The Mission of the Jazz Leaders Fellowship is to:

  • Support emerging jazz musicians in creating original music.
  • Support the careers of Black women and Black non-binary jazz musicians to help increase their representation in the field
  • Broaden the presence of BKCM in the jazz community
  • Expose BKCM’s students to diverse emerging teachers

The program was conceived by BKCM Board member Daniel DiPietro and developed by the Jazz Leaders Fellowship Committee, led by musician and educator Fay Victor (learn more about the committee below). 

The fellowship is made possible by the generous support of DiPietro and his wife Alexis and includes a $12,500 award. Additionally, BKCM will empower and aid recipients in their paths toward music leadership through teaching and performance opportunities, access to BKCM’s rehearsal spaces, participation in BKCM’s Jazz Program advisory panel and more.

Scroll down to learn more about our inaugural fellows Charenée Wade and Jordyn Davis, our 2022-23 fellows Jasmine Wilson and Melvis Santa, and our 2023-24 fellows Miss Olithea and Melanie Charles.

Jazz Leaders Fellowship Package

The 2024-2025 Fellowship Package

The 2024-2025 fellowship takes place from August 1, 2024 – July 31, 2025, and aims to empower and aid the recipients on their paths towards music leadership through several benefits and opportunities, including:

  • A $12,500 unrestricted award
  • Access to BKCM’s rehearsal spaces
  • Applicants who advance to the final round must be available for a live interview on June 24th (date subject to change and time TBA)


  • One public performance presenting you as a leader in an ensemble
    • Additional support is provided for up to 5 musicians (including the grantee) at $250 each
  • Collaboration with the CMS Jazz Program Director to establish a framework for engaging students with the Fellow’s artistry. This collaboration will include:
    • one three-hour workshop with BKCM jazz students
    • a one-hour planning meeting with the CMS Jazz Program Director within eight weeks of the start of the fellowship (August – September)
    • a one-hour planning meeting with BKCM jazz faculty and/or BKCM faculty
    • a site visit (can be combined with a planning meeting)

Other Opportunities include

  • Paid mentorship for an individual student or ensemble in the CMS Jazz Program
  • Employment in the form of subbing and additional teaching
  • Participation in the BKCM Jazz Program advisory panel


Applicants for the Jazz Leaders Fellowship must meet the following criteria:

  • Black women and Black non-binary jazz musicians (vocal/instrumental)
  • 21-years and older
  • Reside in the New York Metropolitan area
  • Currently enrolled full-time students are not eligible
  • Applicants from all career stages are encouraged to apply

2023-2024 Jazz Leaders Fellows

Miss Olithea

Miss Olithea is a singer, songwriter, producer, and sound healing practitioner. She is a native New Yorker who by the age of 18 has performed at every major concert hall in NYC. She received her BFA from the Hartt School in musical theater. Some of her favorite credits include  Millie Christine McKoy’s Syncopated Sonnets at the Lannan Foundation, The Afrofuturism Festival at Carnegie Hall, JAM Performance MoMA residency, Maroon and Suffragettes: a Tribute to Greg Tate. Olithea is a proud member of the World renowned Burnt Sugar Arkestra Chamber.

Olithea has also released her music Long Day’s Journey (2016) and To Be Seen and Heard (2017) Since those releases, Olithea has deepened her practice in meditation and experimental music. With the use of vocal loops, fx, and sound bowls she channels spirit that calms the heart and eases the mind.  In 2022 She released Cosmic Church (2022),  a  live meditation EP.  Miss Olithea also is a voice teacher and in November 2020 she started her own private studio The Vocal Journey. Olithea finds true delight in training singers in evidence-based techniques for a lifetime of healthy singing.

Melanie Charles

Brooklyn born and raised Melanie Charles is one of the few artists whose sound can capture the sentiments of a generation. Over the past few decades, she has made a name for herself through dynamic engagements with jazz, soul, and R&B. Her bold genre-bending style has been embraced by a range of artists including Wynton Marsalis, SZA, Mach-Hommy, Gorillaz, and The Roots. In 2021, she appeared on NPR’s Tiny Desk and stunned with her eclectic style. Through it all, she has remained committed to making music that pushes listeners to consider new possibilities—both sonically and politically.

“Make Jazz Trill Again,” a project that she launched in 2016, demonstrates her allegiance to everyday people, especially the youth and is focused on taking jazz from the museum to the streets. “I love jazz, I really fell in love with it deeply. But I was interested in young people interacting with it,” Charles says. The album Y’all Don’t (Really) Care About Black Women is reflective of Charles’ tremendous versatility and imagination as an artist but of also her deep care for community.

2022-2023 Jazz Leaders Fellows

Melvis Santa

Melvis Santa is a multi-disciplinary singer, creative pianist, composer, actress, educator, and cultural ambassador who has spent the last two decades performing and teaching worldwide with an emphasis on folk arts education. Born and raised in Havana, Cuba, Melvis came to performance early through her family lineage and various cultural traditions. As a bandleader, she has performed with her bands Ashedi, Ellas-Son, Melvis Santa Quartet, and La Rumba de Santa at Birdland, Minton’s, the Jazz Gallery, Bronx Museum, Lincoln Center, The Jazz  Museum in Harlem, and Aaron Davis Hall. Melvis is a member of Kenny Garrett’s Sextet playing keyboards, percussion, and singing at Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festivals, Blue Note New York, and many other venues across the U.S.

Jasmine Wilson 

Jasmine Wilson is a singer, composer, poet, educator, and producer who combines jazz and classical music with free improvisation and poetry. Jasmine is a Dream Unfinished Activist Orchestra member, singing in concerts for Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the DiMenna Center for Classical Music, the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning, the Brooklyn Public Library, the Queens Museum, and the Center for Constitutional Rights. She is half of the improvisation-based musical duo Chez Cherie with pianist Joey Chang. Jasmine has performed and collaborated with artists such as composer/musicians Aakash Mittal, Anjna Swaminathan, Joel Ross, Maria Grand, Sean Mayes, and Stephan Crump. Internationally, she has appeared with Canadian funk/R&B bands What It Is, the Morphtet, Freak Motif, and Kalmunity.

2021-2022 Jazz Leaders Fellows

Charenée Wade 

Charenée Wade is a critically-acclaimed singer, composer, arranger and educator who took first runner-up in the 2010 Thelonious Monk Vocal Competition. A recipient of the 2017 Jazz at Lincoln Center Millennial Swing Award, she has worked with greats including Wynton Marsalis, Christian McBride and Robert Glasper, among many others. Wade is a graduate of the Manhattan School of Music and has performed at Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Jazz Standard, The Apollo, and at festivals worldwide including Montreux, the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival and more. Wade has taught around the world, including at the Aaron Copland School, the Peabody Institute of John Hopkins University, and the Juilliard School. | Facebook: @chareneemusic | Instagram & Twitter: @chareneewade

Jordyn Davis

Jordyn Davis is a bassist, composer, songwriter, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist who was the first African-American woman at Michigan State University to receive a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Composition and the first student to earn degrees in Music Composition and Jazz Studies concurrently (she also recently earned her Master’s from the university). She has composed and arranged over 20 works for film, contemporary classical chamber ensembles, symphony orchestras, wind ensembles, and jazz ensembles. She has also performed and worked with artists such as Rodney Whitaker, Micheal Dease, Bruce Barth, Wycliffe Gordon & The Black Excellence Trombone Choir, Ingrid Jensen, Rick Roe, Etienne Charles and Dee Dee Bridgewater. Davis is the founder of an indie rock/neo-soul project called “Composetheway.” | Facebook, Instagram, Twitter & Soundcloud: @composetheway

The JLF Committee

This initiative was conceived by the Jazz Leaders Fellowship Committee, whose members play a key role in the selection process.

Fay Victor, Sound Artist/Composer/Educator (JLF Chair)

“She’s essentially invented her own hybrid of song and spoken word, a scat style for today’s avant-garde.” – The New York Times
Fay Victor is a sound artist and bandleader who uses performance, improvisation and composition to examine representations of modern life and blackness. Based in Brooklyn, New York, Fay’s ‘everything is everything’ creative aesthetic permeates her working approach to the vocal instrument. Having released eleven critically acclaimed albums as a leader, including her latest release,“WE’VE HAD ENOUGH!” with her improvising quartet SoundNoiseFUNK (ESP-Disk) in October 2020 and having performed with luminaries such as Gary Bartz, Archie Schepp, Nicole Mitchell, Randy Weston, Roswell Rudd, Moor Mother and as a member of the International Contemporary Ensemble, Victor has shown the through line of her unique vocal force and expansion. An innovative educator, Victor gives talks at institutions around the world and is on the faculty of the College of Performing Arts at the New School where she directs a Master in Music Program for Performer-Composers, teaches interdisciplinary practices and Vocal Performance. Victor teaches at ROC Nation School for Sports, Music and Entertainment at Long Island University where she runs a private vocal studio and the Jazz Salon Ensemble. Moreover, Victor is the Board chair for the Jazz Leaders Fellowship, an initiative of the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music to fund Black women/non-binary jazz leaders. Learn more about Fay Victor at Follow Fay Victor @freesongsinger on IG, FB and Twitter.

Ramona Candy 

Ramona Candy is a visual artist who draws inspiration from her Caribbean heritage, growing up in Brooklyn, and a dance career spanning over 30 years. She is a culture bearer — motivating others through her art practice; bringing history to life in her most recent body of work; and in dedication to her community. She has work in collections throughout the U.S., and in Timor-Leste through the U.S. Department of State’s Art in Embassies. Her work as an arts administrator includes being the director of the Arts Council at St. Joseph’s University; Clark Center NYC, a dance legacy project; and a founding member of the Future Historical Society at BRIC.

Felisha George

Felisha George is a recording artist, performer, lyricist, filmmaker and conjurer of rhythmic color. Her musical essence is a meditation and invitation to release, restore and self liberate. Felisha can be described as “an agent of her own transformation and evolution,” an embodied learner and a woman honoring lineage. Using hip hop and jazz as a source, her performance, lyricism and creativity are brought forth on stage. George is a word magician, creating allusive duality and soulful flows, a pure rooted storyteller.

Lezlie Harrison 

Lezlie Harrison is a vocalist both bold and subtle, who brings her distinctive sound to all that she sings – be it jazz, blues, gospel, soul, the Great American Songbook or original compositions. She is a presenter and curator for premier jazz station WBGO, and launched the world-renowned Jazz Gallery along with the late Dale Fitzgerald and trumpeter Roy Hargrove.

Marika Hughes

Marika Hughes is a cellist, singer, songwriter and native New Yorker from a musical family. Her grandfather was the great cellist Emanuel Feuermann and her parents owned a neighborhood jazz club, Burgundy. Marika holds dual degrees in Political Science and Cello Performance from Barnard College and the Juilliard School, respectively. She’s been a storyteller on The Moth Radio Hour and has worked with Whitney Houston, Lou Reed, Anthony Braxton, David Byrne, Adele, D’Angelo, Idina Menzel, Taylor Mac, Nels Cline and Henry Threadgill, among many others. Marika has self-released three albums: “The Simplest Thing” (2011), “Afterlife Music Radio” (2011) and “New York Nostalgia” (2016). She leads the bands Bottom Heavy and The New String Quartet, and is the Founder of Looking Glass Arts, an artist-led retreat and recording space in Upstate New York that offers fully-funded and sliding-scale residencies to record in the non-profit’s 100 year-old rustic barn studio. Looking Glass Arts prioritizes Black and Brown artists; democratizing access to the space, time and natural beauty critical to artistic growth.

Chiwoniso Kaitano

Chiwoniso Kaitano is the Executive Director of Girl Be Heard, a global NGO that develops, amplifies, and celebrates the voices of young women. She has had a long nonprofit career – including time as the Executive Director of Brooklyn’s Ifetayo Cultural Arts Academy – and is dedicated to helping organizations at the forefront of arts and culture, social justice, youth education and social services. Chiwoniso has long been involved in the arts scene and serves on the Board of Trustees for The Center for Fiction, International Contemporary Ensemble and the Downtown Brooklyn Arts Alliance. 

Toya Lillard

Toya Lillard is a theater director, artist, activist and educator who has worked extensively in developing curricula and implementing teaching artist training programs in schools. Before becoming the Executive Director of viBE Theater Experience, a nonprofit that empowers young women and nonbinary youth of color, she was the Director of School Programs for The New York Philharmonic’s Education Department. Lillard teaches at The New School and CUNY CityTech, serves on the Board of the New York City Arts in Education Roundtable and is an Affiliate Representative on the Board of the Downtown Brooklyn Arts Alliance.

LaFrae Sci

LaFrae Sci is an award-winning and internationally acclaimed multi-instrumentalist, educator, composer and electro acoustic adventurer. Bedrock to her artistry are the roots and the fruits of the blues from spirituals to Afro Diasporic futuristic soundscapes that explore time travel, prayer, meditation, and the African American ecstatic tradition. To date, she has shared her intentional creativity in 38 countries. LaFrae is also the Executive Director/Director of Artistic Programming at Willie Mae Future Sounds, named after Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton. W.M.F.S. is a year-round, STEAM-based, empowerment-through-music program that includes spiritual activism, Afro Diasporic futurism, critical thinking and leadership, including music technology through the lens of the blues tradition for girls and gender nonconforming youth in New York City.

Cleo Reed

Cleo Reed is a sound composer, performer, and multi-disciplinary artist based in Brooklyn, NY. Their debut album Root Cause was released in early 2023 with an exclusive vinyl release from Vinyl Me Please and support from Bandcamp,PitchforkThe Wireand OkayPlayer,amongst others. In tandem with their debut, Cleo presented a self-directed performance art piece titled Black American Circus” as a part of BRIC’s Artist-In-Residence program. Cleo has since performed the Black American Circus at Afropunk and, in February 2024, will headline Brooklyn Museum’s First Saturdays celebration. Cleo has worked with Jon Batiste, developing software instruments for his American Symphony at Carnegie Hall. Cleo is also a recipient of the 2022 NYC Women’s Fund for Media Music and Theatre, a fellow as a part of the NationalJazz Museum in Harlem’s Jazz is NOW: Curatorial Fellowship, a selected composer as a part of the International Contemporary Ensemble’s “Call For ____” Commission Programas well as a fellow in One Beat‘s global residency tour program.Cleo is an alumni of Harlem School of The Arts and a graduate of Berklee College of Music. At 19, Cleo Reed named themselves after Cleophus, their great-grandmother and a fellow Aquarius. Whether underground or academic, experimental or popular, they express musicianship guided by their radiance, femininity, and cyclical traumas.

Charlotte Doreen Small

Charlotte Small is an Assistant Professor of Voice and Choral Instruction at The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music and Mannes College of Music Preparatory Division. In addition to her duties as a vocal instructor she is also the co-chair for Equity, Inclusion, and Social Justice for The New School College of Performing Arts.

As a clinician Ms. Small has done Masterclasses in Tel Aviv, Israel at The Israel Conservatory of Music, and in Tokyo Japan at Music, Music, and Kesen High School, Oberlin Conservatory of Music as Guest Conductor.  She has also served on the Ministry of Music Staff at the Historic Abyssinian Baptist Church as The Director of Youth and Children’s Choir and as a Director of The Women’s Chorus. Ms. Small has appeared as a soloist with The Detroit Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Thomas Wilkins. She has also appeared with the New York Philharmonic in a 120-voice choir for The Gala Opening of Geffen Hall under the Direction of Jaap Van Zweden, Mostly Mozart festival, and several others.

Charlotte has worked with Jazz, Classical, Pop, and R&B legends including Wynton Marsalis, Cyrus Chestnut, John Legend, Jon Batiste, Siedah Garrett, Donnie McClurkin, Barbara Tucker, Terry Hunter, and many others. As an actress Ms. Small was in the Spike Lee Film “Red Hook Summer” and appeared in the State Farm” Never Forgotten” Super Bowl 2012 Commercial also directed by Lee. Small is a proud member of the trio “The B Crew” which was founded by dance/house music legend Barbara Tucker.

 Ms. Small recorded the world premiere Of Margaret Bonds Simon Bore the Cross and Credo under the Direction of Dr. Malcolm Merriweather.  Most recently she traveled to Shanghai with members of The New York Philharmonic Chorus to record “Émigré” composed by Aaron Zigman with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Long Yu. As a recording artist Charlotte has a self-titled album entitled “More” that was released in 2008 and several dance recordings that have been produced by Terry Hunter, Barbara Tucker and Eric Morillo to name a few. 

Kambaba Jackson

Kambaba Jasper is a multidisciplinary artist with a focus in sound design, songwriting, and avant-garde experimentalism, through the lens of her Hip-Hop & RnB roots. Hailing from North Carolina, they have been living and creating art of all kinds in Brooklyn with and for the vibrant Black Trans community here for the past 5 years. Her creative expression ranges from fluid, journal-esque, experimentally curated, and improvised, to intentionally reflective pieces exploring the intersections of her identity and perspective from the Margins. For the last 3 years, education has been a focal point of her work as a musician, teaching and managing the Sound Lab at Willie Mae Rock Camp where she also cultivates lessons in all things electronic music for gender marginalized youth.