Learn more about our musicians! Quotes about members from Tim Froncek “TF”
Bob Nixon: Saxophone/Co‐Leader
“GRJO would not be here if it wasn’t for Bob’s dedication to making the band as great as it is! He and I share a passion for this music, but he is the one with the direction to have this group continue. A special shout out to Cindy Nixon, she is at every gig and helps keep the band functioning like a well oiled machine.” TF
Bob Nixon, lead alto and co‐leader, first joined the Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra (or the Aquinas Night Band as it was then called) in 1980. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree and Master’s Degree in music education and a Bachelor’s Degree in jazz performance, all from Morehead State University in Kentucky. For two years, Bob taught high school band and orchestra for the Cincinnati Public Schools. He then served for 28 years as band and orchestra director for both middle and high schools in the Grand Rapids Public Schools. Over the years Bob has traveled all across the United States with various bands. He has performed with some of the great entertainers of our day including Dionne Warwick, Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, Robert Goulet, Louie Belson, Red Skelton, Marvin Gay and the Spinners, The Temptations, and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra ‐ just to name a few. Presently Bob performs with Truth in Jazz Orchestra, the Bob Nixon Quartet, Mid‐Town Horns & Rhythm and various freelance gigs. He is the past president of the Michigan Association of Jazz Educators. In 2018, Bob was selected as the West Michigan Jazz Musician of the Year. Since his retirement, Bob has been composing and arranging music. He continues to be involved in music and music education teaching privately, giving clinics and master classes at area schools, and serving as a judge at area and state jazz festivals. Bob also owns a recording company that specializes in recording school music festivals and concerts.
Mike Lutley: Saxophone
“As you will read in this Bio Mike has been with our organization for over 40 years!!!!! That is truly amazing and gives me many fond memories of some of times we have played together over the years. Gigs could range from backing artists at Tulip Time, to Maria Schneider directing us on several occasions thru her wonderful Big Band arrangements. Mike is a master at Woodwind doubling. Mike can cover any reed Instrument and musical chart put in front of him. He is a key figure which makes our saxophone section outstanding.” TF
Mike got his early musical training in Anglican men and boys choirs, in clarinet lessons, listening to the daily practice of his pianist mother and later experiencing 2 European summer HS jazz band tours. He studied woodwinds at Acadia (Nova Scotia) and Michigan State Universities. Mike has been a member of GRJO (formerly the Bruce Early Jazz Band) for over 40 years! You can also see him around town playing with local groups big and small. Mike is a wonderful soloist and has been voted “Jazz Musician of the Year” by West Michigan Jazz Society in 2015. Mr. Lutley has worked as a Woodwind Repair Technician for both Yamaha Corp. and Meyer Music and released an instrumental CD, “Double or Nothing” in 2014.
Greg Marsden: Saxophone
“Greg is a fantastic soloist as some of you already know! He keeps the band on the edge of our seats during many of his solo excursions. You will hear him featured on tenor sax with GRJO, but he also is a dynamic alto sax soloist as well! Greg and I play in several big bands and it is always great to see him in the sax section! “ TF
Saxophonist Greg Marsden is a graduate of Indiana University Jazz Studies program under David Baker (‘92) and after eight years playing and teaching in and around London, UK. Greg now resides in Grand Rapids, MI. Marsden has been a regular member of The Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra (GRJO) sax section, as well as The Truth In Jazz Orchestra (TIJO), and The Gull Lake Jazz Orchestra (GLJO). You may also have heard Greg perform in Beer City Sax’s along with various other ensembles performing at clubs, concerts and jazz festivals thru out the Mid‐West. Marsden has performed in concert with such legendary jazz greats as Phil Woods, Dave Brubeck, Randy Brecker and Freddie Hubbard just to name a few.
Jim Hayward: Saxophone
“Jim is the consummate soloist on the Tenor saxophone. First time he sat in and played my jaw dropped. His sound is big and robust but he can get down to a whisper, keeping his audience in suspense anticipating what is coming next. I am very impressed with not only the control of his instrument but he can convey the cues of the arrangement to the band even while he is soloing. This only comes by experience and even only to a few. Did I mention he swings his tail off! Welcome to the band Jim! “ TF
Hayward is a multi‐instrumentalist reed player (all saxophones, clarinet and flute). He started playing the clarinet in 2nd grade, switching over to the tenor saxophone in 7th grade. Later he went on to lead his own big band his senor year. Upon graduation from High School he joined the service, going thru the Navy School of Music. He was stationed in San Diego, then deployed on a carrier and finally to Newport Rhode Island. After the service he and his wife returned to San Diego, only to go back into the Navy. He played in several outstanding service bands but the one that stands out is the US Navy Jazz Commodores for 15 years, featured on tenor saxophone. In total 28 years as a Navy Musician! A little who’s who of other gigs would be Harry James and Dorsey big bands, Peter Graves Orchestra and Dennis Noday’s Kenton Tribute Big Band. Since moving to Grand Rapids he has become a regular with GRJO, Hip Pocket, Gull Lake Jazz Orchestra and Hark Up Ministries.
Craig Hribek: Saxophone
Craig Hribek holds a Bachelor of Music Education degree from Central Michigan University and a Master’s Degree in Saxophone Performance (Woodwind Specialist) from Michigan State University, where he was a member of Pi Kappa Lambda music fraternity. He is active as a performer and woodwind doubler in the Grand Rapids area, having played many musicals and shows at Grand Rapids Civic Theatre, Circle Theatre, Devos Place, the Frauenthal Theatre and others. He is also a member of the Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra. In the 1980’s he was a member of the original Brownwood Band (Torch Lake, MI) and toured professionally for seven years afterward, including stints with the Rupert’s Orchestra in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the Bijou Orchestra, Bay City, MI and the West Michigan Symphony in Muskegon. His teaching experience includes having taught in Bay City, MI and also at Albion College. He has over 30 years experience in the music industry, working as a school service representative at Meyer Music for the past 23 years. Prior to that Mr. Hribek was Woodwind Product Manager for Yamaha Corporation of America, Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he was in charge of artist relations, marketing and product development for woodwinds and accessories for the entire U.S. market. He is also active as an MSBOA adjudicator and clinician throughout the state of Michigan.
Gary McCourry: Saxophone
“Gary has a drive for excellence and a dedication to this great music we call Jazz. I have worked with Gary not only in GRJO but several other organizations where he performs on multiple sax’s with equal mastery! Gary and I have also taught at Blue lake Fine Arts Camp where I watched him challenge his young students to excel and worked to give them knowledge and experience that will last a lifetime. Gary is inspiring to me and the many players he performs with!” TF
Baritone saxophonist Gary McCourry joined the GRJO in 2010 upon retiring from a 23‐year career as a military musician. He holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Western Michigan University and a Master of Music degree from Indiana University. While in the military he performed in the West Point Band’s Jazz Knights. During this time he studied with Bari saxist of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra Gary Smulyan. Now residing in Wayland, Michigan, Gary maintains a busy schedule performing and teaching saxophone, flute and clarinet throughout the GR area. Currently he is the sax instructor at Aquinas College. He also taught four summers at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp. Besides leading the Beer City Sax’s you just might see him perform with some of the following: Lansing Symphony Jazz Orchestra, Hip Pocket, Truth In Jazz Orchestra, Gull Lake Jazz Orchestra, Hark Up Big Band, pops concerts with Grand Rapids, Battle Creek, Kalamazoo and West Michigan Symphonies. Not to mention GR Civic and Circle Theatres. “Busy Guy”. TF
“Doc has a great since of humor which I love dearly! He is a great hang, which carries over to the band stand! Doc comes up with very interesting solos and his compositions are some of the best I’ve ever heard. We are so lucky to have him in the band all these years. Thanks Doc! “ TF
Dr. Paul Brewer, Retired Director of Instrumental Music at Aquinas College, holds a Doctorate of Arts in Music Composition and Jazz Pedagogy from the University of Northern Colorado. Paul was on the jazz faculty at Interlochen Arts Camp for twenty-two summers and continues to direct the Aquinas College Jazz Camp every June. His downloadable method book, The Jazz Trombone Soloist: Studies in Interpretation and Improvisation, was developed over the past thirty five years of teaching jazz improvisation. Paul is often called upon to adjudicate jazz festivals and to perform as a guest soloist in school jazz band concerts. While jazz is his main endeavor, Paul has played in a wide variety of musical genre from orchestral concerts to rock and roll bands. He has appeared with over fifty major artists, including Mel Torme, Max Roach, Urbie Green, Lena Horne, Bob Hope, The Temptations, Leon Russell, and Mickey Rooney. His own jazz groups and arrangements have received much critical acclaim. Paul plays the jazz trombone chair in the GRJO and has also composed and arranged for the band. Paul’s two compositions, Benevolence and Bop The Bopper (dedicated to GRJO Bandleader, Bob Nixon) are two band and audience favorites.
Dave Collee: Trombone
“Dave Collee and I (TF) have been playing big band music since High School! We had a great band director who was into jazz and the band had talent and was a lot of fun. Dave and I would go on road trips to hear Stan Kenton, Woody Herman and Don Ellis big band’s. Even a miss adventure to Chicago for the Buddy Rich big band! Still together, still swingin’ and still playing big band jazz! Thanks Dave!” TF
Dave started playing the trombone professionally as a teenager in wedding bands and the local big bands around his hometown of Muskegon. Gigging here and there lead to contacts and his first road gig was a local road production of Jesus Christ Superstar. This lead to a one of a kind chance to be on the ground floor of a new Jazz/Rock Opera “Today Is A Good Day To Die”. What made it very special was the musical score by a brilliant upstart composer/arranger Ladd McIntosh. This show was on it’s way with a lot of promise only to lose momentum (and funding). Dave regrouped and pursuing a new found interest in the bass starting gigging on that as well. Dave was in the Bruce Early Night Band starting in 1975, which makes him one of the longest running members of (GRJO). Dave was in the band when it backed Pearl Bailey, Louie Bellson, Randy Brecker, Phil Wilson, Maria Schneider to mention a few. Dave along with a couple other Muskegon musicians are founding members of Truth In Jazz Orchestra. Check them out also!!!
Mark Wells: Trombone
“Mark is one of our newest members of GRJO. He leads the trombone section with a lot of fire to his playing. Always ready to help out when he can, besides his great playing ability, means a lot to me and the functioning of the band! TF
Mark Wells has played trombone with a variety of groups, including Marvin Sapp, The Tommy Dorsey Band, The Four Tops and The Temptations. Local groups include many Michigan bands such as the Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra, The Holland Concert Jazz Ensemble, River City Big Band, The River Rogues, Flat River Big Band, The Kalamazoo Big Band, Gull Lake Big Band and many more. Mark received his bachelor’s degree from Western Michigan University and his Masters in conducting from the American Band College at Southern Oregon University through Sam Houston State College. Mark Wells was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan where he lives with his wife and two children, Vanessa and Simon. He currently teaches instrumental music at East Grand Rapids Public Schools grades 6 – 12.
Paul Keen: Trombone
“I love having Paul in the band, he has such a rich musical background. I wanted to leave his Bio just as he sent it to me. One big paragraph. It seems like it is “Just the Facts” but what facts they are! Myself being a drummer and knowing that Paul had spent time playing with Buddy Rich always prompts me to bug him about road stories and his time with Buddy’s band!!! Tell me more Paul, tell me more…………!!!! TF
Paul Keen’s entry into the professional music world dates back to 1962, playing for social events and country club dances in the Philadelphia suburbs while still in high school. He played his first studio recording session for Hanna Barbera Studios while attending college at California State University at Los Angeles. That launched a recording career that spanned nearly 20 years, composing, arranging and playing bass trombone, tuba and euphonium, for over 1200 cartoon episodes, 150 motion pictures, live television, record transcriptions and radio and television commercials. He played with the big bands of Louis Bellson, Buddy Rich, Don Ellis and with Stan Kenton’s Neophonic Orchestra. He also performed with several symphony orchestras, including the Reno Philharmonic and Fresno Philharmonic Orchestras, Burbank and Highland Park Symphonies, and filled in on occasion for the tubist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra during their Hollywood Bowl seasons. He performed on bass trombone for several productions with the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera Company. From 1978 to1982, he toured as the traveling musical conductor for Holiday on Ice. He also wrote numerous musical arrangements for the shows. The tour also provided him the opportunity to conduct seminars and master classes on college campuses throughout the United States and also in Canada. Throughout his musical career, he has taught trombone, bass trombone, euphonium and tuba to hundreds of private students. After leaving Holiday On Ice in 1982, Paul first settled in Reno, NV, where he often performed for big name acts in the showrooms of Reno and Lake Tahoe, including Frank Sinatra, Frank Jr. and Nancy Sinatra, Barry Manilow, Dean Martin, Robert Goulet, Sammy Davis Jr., Crystal Gayle, Nancy Wilson, Debby Reynolds, and others. Since moving to the Grand Rapids area in 2001, Paul has been actively playing, composing and arranging music for numerous performance organizations throughout West Michigan, including Hark Up Ministries, Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra, Gull Lake Jazz Orchestra, River Rogues Jazz Band and the Flat River Big Band and the New Reformation Jazz Band. He is a regular member of the pit orchestra for Grand Rapids Civic Theater, The Cathedral Brass at the Cathedral of Saint Andrew, and a founding member and arranger for the Antiphon Brass. Paul is a past director of the Grand Band at Saint Cecilia Music Center and has taught low brass and advanced conducting at Cornerstone University. He also directed the Cornerstone Brass and Symphonic Winds
“Dave has been playing Lead trumpet for Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra for quite a number of years now. We have been very fortunate to have him with us. Dave and I work many a gig with quite a few groups in the West Michigan area and I must say it is always a pleasure to look over in the trumpet section and see that he is there and ready to play. Included below is a very modest resume of the “Go To Guy” in the West Michigan Area!” TF.
Since graduating from Western Michigan University school of music in 1976, where he was a member of Bobby Davidson’s Swinging Big Band, Dave has had the pleasure of performing with artists like Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, Ella Fitzgerald, Jon Faddis and many other notable singers and groups! You can catch David playing lead at many of the Jazz Festivals held thru‐out the Midwest. Dave is currently a member of the Kalamazoo Big Band, The Gull Lake Jazz Orchestra, Truth In Jazz Orchestra, Lake Effect Big Band as well as GRJO!
James Sawyer: Trumpet
“James is a mainstay in our trumpet section. Besides his great personality and enthusiasm for life he is a fantastic musician. He entertains us with his creative solos on trumpet and can work an audience into a frenzy doing one of his vocal renditions. Doc makes the gig fun!” TF
Dr. James Sawyer holds degrees from VanderCook College of Music, the University of Michigan and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He also attended Grambling College. He has served as Director of Bands at Livingstone College in Salisbury, NC and Assistant Director of Bands at the University of Nebraska- Omaha. He taught 18 years in the Grand Rapids Public Schools and was named Member Emeritus of the Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association after 15 years as band director in the Kentwood Public Schools, in 2016. Dr. Sawyer has conducted the Blue Lake International Jazz Ensemble and Jazz Orchestra (BLFAC) throughout France, Germany & Denmark and currently serves as a coordinator for BLFAC jazz faculty. His professional credits include lead trumpet for the Temptations, Bob Hope, Bob Newhart, Shirley Jones and the Lawrence Welk All-Stars. He plays regularly with the Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra and the Truth in Jazz Orchestra.
Matt Sumner: Trumpet
“Matt is one our newest members in GRJO. He is a fantastic section player as well as soloist as you will hear on the new CD. Matt also plays lead trumpet for Truth In Jazz Orchestra (TIJO). Besides his playing abilities you will hear his composition and arrangement entitled “Pontaluna” on the new GRJO recording!” TF
Sumner is a native to mid‐Michigan. While in High School he traveled to Europe performing with the Blue Lake International Jazz Orchestra. Matt is now a freelance trumpeter performing all over the mid west for hundreds of weddings, ceremonies, public and private events, concerts and music festivals for last 15 years. Matt holds a Music degree from Central Michigan University where he had the honor to study and perform with dozens of artists including Rob Smith, Bobby Shew, Jeff Hamilton, Bob Mintzer, Phil Smith, and many others. Matt also spent 3 years performing, composing/arranging and directing onboard Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. He currently resides in west Michigan and continues to perform regularly with dozens of groups including Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra (GRJO).
Ted Craig: Trumpet
“Ted has been a part of GRJO trumpet section for many years. His solid playing helps maintain our distinctive brass sound. You can read about his diverse musical background as a teacher and administration. Always great to have him on the gig!” TF
From 2000 to 2011, he was the Director of Instrumental Music at Grand Rapids South Christian High School. He was utilized in several roles, serving as either the Director or Director and Administrator of the Symphonic Band, Concert Band, Freshman Band, String Orchestra, Basketball Pep Band, Marching Band, Jazz Band, and Musical Pit Orchestra. In the fall of 2015, Craig was an Adjunct Music Professor at Aquinas, serving as Director and Administrator of the Aquinas College Concert Band. Craig has performance experience with the Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra, the West Michigan Savoyards, the Grand Rapids Symphonic Band, and the Kalamazoo Concert Band. He earned a Master of Music Education from VanderCook College of Music in 2007 and received his Bachelor of Music Education degree in 1996 from Grand Valley State.
Nate VanderWerf: Trumpet
Nate VanderWerf is a trumpeter and music educator from Grand Rapids, MI, where he makes his living freelancing and teaching trumpet. He received a Bachelor’s degree in Music from Western Michigan University and a Master’s degree in Music from the Jacob’s School of Music at Indiana University. Nate finished college in December 2019 and was able to get started as a freelance trumpeter in Grand Rapids in 2020. Nate currently teaches trumpet and jazz band at West Michigan Homeschool Fine Arts and performs with numerous organizations in the West Michigan area including: Hark Up, the Holland Concert Jazz Orchestra, the Grand Rapids Symphony, and the Grand Rapids Civic Theater.
Steve Talaga: Piano
“Steve is a great asset to our band. Not only as a fantastic soloist and rhythm section player, but as a composer/arranger of the highest regard! He has created a large collection of music over his career. GRJO has included some of his work on our new CD. Please Enjoy!” TF
Pianist, composer and arranger Steve Talaga has been performing for over 40 years. He was chosen as the West Michigan Jazz Society’s 2008 Jazz Musician of the Year, and has released eight discs under his own name. His group “Mind’s Eye” has performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland and the Montreux‐Detroit Jazz Festival in Michigan. Steve has performed with many jazz greats, including Kenny Wheeler, Terry Lynne Carrington, Wes Anderson, Michael & Randy Brecker, Marvin Stamm, Phil Woods, Jon Faddis only to name a few. Steve’s most recent project is the band, Lifeline, featuring him (key’s), his son, Stephen Talaga (guitar), Caleb Elzinga (sax), and Larry Ochiltree (drums). Their debut CD, “No Worries” released in 2019. Talaga received a Bachelor of Music Degree in Jazz Studies, Magna Cum Laude, and a Master Degree in Composition from Western Michigan University. He received a Bachelor of Arts in Broadcast and Cinematic Arts from Central Michigan University.
Tom Lockwood: Bass
“Lockwood is the rock this big band is built on! He is a fantastic musician. As you will read he is not only a great bass player who has gigged with the who’s who of Jazz performers thru‐out the Midwest, but is an outstanding saxophonist as well! He has been playing in both scenario’s for along time. Stop, Look and Listen. Tom will be there!” TF
After starting out on clarinet in the fifth grade, Tom studied sax, flute and bass. In high school he arranged and directed the school’s jazz, pep and show bands. He began gigging on bass while still in high school as well. He attended summer jazz camps of Stan Kenton and Jamey Aebersold. Once he graduated he moved to Boston to study at Berklee College of Music. He later went to Western Michigan University earning a B.M. in Jazz Studies, and a M.M. in Woodwind Performance. Lockwood starting gigging throughout the Midwest with everyone! Marcus Belgrave, Jon Faddis, Bobby Watson, David Liebman, Big Bands of Bruce Early, Russ Morgan, Nelson Riddle. Shows like Red Skelton, Cab Calloway, Temptations…………………….the list goes on and on!!! Tom is dedicated to jazz education and believes in passing on this great music to the next generation. Tom has worked with students at Aquinas and Blue Lake summer music camps. He is a college instructor at Kellogg Community College, Hillsdale College and Hope College. He is co‐leader of Mind’s Eye with Steve Talaga as well as releasing a recording last year with Rob Ryndak titled “Graditude”, featuring trumpeter Brian Lynch on Pacific Coast Jazz Records.
Eddie Eicher: Drummer
“E2 is one of my favorite drummers! He is always musically prepared and plays with precision and musical taste! When looking for a drummer replacement for GRJO one summer Eddie played and really had a handle on what the gig was about. I have no worries about the gig when I know Eddie is there Swingin’ the band! Thanks E2.” TF
Eddie Eicher is a well‐known West Michigan Drummer who plays with a variety of different groups throughout the region. Trios, Horn bands, Funk bands, Big Bands. Stop, Look and Listen, it just might be Eddie on drums. Eddie can be heard on the award winning CD of Karisa Wilson (Jammie Award), Fiction Switch (John Lennon and Billboard Songwriting Contests), Roger MacNaughton (three ArtPrize Music Awards) and An Dro (Jammie Award). The newly released (GRJO) CD “Behind The Mask”. Besides posting videos of GRJO of which Eddie recorded and edited. He put in a great amount of time mixing and tweeking the new CD getting it ready. GRJO thanks him for his time and talent! Visit Eddie’s website at www.EddieEicher.com for more info.
Tim Froncek: Drums
Tim continues to be one of the busiest drummers in west Michigan. He can be seen performing on drum set for big bands and combos, giving clinics & lectures on jazz, or judging one of the many jazz festivals in the mid‐west. Tim toured the US with Woody Herman and the Young Thundering Herd in 1983. 2004: Voted Jazz Musician of the Year by West Michigan Jazz Society 2016: Michigan Jazz Icon by Michigan State University Jazz Department Tim is an affiliate professor at Grand Valley State University, where he directs the GV Jazz Orchestra, teaches drumset, and coaches combos. Each summer is filled with a 30 year teaching association at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp. Tim is now a Blue Lake artist in residence, giving an overview of his musical experiences to campers and staff. . Tim and Bob Nixon took over the GRJO after Dr. Bruce Early’s untimely passing in 1998. Originally called the Bruce Early Night Band, it’s extensive performance history has backed some of the best and most famous of the jazz masters. People like Clark Terry, Randy Brecker, Phil Wilson, Rick Margitza, Buddy DeFranco, Maria Schneider and the list goes on. GRJO will continue to feature the best local and national musicians into the future!