Bios of Group Members
Shelley Biss (Vocialist/Manager)
Shelley Biss grew up in Southern Oregon and began formal vocal training at the age of 16. She attended college at Willamette University and sung classical, choral, and jazz works which led to the making of a vocal recording and playing with many famous Jazz artists including Clark Terry. Scouted as the University’s next young opera singer, she learned numerous languages and gave operatic recitals in the process of obtaining a Music Minor amongst other degrees. After college, Shelley moved to Alaska where she became part of the chorus for Anchorage Opera, participating in operas such as Cosi Fan Tutte, Carmen, Eugene Onegin, and Pagliacci. A few years ago, she fulfilled a life long dream and preformed Hayden’s Mass in Time of War at Carnegie Hall under the direction of Dr. Wallace Long, Jr. During that time, she also participated in the recording of a techo CD. Shelley is currently the vocalist with Northern Lights Jazz and is working on making her first solo album HEARTSONGS, to be released spring of 2016. During down time, she loves teaching and exploring her love of music with her four children, ages 15, 14, eight, and five.
Dan McElrath (Piano)
Dan McElrath is a graduate of the Furman University School of Music. He has performed for the past 30 years in venues across America covering a wide range of musical styles from gospel to contemporary jazz. In the past few years the Dan Mac Quintet has recorded CD’s with vocalists Cat Coward (Out of the Bag-2007), Katie Strock (DanKa-2008) and Voni K (So Nice-2008) all of which can be found on iTunes. In 2010 Dan performed with trumpetist Yngvil Vatn Guttu on her new release “Plan B” as well as with saxophonist Rick Zelinsky on his CD “Rick Zelinsky LIVE” (2010). On 12/1/2010 Dan released a bass/piano duet Christmas CD with bassist Ray Booker entitled "An Alyeskan Christmas". During 2011 The Dan Mac Quintet toured Alaska with his most celebrated CD "Ajazzka" which is a musical jazz mosaic of Alaska composed and performed by pianist Dan McElrath who was featured on the nationally syndicated jazz show "12th Street Jump" in May of 2012. In August 2012 Dan was Music Director for the national premiere of a new musical by Sanders & Sanders entitled the Gold Rush Girls which sold out 6 straight weeks at Cyranos Playhouse in Anchorage, Alaska. This was followed in September 2012 by his "907 Central" jazz tour with bassist Milo Matthews, Portland jazz guitarist Mike Doolin and drummer Cameron Cartland! This sparked the bands newest recording entitled "907 Central" featuring original jazz compositions by vibesman John Damberg, bassist Milo Matthews, Portland jazz guitarist Mike Doolin, bassist Ray Booker and pianist Dan McElrath including Dan's 2012 Jazz Song of the Year nominee "Smile Sayulita Smile" and his most recent 2013 Alaska Jazz Song of the Year winner "Night in Spenard". Dan was chosen Number 1 Anchorage Jazz Artist 2012 by the Anchorage Press and begins 2014 as the No. 1 Jazz artist in Alaska and in the top 100 nationally according to Reverbnation.com with more than 13,000 "listens" on his site. For more information on Dan McElrath please check out his website, Facebook Page, and/or Reverbnation Page.
Melissa Fischer (Piano)
Melissa, born and raised in Anchorage AK, began studying music at the age of four. As a National Merit Scholar, she graduated with honors from South Salem High School (Oregon) in 1981 and was accepted to attend the University of Washington to study classical piano. Melissa subsequently transferred to Linfield College in McMinnville Oregon to study piano with Dr. K. Jill Timmons. In addition, she was selected to be a member of the honors program and received an academic scholarship along with her music scholarships. In 1985 Melissa graduated with honors and earned a Bachelor of Arts in Music degree.
After graduation, Melissa returned to Anchorage, where she started a private piano studio, which she maintained until 2001. She began her career as a full-time professional musician in 1985, performing in widely popular groups throughout Alaska. From 1990 to 1997 she studied at the University of Alaska-Anchorage and received a Master of Arts in Teaching.
Melissa released her first Cd, "by Request" in 1998 and her second Cd "Jazzmom Returns" in 2001. Her third Cd "Jazzmom Exposed" features a talented and well respected Portland jazz guitarist along with Melissa and her bassist. In a review of this Cd, The Anchorage Daily news writes, "the most successful recording of Fischer's work, with mellow, soulful and classy renditions of (jazz) standards". In 2004, "A Merry Jazzmom was released featuring sophisticated jazz arrangements of favorite Christmas carols. With four Cd's to her name she has established herself as a highly sought after jazz pianist and vocalist and has surrounded herself with highly skilled and seasoned musicians. In March of 2002 the Anchorage Daily News called Melissa a "most impressive performer, singing with great passion and emotion." In 2005 Melissa was voted "Anchorage's Best Singer" by the readers of the Anchorage Press.
Melissa's performing experience has been quite varied. In 1987 she performed "Watch Out or the Music Will Get You!" with ALOT (Alaska Light Opera Theater) under the direction of Gloria Marinacci Allen. In 1994 Melissa was featured with the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra and guest artist Lauren Pelon. And, in December of 2000, Melissa was the featured vocalist with the Elmendorf Air Force Band of the Pacific as they presented their seasonal Christmas concert "Holiday Lights" at the Anchorage Center for the Performing Arts to over 4000 concert-goers over two evenings. In June of 2001, the Melissa Bledsoe Fischer Jazz Quartet was featured at the Alyeska Jazz Festival along with half a dozen national "smooth jazz" recording artists. In July of 2002, she had the good fortune to play with the legendary jazz trumpeter/flugelhornist Bobby Shew in a rare Anchorage concert appearance. Fall of 2002, Melissa began a series of monthly concerts entitled "JAZZ @ the 4th Avenue Theatre", in which she featured jazz talents from Washington D.C., San Francisco, Chicago and Portland Oregon with her group. She and her band have also opened for such notable jazz stalwarts as Mose Allison, Spyro Gyra, Randy Crawford and blues legend James Cotton.
In addition to concertizing, performing weekly at such venues as Sullivan's Steakhouse, Platinum Jaxx, and the wildly popular summer jazz series at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, Melissa is a busy mom with the four children. She and her husband, Tony, are the proud parents of Sarah (18), Matt (17), Rachel (15), Rebecca (12) and Sitka, as 80-pound, 7 year-old Golden Retriever.
For more information on Melissa Fischer check out her website.
Pat Owens (Trumpet/Flugelhorn)
Originally from Spokane, Washington, Pat began playing professionally at the age of 16. He enrolled in the Jazz Studies program at Spokane Falls College and graduated from Eastern Washington University. While at Spokane Falls he received an “Outstanding Soloist” award at the CBC Jazz Festival. At 19, Pat joined the Spokane Jazz Orchestra, backing major jazz artists while also performing in jazz combos, rock, funk and Latin dance bands and played on several commercial recordings.
Since his arrival in Anchorage in 1985, Pat has been a member of such groups as The Keyboard All Stars, Axiom, El Combo Tropical, Rick Zelinsky Jazz Masters, Salem and the Melissa Fischer Quartet. He has been a featured guest artist for University of Alaska-Anchorage “Jazz Week”. He is leader of an 8 piece swing band “The Blue Notes” and “The Blue Dixie Combo”. He has recorded with Jazz Fighting Hunger, Mr. Whitekeys, Full Tilt, Dan McElrath, Rick Zelinsky, Melissa Fischer and others.
George Pierce (Trumpet)
Massachusetts native George Pierce studied at Berklee College of Music and the University of Massachusetts, and went on to spend 21 years in US Air Force bands touring Japan, Korea, Afghanistan and Iraq as well as most of the United States. He has also been fortunate enough to share the stage with the Four Tops, the Temptations, Joan Rivers, Donald O'Connor, Jack Jones, the Mills Brothers, the Gene Krupa Orchestra, jazz saxophonists Bobby Watson, Jimmy Heath and Benny Carter, drummer Peter Erskine, trumpeter Bobby Shew and jazz legend Clark Terry. George can be seen around town playing occasional gigs with Melissa Bledsoe Fischer, Rick Zelinsky John Damberg, the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra and the Anchorage Concert Choir, as well as miscellaneous pit duties for the likes of The Music Man and Chicago.
George curently lives in Eagle River, Alaska with his lovely wife Cheryl (French horn, Anchorage Symphony and Anchorage Opera) and daughter Maggie.
Nancy Conescu (Guitar)
Nancy Conescu is a noted singer of traditional Irish and American ballads. A native New Yorker, Nancy was exposed to the music and traditions of many cultures from an early age. Today, she is known for honoring the roots of traditional Irish and American ballads while shaping the music to her own sensibilities. Nancy is also an accomplished guitarist, whose imaginative and polished playing on electric and acoustic guitar keeps her in great demand as an accompanist. She has performed with many of the world’s most respected Celtic musicians, including Sean Keane, Martin Hayes, Kevin Burke, Charlie Piggot, Brian Conway, and Laurence Nugent. In addition to her solo CDs Long Distance (1997) and Wild Blossoms (2007), Nancy is featured on Aontas, the band’s self-titled CD, (1998). Her collaboration with Gerry Harrington on The Fiddle The Voice (Connoisseur Records 2003) topped many of the trad charts in both Ireland and the US.
Mike Doolin (Guitar/Bass)
Mike Doolin is a guitarist of some 40 years professional experience. He received his formal music education at Mt. Hood Community College and North Texas State University. He has performed with such Northwest mainstays as Mel Brown, Mitzi Zilka, Shirley Nanette, Gary Ogan, LaRhonda Steel, Fred Stickley, and Soul Vaccination. His recording credits include Dan McElrath's "907 Central", Obo Addy's "Wonchi Bi", Timothy Bryson's "Playground", Linda Daiber's "Remembring June" and The Flying Stickley's "Behind the Hangar". He has released two CDs as a leader and composer, "Reflection" in 2009, and "Tough Commute" in 2014.
"Mike is also an internationally respected guitar maker, having built instruments for recording artists Esperanza Spalding, Muriel Anderson, John Stowell, Justin King and Nancy Conescu. He has written extensively on lutherie topics for the Guild of American Luthiers, and served as guest lecturer at the Roberto-Venn School of Lutherie, the American School of Lutherie, Healdsburg Guitar Festival, the Montreal Guitar Festival and the Guild of American Luthiers Conventions.”
Dirk Westfall (Bass)
Dirk Westfall has been playing bass for more than 40 years. He began his career in 1976 when he joined the US Navy Band, and then the Air Force Band in 1980. After 24 years of playing bass in military bands, Dirk retired in Alaska where he now works full-time as a freelance musician. Throughout his career he has performed with Manhattan Transfer, Bobby Shew, Carl Fontana, Tony Williams, The Four Freshmen, and has performed on many local jazz recordings. Currently, he is performing with a variety of Alaska musicians at various locations in south central Alaska.
Bob Andrews (Bass)
Bob Andrews has logged over 40 years of musical training and performance experience in a wide variety of genres and ensembles. After graduating from high school in 1978, he earned a Bachelor of Music degree in performance, composition, and jazz studies from Coe College, a private liberal arts college in Iowa. In addition to his jazz studies, Bob studied classical upright bass and performed for three years with the Cedar Rapids Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Orchestra.
After graduating in 1983, Bob toured extensively throughout the United States and Canada with various pop/rock, country, blues, and funk bands. He spent time in Oklahoma City, where he played in the local jazz and pop music scenes, as well as concerts with touring artists such as the legendary R&B group The Platters. In 1989 he relocated to Dallas, TX and joined one of the top country bands in the region, regularly opening concerts for country stars such as Garth Brooks, Willie Nelson, George Strait, Alabama, Toby Keith, Brooks & Dunn, and others.
In 1994 Bob moved to Anchorage, AK, where he has become one of the most in-demand bassists in the Anchorage jazz and Latin music scenes. He has been a regular member of the highly acclaimed John Damberg Latin Jazz Quintet since 1995, and regularly performs with other local artists including Melissa “Jazzmom” Fischer, Rick Zelinsky, and others. As an active performer/educator with the Alaska Jazz Workshop, Bob has been the bassist of choice for local concert appearances by touring internationally acclaimed jazz and Latin/jazz artists Barney McClure, Alison Miller, Michael Davis, John Stowell, Peggy Stern, Jovino Santos-Neto, John Goforth, Vince Cherico, and Rebeca Mauleon.
For More Information on Bob Andrews please check out his website.
Ray Booker (Bass)
A musician for 40+ years, Ray began his music career in 1968 after hearing ‘Are You Experienced’, the quintessential debut album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. After the realization that he was not quite a guitarist on par with Jimi, he was moved to play bass, his ‘true’ musical calling. Ray has performed with and opened for such acts as Eddie Harris, Spyro Gyra, Ramsey Lewis, The Chambers Brothers, and others; and currently performs regularly in Anchorage with a wide variety of groups and individuals. He is also the founder and director of the Jazz Fighting Hunger Project, a collective of Anchorage musicians partnered with Food Bank of Alaska in ending hunger in Alaska.
Nelson Felix Jr. (Saxophonist)
In the autumn of 1994, Nelson Felix Jr. began his journey as a saxophonist, exploring both the academic and gospel music arenas. After being exposed to jazz education at summer fine arts camp, this native Alaskan became overly infatuated with the genre’s improvisational characteristics, to such a degree that others would often find him scatting, quite joyfully, as he danced up and down the school hallways at the break of dawn, snapping his fingers to the groove. Since 2002, he has enjoyed personal growth as a musician most through coaching others, young and seasoned, as a private instructor. Nelson eventually accepted a full tuition scholarship, studying music, at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, where he stumbled upon his calling as a street performer, and would often find himself invited indoors, sitting in with bands of many different genres. He has been honored to perform regularly, with respected musicians who have challenged him to grow further, in groups such as Tee Dee Young & The Scandalous Band, The Sensations, Sweating Honey, Jass Pharm, The Ira Sellers Band, and The Dan Mac Band. Nelson now resides in Anchorage, Alaska with his lovely wife, Michelle, and their two beautiful children, Grace and Nelson III.
Cameron Cartland (Drummer)
Cameron Cartland began playing drum set and percussion at age 10 while living in Bremerton, Washington. Moving to Anchorage, Alaska in 1998, he continued studying music in the Anchorage School District and was selected to play in the all-state bands in 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003. He was also selected to play drum set in the All-Northwest Jazz Choir in 2002. He continued his music study in college with experience at Berklee college of music, University of Alaska Anchorage, and in 2010 took a 3 month musical pilgrimage to Brazil. Cameron began playing professionally in 2000 with the John Damberg Latin Jazz Quintet and continues to play in a number of bands in Anchorage, including the John Damberg Latin Jazz Sextet, Dan Mac Band, John “Pypes” Teamer, Yngvil Vatn Guttu, Rick Zelinskey’s Jazz Masters Tribute Series, Pamyua, and others. With a love of world music styles, Cameron has had the opportunity to play with visiting artists including; Oscar Stagnaro, Jovino Santos Neto, Eddie Palmieri, Denis DiBlasio. He also had the opportunity to give the pre-concert lecture for Tito Puente’s concert at the Performing Arts Center in Anchorage in 2012. In addition to being a performer, Cameron is an educator, teaching private and group lessons on drum set and percussion since 2000, and is a substitute teacher for the Anchorage School District.
Peter Ratner (Recording Engineer)
Peter Ratner started his music career at the Khabarovsk Institute of Music and Culture, where got his Bachelor of Arts in Orchestra Conducting, Arranging, and Orchestra Business Management. He played in several rock-bands during 70's and early 80's. In 1983 he played tenor-saxophone and flute in the big band Dalny Vostok, and worked with the jazz quintet and his pop-group "MIDI" as musician, composer and arranger. He also worked as a Professor of Jazz and Big-Band Arrangement at the Khabarovsk Institute of Music and Culture, where he taught arrangement and orchestration courses. In 1988-1990 he served as the conductor of the Khabarovsk Philharmonic Big Band Orchestra "Dalny Vostok" ("The Far East").
In 1991 Peter established and led the largest and most successful privately owned professional sound recording studio and video production facility in the Russian Far East. Studio "NewMix" recorded many talented Russian, Japanese, Korean and Indian musicians. Peter sold company in 1998.
Peter moved to Anchorage, Alaska in 2000. In 2003 he started a freelance recording service where he recorded well-known jazz and classical musicians, singers & bands. He offers quality live audio recording of musical events and performances, audio consulting and online mixing services.
More recently most jobs were mixing and producing projects for bands in Alaska, Portland, OR and Washington area as well as Russia.