Kimberly Branch has earned a bachelor's in jazz studies as well as a bachelor's degree in music education from Northern Illinois University. She currently serves as director of bands at Edison Middle School in Champaign, IL. She directs three jazz ensembles, two combos, three concert bands and 5th grade beginning band. The top jazz ensemble has received numerous accolades and awards including 1st place at the 2016 and 2017 Purdue Jazz festival and 1st place at the Eastern Illinois Jazz Festival. The Edison Middle School Jazz Ensemble was recently invited to perform at the 70th Annual Midwest Clinic at McCormick Place in Chicago as well as the 2017 Illinois Music Education Conference in Peoria. Kimberly has served at many camps including the Dillard Center for the Arts Jazz camp and the NIU summer jazz camp from 2012-2016 as a vocal instructor and trumpet clinician. Kimberly has toured with the NIU Jazz Ensemble under the direction of Prof. Ron Carter and Prof. Reggie Thomas for several years.
Marybeth Kurnat holds a B.M. in Music Education from NIU, and has been teaching professionally since 2012. She currently teaches 6th grade band, jazz and general music at Huntley Middle School, and is an arranger and co-director for the DeKalb High School a cappella program. During her career as a public school educator, she has been nominated for a Golden Apple Award and Kane County Educator of the Year. She also maintains a private woodwind studio, and is frequently engaged as a festival clinician and adjudicator. Marybeth has a dynamic performance background in instrumental music, vocal music and theater. She is a member of the St. Charles Singers and the Chicago Choral Artists. She has been on the NIU Jazz Camp staff since 2011.
Originally from the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, Nick Roach has established himself in Chicagoland as an in-demand composer, arranger, educator and performer. Having performed in several states and on cruise ships on five continents, Nick is an adept and versatile musician on multiple instruments as well as being an accomplished bass-baritone singer. As a composer/arranger, he has written for groups of various sizes and genres, including writing for his own ensembles as well as receiving commissions to write for big bands and combos in Illinois and Texas.
As a trombonist and singer, Nick has had the privilege of performing with many respected musicians of different genres, such as Arthur Barrow (Frank Zappa), The Glenn Miller Orchestra, The Harry James Orchestra, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Corey Wilkes, Robert Irving III, Ari Brown, Ray Olan y su Nuevo Sason, Al Smith, Dee Alexander, Sal Lozano, Nicholas White, Russ Phillips, Victor Garcia and Eric Schneider, as well as the Chicago Philharmonic, Chicago Bach Chamber Choir, Chicago Jazz Orchestra and the Chicago Composers' Big Band. Nick holds a Master of Music in Jazz Studies from Northern Illinois University and a bachelor of Music in Jazz Trombone Performance from the University of North Texas. He has taught at the NIU Jazz Camp since 2016.
Lenard Simpson is a saxophonist, composer and educator from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He started playing clarinet in elementary school wind ensemble and later switched to the alto, which is his primary instrument currently. Lenard was mostly self-taught through high school, but his natural ability and musicianship earned him accolades such as membership in the esteemed Grammy Camp Jazz Session, and an outstanding soloist award at the Mingus Jazz Competition in New York City. After completing high school, Lenard went on to pursue a bachelor's in jazz performance at Northern Illinois University. Lenard soon became a core member of the legendary Jazz program's many award-winning ensembles, meanwhile diversifying his education, studying classical saxophone. While studying at NIU, Lenard was awarded first place in Chicago's esteemed Luminarts Jazz Competition. Upon graduation, Lenard moved to Chicago and soon became one of the city's top call young saxophonists and improvisers, playing sideman to legendary local drummers, George Fludas and Charles Heath. Meanwhile, Lenard's trio comprising of revered musicians such as Dana Hall and Clark Sommer has appeared at premier clubs and jazz festivals throughout the Chicago and Milwaukee area.
In addition to maintaining an active performing schedule as a leader and a sideman, Simpson is also an educator and has taught at several high-profile jazz camps including the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, Northern Illinois University, and Birch Creek. In 2018, Lenard was selected by a panel of Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, James Newton and Ambrose Akinmusire to be a member of the Thelonious Monk Institute Fellowship, which has since been renamed to the Herbie Hancock Institute. Following his acceptance, Lenard moved to Los Angeles, where he currently resides. While pursuing his master's degree at UCLA through the fellowship, Lenard remains active as a performer and educator in LA's growing jazz community regularly appearing at LA's premier jazz venues such as the Blue Whale and Sam First.
Kyle McComb is a member the NIU jazz studies program (receiving his Bachelor of Music Performance degree in May 2018) and plays regularly in the Chicago area. While at NIU, Kyle has performed with the NIU Jazz Ensemble, Latin Jazz Ensemble, and various jazz combos and classical ensembles. He has studied percussion, pedagogy, improvisation, and composition with Rodrigo Villanueva, Juan Pastor, Quin Kirchner, Greg Beyer, Mike Mixtacki, Ben Wahlund, Robert Chappell, Reggie Thomas, Geof Bradfield, Fareed Haque, Art Davis, and David Maki. His playing and composition reflect his interest in jazz music as a music of interaction, spontaneity, and innovation. An affinity for many styles of music and a willingness to experiment musically has made Kyle an in-demand sideman in the Chicago scene. Kyle has instructed young musicians in situations varying from private lessons to jazz combos to big bands to percussion ensembles; his teaching emphasizes developing an individual approach to music that is based on a firm understanding of musical traditions and technique.
Austyn Vaughn Menk is a pianist, organist, composer, arranger, and educator currently based in the Sycamore, IL area. After completing his B.A. in Music at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN, Austyn began studying jazz piano under the tutelage of Reginald Thomas at Northern Illinois University. He is pursuing a degree in Jazz Studies at NIU, where he also teaches lessons through NIU’s Community School of the Arts and works as an assistant in the Large Ensemble Office. Beginning in fall semester 2022, Austyn will serve as a graduate assistant at NIU, teaching an introductory group piano course and directing the University Jazz Ensemble.
Austyn has had the great pleasure of playing with groups such as Dave Stamps’ MODx big band, active in the Twin Cities area; the Blueshift Big Band led by Joel Baer and Chris Parsons; and is an active member of the Morgan Turner Quartet. He hopes to expand his career as a sideman and educator. In his teaching, Austyn emphasizes playing healthily and mindfully as well as practicing technique creatively and intentionally to inform the mind and music, a combination of approaches inspired by his former instructors Paul Baumgartner and Masayoshi Ishikawa.