Gwen Laster is a nationally acclaimed musician who has been the recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts, Jubilation Foundation, Puffin Foundation, Arts Mid Hudson, Lila Wallace, and the Cognac Hennessy 1st place Jazz Search. She’s a native Detroiter whose creative influences come from the Motor City’s exciting urban and classical music culture. Gwen started improvising and composing because of her parent’s love of jazz, blues, soul and classical music and her inspiring music teachers from Detroit’s public schools. Laster relocated to NYC after earning two music degrees from the University of Michigan. She began collaborating, performing and recording with internationally-known creative and commercial artists including Anthony Braxton, Nona Hendryx, Aretha Franklin, Wadada Leo Smith, William Parker, Danny Elfman, Sun Ra Arkestra, Tyler the Creator, Gladys Knight, Emeline Michel, Andrea Bocelli, David Foster, Alicia Keys, Rihanna, Shaggy, Andrew Baba Lamb, Natalie Cole, Solange, Mark Anthony, J Lo and Shakira at President Obama’s Inaugural Neighborhood Ball.
Melanie Dyer is a violist who moves across free jazz, jazz, orchestral, and experimental music. She has studied with William Lincer, Lee Yeingst, John Jake Kella and Naomi Fellows. Recently she performed and recorded with William Parker, Sun Ra Arkestra, Henry Grimes, Tomeka Reid, Heroes Are Gang Leaders, New Muse 4tet, Women with an Axe to Grind, and other luminous musicians in the United States, Europe, and South Africa. She founded WeFreeStrings, a string/rhythm collective rooted in creative improvisation, and plays viola in Gwen Laster’s New Muse 4tet.
Acclaimed cellist Jake Charkey enjoys an eclectic career bouncing between various realms of music; MTV specials with Armaan Malik and sold-out shows at the Microsoft Theater with Arijit Singh, stints at the Carnegie Hall with Grammy-awarded composer Eric Whitacre, arranging strings for several TV series, and films including Emmy-nominated Netflix ‘Sacred Games’, recording with Zakir Hussain and Hariharan for Gima awarded album “Hazir 2” and composing music for celebrated choreographer Parul Shah.
Since returning from India to the USA in 2016 Jake has been an advocate for new music for solo cello which he programs in recitals alongside Hindustani music. His performances draw parallels and connections between two vital musical languages, advancing a concept of contemporary music that is rooted in tradition but is centered in a liminal space between two musics.
Jake has performed as a soloist at the Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall, and Eastman School of Music and as an ensemble member at the Lincoln Center, National Sawdust, The Rubin Museum, Dumbarton Oaks, Hancher Auditorium, The Stone, Pioneer Works, and The National Center for the Performing Arts in Mumbai. He is actively commissioning new works for Indian cello including music by Akshaya Tucker and Michael Harrison to be premiered later this year.
He has toured Europe, the Middle East, North and South America, and Asia and collaborates with today’s forward-thinking musicians including Layale Chaker and Sarafand, Adam Rudolph’s GO Organic Orchestra, and the Brooklyn Raga Massive among many others.
As a passionate educator on a mission to establish the cello as an Indian instrument, Jake has taught on the music faculty at Marlboro College, given workshops on Indian cello playing at the New Directions Cello Festival, UMass, Berklee College of Music, and presented the Indian cello as a TEDx speaker and The Violoncello Society of New York.
Jake is a pioneer and innovator of techniques that he has developed for rendering Hindustani music, and an exponent of contemporary music, helping composers understand how to use this expanded cello vocabulary in their music.
Jake holds a B.Mus from Shepherd School of Music at Rice University in cello performance where he studied under Norman Fischer. He received his MFA from California Institute for the Arts in North Indian Classical music, where he learned from Aashish Khan, Swapan Chaudhury, and Jagan Ramamurthy, while also studying improvisation techniques from Charlie Haden, Vinny Golia, and Wadada Leo Smith.
As a recipient of the Shastri Indo-Canadian Arts Fellowship in 2010, he received advanced training in Mumbai in Hindustani music under the legendary violin virtuoso Dr. N. Rajam.
In India, as the most in-demand touring and studio cellist, his fluency in two grand music traditions lead him to record and perform with many of the most celebrated musicians in the country, such as Zakir Hussain, Fazal Qureshi, Hariharan, Yesudas, Kailash Kher, Master Saleem, Arijit Singh, Armaan Malik, Clinton Cerejo, Jeet Gangully, Stephen Devassy, and many others.
His unique sound can be heard on the title theme song of Netflix Sacred Games, season 2 of MTV’s Coke Studio, multiple episodes of MTV Unplugged, and in more than 100 Bollywood songs and soundtracks.
Jake uses a REMIC microphone for live sound and an NS design 5-string electric cello when he isn’t playing an acoustic instrument.