RDJ Memorial Foundation Class of 2012

RDJ Class of 2012Left to Right:  Giavanna Foster (guitar); Darynn Dean (vocals); Sandra Jones (RDJF Executive Director); Jamael Dean, (piano); Aisha Gaillard (drums); Cornelius Mims (RDJF Program Director); Nicolas Earley (vocals, keyboard, saxophone)

2012 marked the ten year anniversary of the City of Gardena’s Annual Jazz Festival. The festival has become a destination event for the many thousands of jazz aficionados who flock to Rowley Park year after year to enjoy a day filled with music, food, family and friends. With its uniquely American origins, jazz has spread across the globe, evolving and expanding and continuing to bring music lovers of all backgrounds together. Roderick D. Jones, “RJ”, was instrumental in bringing the vision of a world class jazz festival to the City of Gardena, a city that he loved and in which he lived and served his entire life. In that spirit, the 2012 Jazz Festival Committee proudly sponsored the first Roderick D. Jones Memorial Scholarship.

The scholarship awards are given to young musicians and vocalists who are honing their craft, excelling in school, and gaining experience as performers in the world of music, specifically jazz. RJ worked tirelessly as a coach and mentor the youth in his community and it is in his name and memory that these awards will continue to be presented each year to those qualifying young musicians.

It is with great pride and pleasure that starting in 2014, the scholarships will be sponsored by the Roderick D. Jones Foundation with the City of Gardena Jazz Festival continuing to offer the winners an opportunity to perform at its annual jazz festival as the opening act. Please help us continue RJ’s vision and support our young people by donating generously. Thank you for your support.

2012 RDJ Memorial Scholarship Winners

Darynn Dean, Vocals

Jamael Dean, Piano

Nicolas Earley, Piano, Saxophone, Vocals

Nicolas Earley is a poised 17 year old college freshman at Cornell University committed to the quest of achieving excellence in high standards. He is a true leader, social innovator, athlete and an artistically gifted student who was born to achieve and inspire others.

Nicolas’ passions extends beyond school campuses and spans into proactive outreach in relations to the community and leadership projects that he pursues and implements. Nicolas traveled to the Dominican Republic to partake in community service and immerse himself in the language of Spanish and the Latin culture. While living amongst the people of the Dominican Republic and witnessing the needs of their community, he took on the challenge of building a school house from the ground up with wood, hand mixed cement, recycled water bottles and chicken wire.

Creative ideas became the catalyst of success during his venture in the Dominican Republic and upon returning home, Nicolas took his creativity to resurrecting the value of significant accomplishments in history by founding Conquerors Clothing which depicts sayings, people and moments that defy limiting societal constructs.  Conquerors Clothing also collaborates with individuals and organizations to generate hope and positivity for those battling treacherous diseases and social ills.

When it comes to sports, Nicolas’ joy for playing basketball has attracted several scholarships where his athletic abilities were recognized by his peers and coaches. He holds a high school  record for the most 3 point field goals scored in a game.

An avid student, scholar athlete, he has yet another gift that has proven itself to be outstanding as well: the gift of entertaining in music and acting. Nicolas starred as an orphan/vocalist in the Downey Civic Light Opera’s production of Oliver and Dream Girls at The Grove Upland  Theater. In addition to theatrical  acting, Nicolas’ commercial acting career blossomed with the successful booking of a national commercial with the Milk Industry along with voiceover work for the Disney Channel.

He recently received the Roderick D. Jones Jazz Scholarship presented at one of L.A.’s most prestigious music festivals, the 10th Annual Gardena Jazz Festival. Nicolas was presented a scholarship and medal by State Assemblyman Steve Bradford. During the festival, Nicolas sang, played keyboards and saxophone in a riveting 30 minute kick off set with the teen jazz ensemble, launching the Roderick D. Jones Jazz Ensemble live at the summer music festival with over 10,000 attendees. The group broke a record in that it was the first time a teen jazz ensemble performed at the festival, representing pure jazz.

When it comes to Nicolas’ mindset, he can best be described as mature, grounded and ready for success. He balances with grace and ease while keeping his priorities focused in regards to excelling in academics, the arts, and community leadership.

His zest for learning parallels his desire to experience the world around him. He is focused on pursuing Industrial Labor Relations as his major, one that envelops his previous travels while taking him to new heights.

Giavanna Foster, Guitar

Giavanna is a passionate jazz guitarist with a love for music and literacy. A Spelling Bee Champion since the age of 6, Giavanna has won first place championships yearly from elementary school to her senior year in high school. She won 4 consecutive L.A. County championship titles that took her on several journeys to Northern California where she won top 10 honors at the official California State Spelling Bee.

As a straight ahead jazz guitarist, Giavanna found her first inspiration in the music of Wes Montgomery. After several years of study and live concert performances, Giavanna was selected by the Grammy Foundation amongst a group of 80 of the top musically gifted high school students in America to participate in GRAMMY CAMP, an experience that opened her horizons to the vast world of music and mentorship.

In her high school senior year, Giavanna became the NAACP Act-So champion for the city of Los Angeles representing the category of Contemporary Music with her improvisational guitar performance and tribute to the music of jazz icon, Stanley Turrentine.

One of the key moments in her journey as a jazz guitarist was the day that she was selected as one of the Jazz Scholarship recipients from the Roderick D. Jones Jazz Foundation. 

“My family and I lived in Gardena where I grew up as a child. It’s home to us. I remember attending the Gardena Jazz Festival as a little girl. That experience helped me to discover more about jazz and the impact it has on communities and the arts. The legacy that Mr. Roderick D. Jones left in the hearts of young artists like me is immeasurable. 

I think that his legacy is a torch that we all must carry to support jazz, work together in the community and keep kids active in the arts. I am humbled and grateful to have performed on the Gardena Jazz Festival stage with the group of us who were awarded the scholarships on the first round. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to honor Mr. Jones by performing ‘Bumpin on Sunset’ by Wes Montgomery. I found out later that it was one of his favorite songs. His light and love for the community is one that continues to inspire me as a human being and an artist”, says Giavanna.

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Aisha Gaillard, Drums

Aisha Gaillard was born in Los Angeles, California on August 3, 1993. When she was brought into this world, she faced some challenges. Aisha was born pre-mature. Neither of her parents were in the position to take care of her, therefore she was given to her maternal grandmother. Without her family’s support, she definitely would not be where she is today.

Some of her earliest childhood memories are connected to music. She was three years old when she discovered her gift and passion for music. One Sunday afternoon, Aisha’s aunt took her to an African dance class. When the class began Aisha’s aunt asked her if she would like to dance with the class. Aisha told her aunt “no,” because there was something else in the room that caught her eye. Aisha was attracted to the drums. She migrated straight over to the drummers. One of the musicians asked her to play and told her aunt that Aisha had a natural touch. That’s when her aunt decided to take her to a Monday evening drum workshop in Leimert Park at a music venue called the World Stage. When Aisha entered the class her first instructor, the late legendary American Jazz musician and humanitarian Billy Higgins warmly greeted her. Aisha has been playing the drums every since.

In elementary school Aisha participated in various activities such as martial arts, drill team, art classes, and the music program Sweet Strings, which she learned to play the violin. She was about 7 years old when she was able to perform with Sweet Strings at the Hollywood Bowl and Royce Hall at UCLA.  Around the same age she performed with her drum workshop mates at Jazz at Drew festival in 1997.
In middle school, she realized the importance of taking music seriously and from there she joined the advance marching and jazz band at Henry Clay M.S. In high school, she was exposed to a variety of music experiences. She learned how to produce music and work sound/ engineering equipment. When she joined the George Washington Preparatory high school marching and jazz band, she had the opportunity to perform at Catalina Bar and Grill, numerous parades, community events, private events, musicals, and travel to Vail Colorado. She also participated in the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz “Be-Bop to Hip-Hop” program. The be-bop to hip hop program gave Aisha the opportunity to meet and perform with outstanding musicians such as trumpeter Dontae Winslow, Herbie Hancock, rapper Doug E. Fresh, rapper Supernatural, rapper Charlie 2na, drummer Ndugu Chancler, and a list of others. She also began playing the drums for her church and volunteered as a drum instructor for the kids helping kids program in her community.

In 2010, Aisha was accepted into the California State Summer School of the Arts music program. This was a month long, college level, and professional training program for students who are interested in pursuing a professional career in the arts. At this program, she made connections with outstanding musicians and was exposed to various genres.

In the year 2012, Aisha was a scholarship recipient for the 1st annual Roderick D. Jones Memorial Scholarship foundation, which awards young gifted jazz artist. In the summer of 2012, the scholarship recipients received the opportunity to perform at the Gardena Jazz festival. This scholarship program has opened many doors for her such as being able to perform with world-renowned jazz bassist Nedra Wheeler at the Gardena Jazz festival and Vibrato Grill. She has also been able to work with the program director of the scholarship program, bassist Cornelius Mims, and also continue to perform with the other talented scholarship recipients. Within the same year, Aisha was apart of two bands. The first band she was apart of was called the Collective. This band consisted of a drummer, bassist, guitarist, pianist, one trumpeter, and one trombonist. They played genres such as neo-soul, hip-hop, funk, old school R&B, and jazz and performed at venues such as The Celebrity Center in Hollywood, The Terrace, Club 385, and the Hollywood Vintage club. The second band she played for was the BJ Porter House blues band. They performed at The Seabird Jazz Lounge and other supper clubs throughout the city.

In 2013, Aisha was a clinician for her first drum clinic (Musicians In Action) at Faithful Central Baptist Church. She also joined a smooth jazz band and an R&B group performing at various supper clubs such as Boardwalk 11, Harvelles, and Spikes bar & grill. Towards the end of the year, Aisha performed at the California African American Museum with jazz vocalist, flutist, and composer Dawn Norfleet.

Aisha Gaillard is currently a college student at Cal-State Long Beach with a major in Hospitality Management because she would like to own a restaurant with live music. She also plays at various churches, gigs around the city with various artist/bands, and will be starting her own band soon.

Elias Maffia, Trumpet

Gina Ramirez, Bass Guitar, Trumpet

I was initially swept into the musical world when I was 9. My next door neighbor, Ms. Pike was giving me classical piano lessons. She taught me for 3 years until she became really sick with her diabetes and arthritis. I would still visit her every day and play her piano until I moved away. When I entered junior high at 11, I started playing trumpet in beginning band under the instruction Mr. Womack at Foshay Learning Center. After 6 years of attendance at that school, I decided to become home schooled to focus more on my musical endeavors.

In my 8th grade year, I began noodling around with electric bass. I’d learn a couple of songs by ear and whatnot, but I didn’t really know what I was doing. During the 2nd semester of my freshman year in high school, I decided to truly take on the bass. I taught myself how to read bass clef, and I learned all the notes on the fretboard.  Around this time, I also joined Harmony Project in Lemeirt Park. I really wanted to pursue bass. The summer after my freshman year, I was given the opportunity to do the Roderick D. Jones Scholarship.  I saw this as an opportunity to get better on my desired instrument at the time, which was bass. My teacher, Ms. Sukari recommended I do it, and so I did. I was quite nervous, considering the fact that I was officially playing bass for about 5 months at the time. I think it’s funny now though because my first gig on bass was the Gardena Jazz Festival with the other 2012 recipients.  Fast forwarding to now, I could just learn from what I did in the past, and make my musical career better for the future.

To this day, I still play piano, trumpet, and bass quite actively, and I even picked up the cello this past October. Cello was what I initially wanted to play when I started beginning band, but that never happened. But look at me now, I’m grateful that I was given so many great opportunities to do great things in life. And I am certainly not done yet.