David Spelman's career as an artistic director, curator, and music advisor for international festivals and performing arts centers, and as a producer of film soundtracks, has embraced classical, jazz, rock, avant garde, and world music, as well as spoken-word poetry and the visual arts.
Educated at the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University and the New England Conservatory (which named him one of their One-Hundred Most Distinguished Alumni), he worked in the early '90s for Jay K. Hoffman & Associates, a boutique classical music publicity firm, before founding his own New York-based public-relations and event production company representing some of the most distinguished artists and institutions in classical music. In 1999 he launched the first New York Guitar Festival, now a biennial event that presents the world’s finest guitarists in innovative, cross-genre, multi-media presentations.
Following on the success of the New York Guitar Festival, he's been appointed artistic director and guest curator for major festivals at the University of Illinois' Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, Amsterdam's Concertgebouw, Australia’s Adelaide Festival Centre, Toronto’s Luminato Festival, as well as The World Financial Center, Carnegie Hall, and other venues in Manhattan.
His projects have attracted worldwide press coverage, and have been broadcast on public radio across the United States. He has enjoyed the support of funders as diverse as Apple Computer, the Government of South Australia, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
John Schaefer is the co-founder of the New York Guitar Festival, and is the host of WNYC’s innovative music/talk show Soundcheck, which features live performances and interviews with a variety of guests. Schaefer has also hosted and produced WNYC’s radio series New Sounds since 1982 (“The #1 radio show for the Global Village” – Billboard) and the New Sounds Live concert series since 1986. Schaefer has written extensively about music, including the book New Sounds: A Listener’s Guide to New Music (Harper & Row, NY, 1987; Virgin Books, London, 1990); the Cambridge Companion to Singing: World Music (Cambridge University Press, U.K., 2000); and the TV program Bravo Profile: Bobby McFerrin (Bravo Television, 2003).
NYGF General Manager/Producer/Curator A.J. Benson’s earliest musical memories are of puzzling over his parents’ Mamas & Papas, Dave Brubeck, Trini Lopez and Herb Alpert LPs as a kid in Connecticut. He’s spent the last fifteen-plus years in the music industry, in a number of executive and consulting capacities at A&M/Octone Records, Island Def Jam Music Group, Arista/J/RCA Records, Virgin Records America, and Cherry Lane Music, overseeing various aspects of projects for Aretha Franklin, Patti Smith, Maroon 5, Ben Harper, OutKast, Johnny Cash’s estate, Barry Manilow, The Roots, Whitney Houston, Foo Fighters, The Notorious B.I.G., Dave Matthews, K'NAAN, several American Idols, and many other artists in between. He is currently running his own music and arts consulting venture called I Float Down The Liffey, LLC. He joined The New York Guitar Festival in 2005.
Prior to becoming a productive member of society, and when not diligently studying in high school and working on his journalism degree at the University of Connecticut in the 1980s, he followed the Grateful Dead around the continent and wrote numerous published pieces covering music, politics, and social issues. He recently overcame his fear of the classroom and is nearing completion of New York University’s Arts Management program.
Biggest career coup to date: somehow persuading Bruce Springsteen to show up and perform at the Festival’s 2006 launch concert, The Nebraska Project. (Close runner-up: Landing Justin Vernon of Bon Iver to compose and perform an original score to several Charlie Chaplin silent films for the 2010 Fest.)
A once (and future?) radio DJ, Neil Thompson first carved a path to stardom by spinning on air certain dusty volumes of vinyl (jazz, mostly) on the hallowed 5th floor of his college radio station. Announcer jobs in public as well as commercial FM eventually followed, yet the gig Neil misses most was his brief stint as the "unused portion guy" at Cracker Jacks, where his duties entailed reading letters of woe from snack food junkies who were disappointed by the quality of the prize—or, even worse, had munched their way through to discover the box contained no prize at all. Recent years have found Neil marketing himself as a fashionista, based on his ability to write phrases like, "pairs well with lime-green for a hazy, summertime feel." Other eclectic career moves have included time served as an audio book engineer and a feisty film critic. The NYGF, however, has restored him to his first love: delightfully esoteric music.
Kyoko Takenaka is a musician, photographer, & videographer based in New York City. Recently her interest lies in combining all three mediums. As a multi-media artist, she has a passion for stretching boundaries -- whether it be between fiction vs documentary, music vs visual art, or performing vs capturing. Her goal is to experience the world through a wider lens.
Zingi Mkefa is a writer and development specialist for nonprofit organizations. He graduated from the New School in 2014 with a master’s degree in International Affairs. In 2006, he received a Fulbright scholarship to complete a master’s degree in Journalism at New York University, where he specialized in Cultural Reporting and Criticism. His career as an arts journalist in South Africa spans ten years and has included bylines in notable publications such as the Sunday Times and THISDAY (South Africa), an arts talk show on RadioToday, and he has served on a variety of arts awards judging panels including the Naledi Theatre Awards. In 2010 and 2011, he served as advisor and mentor for the student theatre program at South Africa’s annual National Arts Festival. Zingi has authored two essays, one published in a 2010 collection called Positions: Contemporary Artists in South Africa, and another to be published as part of a 2015 critical anthology on South African drama. Zingi married his life partner Elliot in 2014; they live together with their dog Augie in New York.
Guitarist, composer, arranger, vocalist, songwriter – Joel Harrison is a 2010 Guggenheim Fellow in 2010 and a two-time winner of the Jazz Composer’s Alliance Composition Competition. He has received support from Chamber Music America, Meet the Composer, the Flagler Cary Trust, NYSCA, New Music USA, and the Jerome Foundation and has released 15 CDs since 1995 as a leader. Harrison graduated from Bard College, where he studied composition with Joan Tower. He subsequently studied with Charlie Banacos, Allaudin Mathieu, Ran Blake, and Ali Akbar Khan.
His groundbreaking Free Country ensemble re-imagines country and Appalachian folk music with radical jazz arrangements, while yet another new project with the young Indian sarode master Anupam Shobhakar unites North Indian classical music, jazz, and folks songs from America and India. A gifted arranger, Joel has also delved into the work of other composers -for instance, jazz legend Paul Motian, whose repertoire Harrison arranges for string quartet and two guitars. His collaborators have included Dave Liebman, Nels Cline, Nguyen Le, Uri Caine, Norah Jones, Dave Binney, and Brian Blade. His most recent project, Infinite Possibility, is a 19 piece jazz orchestra, for which he composed and arranged new music.
Mary Wagner is the founder and creative director of Verdant Studios. Together with a team of collaborators, she creates vibrant brands, sustainable communications and engaging web experiences for a variety of businesses and nonprofit institutions. Mary also serves on the board of Bowery Arts + Science and Project U.S.E., two organizations that foster creativity and holistic education. Off the grid, you can find Mary dancing, painting and in the mountains of Boulder, CO.
Joe Chellman is a web designer, developer, and drummer based in Los Angeles. A lifelong Mac nerd, he builds websites for a wide variety of artists, small businesses, nonprofits, and others under the guise of ShooFlyDesign. He is an active member of the LA Drupal community, one of the largest Drupal users groups in the world. As a musician, he has performed and recorded in many styles of music with some wonderful people, including Chicago's master saxophonist Von Freeman, klezmer-fusion weirdos Balkano, cabaret-pop crazies Chameleon World, pop-rock wonder purveyors Diana and the Dishes, harmony folk-pop superheroes Girlyman, and many others.
Jason Munn is originally from Wisconsin, but now calls Oakland, CA home. He began making posters almost ten years ago for local venues and independent musicians, designing under the pseudonym The Small Stakes. Now, working under his name, Jason continues to focus on posters, as well as design and illustration commissions.
Luciana Diehl is a graphic design artist based in NYC, but originally from Brazil. She likes to creates clean, simple but intelligent visual designs that shows insight and filter out distraction to add focus, doing more with less. Currently she's enjoying her career as a freelance designer and joined NYGF 2013. You can learn more about her and view some of her work at www.lucianadiehl.com
Dylan Wise is a visual artist, and student at Brookdale Community College. He joined the New York Guitar Festival as an intern in 2011 and works with the festival team on graphic design and marketing assignments.