go over tunes in my head so it’s more of a mental session, which can be done anywhere.   For example I do not walk around my place singing when I am not on stage. I do not know of any exercises, but I've heard some singers do this but I have no idea what that would entail.” Currently, Dennis does not coach or teach other vocalists, but has been parts of seminars world-wide, including workshops in Brazil, Italy and France.


What can we expect from you at the upcoming JAZZ ROOM show?

“I've had the pleasure of sharing the stage with drummer Ocie Davis (which is how we met) and we discussed many times of doing a show together and now the opportunity has finally presented itself in the guise of this tribute.   All I can share is that I am an admirer of Sarah Vaughan... there will always and only ever be ONE Sarah.... I'm not in the business of emulating or trying to be ‘Sassy’ ... All I can do is to perform well, and to try to reach the bar of excellence which has been set.  You may or may not be able to pick out a few inflections but I'm looking forward to honoring this amazing American Jazz icon and hope to do justice to the performance.”

Trombonist Mitch Butler: Balancing performance and education.


“When I went to school I had no idea you could persue a professional career in performing. I was going as a Music Ed major and I was going to be a band teacher.”

Trombonist Mitch Butler, a native of Raleigh NC, has been balancing professional performance and music education at a very high level for 20 years.   He received his Bachelors and Masters degrees in Music Performance from East Carolina University.


“That’s where I got serious about music partly because I had very good teachers, partly because a lot of my peers were really serious about music and there was a really good environment at that time to get serious about music, and the music I got serious about was Jazz….I’ve been fortunate to be around good people and good teachers and then as I got older, to be around other great musicians... It’s a very good community to be a part of, especially in North Carolina, it’s very nurturing…”


Later, Mitch earned his Doctor of Music Arts degree in Music Performance from the University of Texas at Austin. He is currently the Director of Jazz Studies and Assistant Professor of Music at California State University – East Bay in Hayward, California.  He balances his work in higher education with regular perfomances in the Bay Area during the school year.  His regular gigs include weekly sessions with organist Wil Blades, and performing with Marcus Shelby’s Big Band.


Though his focus for the last 7 years has been teaching and administration at the college level, next year Mitch plans to focus on performing full time and looks forward to teaching younger kids on an individual level.  For those young musicians he stresses patience.



“Learning Jazz, there is no easy button at all, whatsoever.. Just be patient, listen to the advice of those that are around you, those that have been doing this….forget about the easy fix.”


On what audiiences should take away about JJ Johnson’s music:


"There’s a great biography on JJ Johnson called The Musical World of JJ Johnson...It talks about his organizational sense and you can here it in his recordings, in his composition, you see it in the life that he led in music...JJ Inc is a great record for hearing how he puts things together, how he trades solos with drums...and then the Jay and Kai recordings with he and Kai Winding…"


Mitch Butler will be paying tribute to JJ Johnson, Friday August 21st at The Jazz Room @ The Stage Door Theater.  Tickets available here for two shows at 6pm and 8:15pm.


Connect with Mitch through his website , and on Facebook.

Lastly,look forward to an album Mitch will be cutting next year.

About Gregory Agid

Gregory Agid

We had the unique privilege to be able interview Gregory Agid for his upcoming Jazz Room performance.  Greg, originally from Hawaii, moved to New Orleans at a young age for his father’s work. Although Greg had always loved music it grew once his uncle introduced him to the clarinet.

“Once playing the clarinet for a few years I went to New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. After graduating High School I went to Loyola University to receive my BA in Music/Classical Clarinet.” Immediately after I graduated I went on to be a 5th-7th grade band director for a year after which I took a leap of faith to start a professional career as a clarinetist.  

His love for Jazz started at a young age, when he attended the Louis Armstrong Jazz Camp.

“This is where I fell in love with Jazz. It was amazing to go from being a student to an intern to a mentor over the past 15 years.  This is where I met Alvin Batiste who later became a wonderful mentor and teacher to me. The camp has grown substantially, and it has been amazing to be a part of it.” At camp Alvin Batiste provided him with one of the best pieces of advice, “You’re going to figure it out.” Even though he no idea what that meant at the time, and did not understand how that could be good advice…..he has always referred back to the quote from his former mentor.

Alvin Batiste and Delfeayo Marsalis have had a significant impact on Greg’s musical career. “Alvin Batiste was my clarinet mentor for 7 years. I could type a book about my experiences with him. I met Mr. Bat at the Louis Armstrong Jazz Camp in 2000. He was also the chair of the Jazz Department at NOCCA while I was a student in High School. He is the reason I play music, he is my musical father, and he showed me everything! All of my interactions with Mr. Bat were absolutely surreal.” 

“Delfeayo Marsalis has been a mentor for the last several years. I have worked with him in his quintet and Uptown Jazz Orchestra. [He] also supervised my first CD, Mystery Blues. “

It is clear that Agid is looking forward to revisiting Charlotte. “December was the first time I had been to Charlotte, and I loved it. I am looking forward to being back in the city and spending some more time with Jazz Arts Initiative and playing with the some great musicians again. The caliber of musicians that is provided for these shows is top-notch, and I cannot wait to be able to work with all of them again.”

Charles Craig Sr: The life of a Jazz Pianist and insights on Oscar Peterson



“He’s on an international level. Everybody on the scene, they know who he is...we’re just super lucky to be able to pick up the phone and call him for a performance.”

-Lonnie Davis on Charles Craig Sr


Charles Craig Sr, the son of a preacher, was born in Norfolk, Virginia and raised in Chicago. His early training was classical music, which he played exclusively from age 6 to 17.  Though concentrating on piano, he also played trumpet, trombone, cornet, and other brass instruments. He speaks on his discovery of Jazz music at age 17:


My father had a very large, expensive record collection, all different genres of music.  So I was in the basement practicing one time and, I wrote a lot, I did a lot of writing for piano and other instruments.  I just happened to thumb through the record collection and I saw an Oscar Peterson album, “Exclusively for my Friends”, I saw a Ramsey Lewis album, “The in Crowd”, and I saw a Dexter Gordon album that featured Herbie Hancock…and I started listening to those and I really liked how they expressed they improvised. I loved writing, so I thought “Wow, I can do that”, mix it in with the classical, you know, make something kinda new and different.  That’s how I got into Jazz.


At age 20, Charles would attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA:


I met Roy Hargrove at Berklee...he was there at the same time I was...he had to leave, but he always said to me that, you know, we’d play again. So basically once I got to New York and he heard me play and he asked me to join his band.


Recently, Charles came back from NYC where he played two nights at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Appel Room with Sherman Irby’s Journey Through Swing. “It’s all types of Jazz music from the 1890’s to was an awesome time...and man, the view from the piano, if you look to the right you got the crowd, but if you look to the left you got Manhattan, Columbus Circle, it’s just so beautiful at night.”, he said.  Charles was called upon to join the ensemble, many of whom are core members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra or JALC All-Stars.



On Oscar Peterson, his style, and technical excellence:


Take “Boogie Etude”,  if you listen to what he does he takes it all the way back from Meade “Lux” Lewis, he comes through Willie “The Lion” Smith, he comes through James P Johnson, you can hear all of these styles in what he does, but then he ends up with this bass line that’s just absolutely ridiculous to play...he’s playing all of these notes in the right hand, the contrapuntal nature of it is very difficult to execute, even if you sit down to try and practice it, or lift it off the cd.  No one was really doing anything like that outside of Art Tatum. Art Tatum was his idol.


Even when Oscar Peterson played minor music it sounded bright.  For instance, when he played Django, it’s minor and it goes into a minor blues, but the way he played it, it’s bright, it’s uplifting, it’s like, “wow this is the blues?” You know, you’re like happy.


On what the audience should take away from his tribute to Oscar Peterson:


Listening to good music and actually being happy, feeling good.  That’s one of the things his music was about….Oscar, every time he would play, he lit up the room, and that’s what I hope to do in this tribute concert is to light the room up. Fun. Bright. Atmosphere. Very vibrant music, and that’s what [Oscar] was about.


Charles Craig Sr is a down to earth and humble man.  When asked about what he would like to promote, what he would like to call attention to in this article, he spoke of his family. Charles met his wife, Annette, while attending Berklee.  After much touring, they would eventually settle in South Carolina, where Anette’s parents lived. He has two daughters Catrina and Charlene, and a son, Charles Craig Jr.  “And please mention this” said Charles, “my son got accepted to NYU. It’s important. I know this isn’t what you’re trying to talk about but you know, hey, I’m so proud, man.”  No worries, Charles.


Charles Craig plays a tribute to Oscar Peterson, two shows this Friday 3/20 at The Jazz Room.  Tickets available here.


Connect with Charles on Twitter @PianistCCraig


Watch Charles perform with JALCO’s Sherman Irby and see the beautiful view he spoke of (the music ain’t so bad either).