Jazz House Kids has a tremendous band of professionals who keep the Jazz House humming. Meet the people who bring the Jazz House to life each and every day.
Melissa Walker – President & Founder
An acclaimed jazz vocalist and recording artist, Melissa has performed internationally for close to 20 years. In addition to recording five solo albums and appearing as a guest artist on numerous CDs, she is the featured vocalist on bass virtuoso and band leader Christian McBride’s 2012 GRAMMY-winning album The Good Feeling.
In 2002, Melissa’s passion for performing and working with young people led her to found JAZZ HOUSE KiDS, and she has proved to be a visionary leader whose work has been recognized nationally. Melissa was recently chosen as a 2014 Best 50 Women in Business Honoree in New Jersey and in 2013, the Jazz Journalists Association presented her with a Jazz Hero Award, given each year to “activists, advocates, altruists, aiders and abettors of jazz who have had significant impact in their local communities.” The previous year, she and McBride received the African American Classical Music Award from the New Jersey Chapter of the Spelman College National Alumnae Association. In 2011, Melissa was honored with a Red Cross Award from the Montclair, Glen Ridge and Nutley, New Jersey Chapter for “significant impact on the quality of life through volunteer and humanitarian efforts, ” and she received the Community Service Award from BlueWaveNJ.
Walker is a graduate of Brown University and in 2013 completed The Prudential Foundation Nonprofit Executive Fellows Program at the Institute For Ethical Leadership at Rutgers Business School. Originally from Alberta, Canada, Melissa lives in Montclair with her husband Christian McBride and their two dogs, Ella and Jesse.
Jennifer Verdonck – Senior Manager of Event Production
Jennifer has worked with the Walt Disney Company, New York Musical Theatre Festival and in admissions/recruitment for a private high school. No stranger to the world of large events, she spent over ten years in various roles for Macy’s Parade and Entertainment Group. She also had the pleasure of hosting an experiential marketing tour celebrating the Parade, which appeared all over the country, including Universal Studios, FL, and Superbowl XLI. Jennifer earned a BFA from Montclair State University, where she studied Acting and Musical Theatre and, in 2015, completed her master’s degree in Arts Development and Program Management from the University of Denver. Jennifer is an advocate for the circus arts and a recreational aerialist, and enjoys traveling with her husband Bill and beloved dog Zoey.
Allison Russo – Senior Manager of Education and In-School Programs
Allison joined JAZZ HOUSE KiDS in July 2014, beginning her foray into arts administration. After graduating from Ithaca College in 2011 with a B.M. in music education and a minor in writing, Allison taught elementary school band in Ithaca, New York, for three years. While there, she taught over 130 students each year, oversaw student teachers from Ithaca College, and created three school-wide dinosaur-themed art projects titled “Jurassic Arts.” She also enjoyed three summers working with the NYSSSA School of Orchestral Studies as the Head Counselor, theory teacher, and woodwind quartet coach. Allison completed her Master’s in Music Education through Boston University in 2015. Along with two of her friends, she bakes professionally with Trio Dolce Desserts (triodolcedesserts.com). She lives in West Orange with her husband and college sweetheart, Ben.
Nathan Eklund – Manager of Music
A masterful trumpeter, Nathan has been part of seminal ensembles of today, including the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Mingus Big Band, and Roy Hargrove Big Band, among others. Also an accomplished educator, he serves as an adjunct professor at New Jersey City University. Nathan’s journey at Jazz House Kids began as a teaching artist at the Abington Avenue School in Newark, and he later led a Blues & Roots ensemble during several semesters. As the new Manager of Music, Nathan brings a passion for youth education and this great music, as well as a host of skills, including incredible compassion and leadership.
Ted Chubb – Director of the JAZZ HOUSE Summer Workshop
Ted began his career performing in his native Ohio with mid-west legends, organist Bobby Floyd and saxophonist Gene Walker. He received his MM from Rutgers University and studied with master trumpet teacher William “Prof.” Fielder. From 2006-2011, he toured with the Tony Award-winning show “Jersey Boys”. Ted co-led the critically acclaimed quartet “New Tricks”, which released two recordings and toured throughout the U.S. He has performed with artists such as Wallace Roney, Christian McBride, Winard Harper, Don Braden, Melissa Walker, Bruce Williams, Billy Hart, Tia Fuller, Vincent Gardner, Dave Stryker, Josh Evans, Lenny White, Jerome Jennings, and Cecil Brooks III. Ted served as Jazz House Director of Music from 2012 -2015. He currently resides in Luczern, Switzerland and New York City, focusing on his own projects, both internationally and in NYC. In addition, he continues to be involved at JAZZ HOUSE KiDS as the Director of the JAZZ HOUSE Summer Workshop and Special Programs.
Candice Reyes – Artist Relations + Emerging Musicians Community Concerts Coordinator
Born and raised in El Paso, Texas, Candice joined JAZZ HOUSE KiDS in the fall of 2015, after relocating to New Jersey with her saxophonist husband. A professional vocalist, she studied at the University of Texas at El Paso, earning a Bachelor’s degree in Commercial Music (Vocal). Born into a musical family, she began performing at an early age and, in 2013, released her first album, titled “Crossing Over”. As the Emerging Musicians Community Concerts Coordinator at JAZZ HOUSE KiDS, Candice enjoys combining her passion for music, with the opportunity to help young musicians thrive through performance opportunities. She is also eager to expand her career as a vocalist in the New York City and New Jersey jazz scenes.
Chrissy Andrascik – Director of Student Services
Chrissy joined the JAZZ HOUSE in June of 2015. With nearly a decade of experience in fundraising, volunteer management, event planning and community engagement with the American Cancer Society, Chrissy was excited to remain in the world of nonprofits, yet shift to an organization focused on bridging the gap in arts education. She loves building relationships with our students and their families, and helping make the JAZZ HOUSE a place where everyone feels safe, welcome and engaged in. She is a graduate of William Paterson University with a BA in Communication. A Jersey Girl, Chrissy resides in Clifton with her husband, Eddie, their twin sons, William & Zachary, and their dog Sydney. In her spare time she enjoys volunteering for the NICU at Saint Barnabas Medical Center, cooking, and spending time with family and friends.
Ian Kenselaar – Student Services Associate
A bassist and JAZZ HOUSE KiDS alum, Ian joined the team as a Student Services Associate. He also accompanies student ensembles during their performances, as part of the Emerging Musicians Community Concert (EMC2) program. Ian was born and raised in Maplewood, where he was first introduced to the rich culture of jazz. In his time away from the JAZZ HOUSE, he performs with various jazz ensembles, as well as Turkish and bluegrass groups.
Taylor Martin – Student Services Associate
A Music/Music Education major at Essex County College (ECC) and budding vocalist, Taylor joined JAZZ HOUSE KiDS in the fall of 2015. Initially pursuing a Business Administration degree at the University of Hartford, she soon realized that her real passion was singing, and enrolled in ECC to learn the basics while taking private lessons. Her goal is to finish her music degree, and to continue fulfilling her dreams of becoming a singer.
Abby Aska – Student Services Associate
Abby began her time at JAZZ HOUSE KiDS as an intern in the summer of 2015 and is now a part of the Student Services team. She is currently working towards a degree in Music Education at Montclair State University. Although she is a classical clarinetist, Abby holds a special place for jazz in her heart and enjoys learning more and more about this music every day at the JAZZ HOUSE.
Justin Robinson – Donor Relations Associate
Justin joined JAZZ HOUSE KiDS in the fall of 2016. He holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Performance from the University of Central Missouri and a Master of Music degree in Jazz Studies from Rutgers University. When not at the JAZZ HOUSE, Justin enjoys cooking, hiking, and watching live music. He lives in Newark with his girlfriend and their cat, Luna.