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Gerald Veasley, President

Gerald Veasley’s musical odyssey has taken him around the world, but no matter where the celebrated bassist, bandleader, composer, educator, and curator has traveled he has always called Philadelphia home.

He brings his drive and passion for educating and motivating other musicians to his role as president of Jazz Philadelphia, where he hopes to celebrate and lift up the city’s jazz history, its established artists, and the next generation of Philadelphia-bred musicians.  

His record of service to musicians includes leadership with the Recording Academy (Grammy organization) where he served in numerous roles: Board of Governors, Chapter President, National Trustee, National Nominations Review Committee, Jazz Nominations Review Committee, and National Advocacy Chair.

Veasley attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied political science. However, he has dedicated his life to music; not only performing and recording but to educating and motivating other musicians. He has served on the faculty of Philadelphia’s University of the Arts and is the co-founder and artistic director of Gerald Veasley’s Bass BootCamp. The annual event, which was established in 2002, has informed and inspired hundreds of bass players of all levels and ages.

As his own extensive body of work attests, Veasley is a virtuoso on the six-string bass and he’s recorded or performed with many notable artists in jazz, R&B, and gospel: Joe Zawinul, Grover Washington, Jr., Odean Pope, John Blake, Nnenna Freelon, McCoy Tyner, Pat Martino, Kirk Whalum, Chuck Loeb, The Jaco Pastorius Big Band, Pieces of a Dream, Special EFX, Will Downing, Maysa, Gerald Levert, Teddy Pendergrass, Philip Bailey, and the Dixie Hummingbirds.

Veasley has recorded ten albums as a leader, including “The Electric Mingus Project” which reimagines the music of legendary bassist/composer Charles Mingus; “I Got Life”, a tribute to Nina Simone; and “Live at SOUTH” a collection of funk-tinged jazz originals captured in concert. Schooled by his mentors Joe Zawinul (of Weather Report fame) and saxophone giant Grover Washington Jr., Veasley seeks to blur musical boundaries, respecting tradition while moving forward.

Live at SOUTH was also the outgrowth of Veasley’s role as a curator of the Unscripted Jazz Series at SOUTH Jazz Parlor. Launched in October 2015 and co-curated by his wife and business partner Roxanne Veasley, the weekly series presents artists who, like Veasley, have broad musical tastes and experiences. The series has attracted many celebrated guest artists who appreciate the opportunity to showcase their versatility: Gerald Albright, David Benoit, Rick Braun, Randy Brecker, Alex Bugnon, Chuck Loeb, Eric Marienthal, Maysa, Raul Midón, Janis Siegel, Peter White, Kirk Whalum, and a growing roster of established and emerging artists.

The series’ stellar lineup features many of the same artists whose music was featured on the radio show he hosted on WJJZ, artists who have performed with him at major jazz festivals. Veasley plays an integral role in the Berks Jazz Festival, having presented concerts and All-Star jam sessions there for more than two decades. He currently serves as official Musical Host for the ten-day event.

Heather Shayne Blakeslee, Executive Director

Heather Shayne Blakeslee believes in empowering people and communities to create a thriving economy and a living future. For two decades, she has worked as a sustainability, social justice, and arts advocate, and she’s received citations from her work from the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, Philadelphia City Council, and others. She wants to make Philadelphia a world-class city.

Blakeslee is the founder of Red Pen Arts, LLC, a consultancy that specializes in strategy and operational support, event management, and editorial services for social entrepreneurs and the arts culture sector. Red Pen Arts is also the publisher of Root Quarterly, a journal of art and ideas that launched in the summer of 2019. She’s proud to support her fellow musicians by serving as Jazz Philadelphia’s Executive Director, and looks forward to securing Philadelphia’s place as a vibrant, diverse, and innovative arts and culture destination. Shes also proud to serve as the Vice President of the Board of Directors at the Philadelphia Folk Song Society.

Prior to founding Red Pen Arts, Blakeslee served as the COO at Red Flag Media, an independent publisher of music and sustainability magazines, and as the editor-in-chief of its publication Grid, a Philadelphia-centered urban sustainability and culture monthly. For seven years, she worked at the Delaware Valley Green Building Council (now Green Building United), most recently serving as its Deputy Executive Director, where she led the 150-person volunteer Host Committee—and accompanying projects and event production—when the Greenbuild International Conference & Expo was held in Philadelphia in 2013. She has also held various volunteer posts with the U.S. Green Building Council, at one time co-chairing their Social Justice subcommittee.

Earlier in Philadelphia, she worked on the multimillion-dollar capital campaign for the LEED Platinum renovation of Friends Center, a historic Quaker complex and locus for peace and social justice in the city. She also worked for Bread & Roses Community Fund, a social justice grant-making organization. Prior to moving to Philadelphia, Blakeslee spent six years in New York City at Poets & Writers, a national nonprofit literary organization. She has served on the advisory board for an Overbrook Environmental Education Center environmental justice initiative, on the advisory board of the art and sustainability organization RAIR, and as a co-chair for Philadelphia’s Urban Sustainability Forum.

Blakeslee is also a writer, actor, producer, and an award-winning singer-songwriter. Her Americana folk-noir band Sweetbriar Rose—now at work on a sophomore album—has been featured at top regional venues, including appearances at the Philadelphia Folk Festival, the Brandywine Folk Festival, Musikfest, and the New Jersey Folk Festival. The band’s 2013 debut album, Cultivar, was called “impressive and spooky” by critic A.D. Amorosi of the Philadelphia City Paper and “a terrific CD” by the iconic Gene Shay, retired host of WXPN’s The Folk Show. She has recently appeared in the Vagina Monologues, in V2: Creation Myth (which she also co-wrote), and in the Joni Mitchell-inspired Fringe Festival show Paprika Plains. In 2013, she also produced her own multimedia Fringe Festival show, The Articulate Landscape.

Originally from Bloomsburg, Pa., Blakeslee earned degrees in English and Philosophy from Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa., and also attended the Centre for Mediaeval and Renaissance Studies in Oxford, England. After living and working in New York City for seven years, Blakeslee returned to Pennsylvania and has called Philadelphia her home for the last 14 years.

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