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Shanta Nurullah was born into a musical family and studied piano and tap dancing throughout her formative years. While in college, she was able to travel to India and study Indian Classical music and the sitar. Shanta has been performing professionally as a musician since 1972, and as a storyteller since 1978. After college, Shanta immersed herself in the Black Arts Movement as a member of the Kuumba Workshop, Kelan Phil Cohran’s Black Music Workshop, and associating with writers, visual artists, dancers, and members of the AACM.
Shanta formed her first band in 1978 and went on to co-found the all-women’s ensembles Sojourner and Samana, the first female band in the AACM. With these groups, and others, Shanta has performed in venues across the country, distinguishing herself as a sitarist and bassist exploring African-American improvisational music. Her current projects include the bands Sitarsys , the duo ShaZah, and Freedom Song Leaders, a vocal ensemble.
Shanta has received an Illinois Arts Council Artist Fellowship, the Zora Neale Hurston Award from the National Association of Black Storytellers, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from Mutual Mentorship for Musicians(M3). A 2021 3Arts Awardee, she has received grants from the Nevada Arts Council, the American Association of University Women and the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. Shanta has an original story on permanent display at Brookfield Zoo (IL) and has been a storytelling teacher and mentor for many years.
About Joan Hickey
Joan has been a pianistic force in the Illinois jazz scene and beyond since the 1980s. Howard Riech of the Chicago Tribune describes “Hickey remains one of the most appealing and distinctive pianists in the city…(she) produces gorgeously singing lines and unexpected harmonies…The gentility of her touch is matched by the intellectual accomplishment of her improvisation…Listen closely and you’ll hear an erudite and sophisticated improviser with a formidable musical imagination.” Hickey has been awarded two NEA grants as well as an Illinois Arts Council grant for music composition. She has worked with jazz greats including Nat Adderly, Von Freeman, Clark Terry, and Buster Williams, toured internationally with the Jazz Members Big Band featuring vocalist Joe Williams, and played the Chicago Jazz Festival with Cab Calloway. She has led a variety of jazz groups over her career. Teaching has been a consistently important part of Joan’s work and she has mentored many young musicians over the years.
About Alexa Tarantino
Alexa Tarantino is an award-winning, vibrant, young jazz saxophonist, woodwind doubler, composer, and educator. Alexa’s “lovely, ardent way of improvising,” and “sharply plotted but gracefully unencumbered straight-ahead jazz [compositions]” (The New York Times) establish her individual voice which shines through as a dynamic performer and educator. Tarantino was recently named one of the “Top 5 Alto Saxophonists of 2019” by the JazzTimes Critics’ Poll and nominated as a “Rising Star – Alto Saxophone” by Downbeat Magazine’s 2021 and 2020 Critics’ Poll.
She has performed regularly as a leader and sidewoman in a wide variety of ensembles and genres including Wynton Marsalis‘s Young Stars of Jazz, Cécile McLorin Salvant Quintet & OGRESSE Ensemble, Ulysses Owens Jr. Generation Y, LSAT (quintet co-led with Lauren Sevian ), Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, Sherrie Maricle & The DIVA… and Steven Feifke Big Band.