Our Team

For the last nine years, New York City based jazz guitarist, conductor, and arranger David O’Rourke has guided tomorrow’s jazz musicians as ‘house bandleader’ of the Jazz Standard Youth Orchestra. And for his contributions to Jazz Standard Discovery (a music education program that he has led since 1998), David and co-founder James Polsky were named “New Yorkers Of The Week” by NY1 News. Born and raised in Dublin, O’Rourke has built a career defined and shaped by his exposure to and association with many of his musical idols, both in the US and abroad. He has played with Les Paul and Bucky Pizzarelli and studied with legends such as Barry Galbraith and Pat Martino. He currently leads and writes for his own 20-piece band (The O’Rourkestra) at the Zinc Bar NYC, composing and arranging including recent commissions for the City Of Dublin Jazz Orchestra while continuing to perform in the New York/New Jersey/Philadelphia jazz clubs.

As an active performer, David has played the live premiere of George Russell’s “Concerto For Billy The Kid” (this had been recorded in the late 1950s but never performed live). On the same New York Town Hall concert David got to play the guitar in a big band made up of some of the more famous Ellington and Basie alumni. He collaborated with drummer Lewis Nash on a project that brought Irish music and jazz together for a CD (“Aisling”) by a band they called “The Celtic Jazz Collective”. They played two one-week runs at Jazz Standard as well as a performance in Harvard sponsored by the Cambridge Multicultural Center. In 1990 David recorded a CD with Larry Willis (piano), Bob Cranshaw (bass) and Al Harewood (drums) and later that same year wrote an extended orchestral medley from Porgy And Bess for Larry Willis to perform with the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra. A chance meeting with George Benson and Hammond B3 player Seleno Clarke led to David beginning a 12 year stint with Seleno’s Quintet. From their Harlem base the quintet played festivals in the Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada and at various US festivals. Throughout his career, David has played with many jazz legends such as Tommy Flanagan’s Trio, Cedar Walton’s Trio, Jackie McLean, Billy Higgins, Curtis Fuller, James Spalding, Harold Ousley, Vernal Fournier, and Brother Jack McDuff.

In addition to an active schedule as a performer, O’Rourke is in demand as a jazz conductor and arranger. He is currently creating arrangements for the debut tour (Japan) of drummer Lewis Nash’s Big Band. David conducted the RTE Concert Orchestra in Dublin’s National Concert Hall for two years in succession as music director/conductor of the tributes to arranger Nelson Riddle. He conducted for Steve Wilson’s “Bird With Strings” project that also included a workshop in string writing when they performed at SUNY New Paltz. David also conducted Steve’s 50th birthday run at Jazz Standard and wrote string arrangements for trumpeter Jeremy Pelt’s “Close To My Heart” recording followed by further arrangements for the launch performance at Jazz Standard and Sirius Satellite Radio. String arrangements for Pamela Luss led to David conducting the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra strings in a Prague recording studio.

In his early years, David’s own quartet won the best band award at the Guinness Jazz Festival in Cork in 1984 and performed together again one year later at the same festival as part of their prize. At that time, David played in the Five Guitars led by Irish jazz virtuoso guitarist Louis Stewart (with whom he played as a teen, played the Cork Jazz Festival with Turk Mauro, (joined onstage by Teddy Edwards), Irish pianist and arranger Noel Kelihan, British Baritone Saxist Ronnie Ross.

At the age of 21, David was a finalist in the RTE Young Musician Of The Future. This was the first time a non-classical musician made it to the finals. David performed as soloist with the RTE Concert Orchestra, an ensemble that he would return some years later to conduct in the National Concert Hall.

As a child in Ireland, David grew up hearing many styles of music from classical to jazz, folk music and pop songs of his generation and he loved it all. A listening session with his father could include anything from Mozart to Miles, Errol Garner to Debussy – he remembers he and his dad listening to Joshua Rifkin playing Scott Joplin’s rags (not just The Entertainer!) around the time the movie The Sting was popular.

Administrative Coordinator JoAnn Diaferio, was born in Whitestone, NY, raised in Little Neck, and graduated from the Culinary Institute of America with an AOS Degree in Culinary Arts in 1984. An accomplished Chef/Pastry Chef for more than twenty five years, Diaferio has worked in some of New York City’s finest restaurants including: I Trulli, The Marriott Marquis, and Joe Allen’s. JoAnn has been coordinator of The Jazz Standard Jazz Discovery Program since 2001. Presently living in Mineola, Long Island, she loves bringing jazz to future generations through this fantastic program. joann@discoverjazz.org

Nick Finzer is a jazz trombonist and composer whose musical prowess is firmly planted with one foot in the past and another leading to the future. In January of 2013 Nick released his recording debut as a bandleader “Exposition” on his new label Outside in Music. “Exposition.”.
Since moving to New York City in 2010, Finzer has completed a Masters Degree from The Juilliard School, shared the stage with the likes of Frank Wess at Dizzy’s Club, Lew Tabackin and Terrell Stafford at The Blue Note, and continues to lead his own bands both around the city and across the country. While at Juilliard Nick had the opportunity to work with many mentors including Frank Kimbrough, Carl Allen, Ray Drummond, and studied under jazz trombone innovator, Steve Turre.

Nick continues to perform, compose, and teach around New York City while maintaining an active touring schedule, and formulating new projects. Finzer is determined to continually develop his artistry from the lineage of the music, while being honest to his musical voice and personality.


Jeremy Pelt arrived in New York in 1998 after graduating from Berklee College of Music. Once he got there, it wasn’t long before he started being noticed by a lot of top musicians in the city. His first professional Jazz gig was playing with the Mingus Big Band. That gig lead to many long lasting associations with many of the talent in the band, and a great opportunity for growth. Since his arrival, he has been fortunate enough to play with many of today’s and yesterday’s Jazz luminaries, such as Jimmy Heath, Frank Wess,Charli Persip, Keter Betts,  Frank Foster, John Hicks, Ravi Coltrane, Winard Harper, Vincent Herring, Ralph Peterson, Lonnie Plaxico, Cliff Barbaro, Nancy Wilson, Bobby Short, Bobby “Blue” Bland, The Skatalites, Cedar Walton, and many, many more. Jeremy has also been featured in a variety of different bands, including the Roy Hargrove Big Band, The Village Vanguard Orchestra, the Duke Ellington Big Band. Currently, he is member of the Lewis Nash Septet, and The Cannonball Adderley Legacy Band featuring Louis Hayes.


Pianist/Composer- Fintan O’Neill’s musical training started early,as he came from a musical family in his native Ireland(his mother, for example, sang operatic songs and played piano).After years of classical piano lessons(and a few years of tenor saxophone instruction) Fintan spent his college years playing in rock groups and found himself increasingly drawn to jazz. The young pianist plunged full time into jazz studies and performance, and by 1987 he was a prize winner in the Jazz Piano category in the Dublin Music Festival Competition (Feis Ceoil). In1988, He began playing with the top Irish Jazz musicians in Dublin and was featured in the Tommy Halferty Trio at the Cork Jazz Festival. Late in 1989, Fintan moved to New York City and began studies with several top New York pianists including Kenny Werner, James Williams and Larry willis. Shortly after that, Fintan began playing on the New York scene with many top players, including James Spaulding, Regina Carter, Steve Wilson, Lewis Nash, Peter Washington, Larry Coryell, Art Baron, Don Sickler, Brian Lynch, Javon Jackson, Abraham Burton, Theodross Avery, Dwayne Broadnax, Essiet Essiet, Dennis Irwin, Bob Cranshaw, Billy Pierce, Tony Reedus, Jeremy Pelt, Bill Mobley, Billy Drummond, Steve Kroon, Allen Harris, John Ellis, Al Harewood, David O’Rourke, Don Pate, Jed Levy, Mark Johnson, Dennis Mitcheltree, BIlly Johnson,et al. Fintan’s debut album as a leader “In The Moment “on Amosaya records (AM-2530-CD) has received much critical acclaim from Jazz journalists, radio stations and the public alike.The album features three Jazz Messengers, BIlly Pierce, Brian Lynch,and Essiet Essiet with Mark Johnson and produced by James Williams. Fintan’s arrangements have been featured at a number of concerts in Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital room. Fintan is the featured pianist with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra under the direction of David O’Rourke and the Nelson Riddle family.

Pianist Matt Ray has worked for the Jazz Standard Discovery Program for the last 7 years, educating thousands of New York schoolchildren on the wonders of jazz. He is well known in New York as a versatile artist, having worked for many years as a jazz pianist, recording artist and producer, music director for theater and cabaret shows, a sideman for singer-songwriters, as well as an accompanist for some of the city’s best vocalists. His work as a bandleader includes two albums, and a number of tours and New York featured performances. His album We Got It! climbed as high as #12 on the Jazz radio airplay charts, and was the one of the most played jazz CDs in America in 2002. His most recent CD Lost In New York was also released to wide critical acclaim. In addition, the Matt Ray Trio has performed all over the world, including the Caribbean and Central America for the U.S. State Department as part of the Kennedy Center’s Jazz Ambassadors program. In his years as a professional musician Matt has worked with a diverse group of musicians including jazz artists Joe Lovano, Jeremy Pelt, Anita O’Day, Queen Esther, Bobby Hutcherson, and Marcus Belgrave; rock and pop artists Paul Brill, The Flying Change, and Danielia Cotton; and theater artists like Taylor Mac and the cabaret troupe The Citizens Band. In 2009 Matt played piano in, and music directed Taylor Mac’s Obie Award winning theater production The Lily’s Revenge, and can be seen touring with Mac’s hit show Comparison Is Violence: Or the Ziggy Stardust Meets Tiny Tim Songbook. Matt’s has played on a number of film scores, including What’s On Your Pate (2009), Give Up Tomorrow (2011), and Paper Man (2009). His piano playing is heavily featured in the score of the documentary film Charlotte (2011), on which he collaborated with composer Paul Brill. Ray and Brill have had a long working relationship, with Ray having played on three of Brill’s albums, and two Brill film scores — Pindemonium (2008) and the soon to be released Better This World. Currently Matt is in the studio lending his piano playing to composer Pat Irwin’s score for the third season of HBO’s Bored to Death series. Music has provided Matt the opportunity to travel the world. Recent sojourns include China, japan, the U.K, and Ireland. His talents have been requested by dignitaries and heads of state both abroad and right here at home where he has played for President Bill Clinton, Vice-President Al Gore, and Secretary of State Madeline Albright. In 2000, the Matt Ray Trio toured the Caribbean and Central America for the U.S. State Department as part of the 1999-2000 Kennedy Center’s Jazz Ambassadors program. In addition, in 1999 he traveled to his birthplace, Washington D.C., where he was honored as a semi-finalist in the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition. Matt holds a Bachelors of Music from Oberlin Conservatory, is a member of the National Music Honor Society Pi Kappa Lambda, and in 1999 was honored as a semi-finalist in the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition. Matt is a board member and Vice-President of Consilience Productions, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to using live music performances to increase civic engagement and activism.

Drummer/Educator/Producer Ulysses S. Owens Jr. graduated with a Bachelors of Music degree in Jazz Studies from The Juilliard School in 2006. He has toured extensively in 7 of the 8 continents with many world- class musicians such as Ron Carter, Count Basie Orchestra, Terence Blanchard, Dianne Reeves, and many others. He is currently working with Grammy Winning artists Christian McBride, Kurt Elling, Nicholas Payton, Ted Nash, and Wynton Marsalis. He was fortunate to receive a 2010 Grammy Award for his performance on Kurt Elling’s “Dedicated To You”.

He has been featured recently in Modern Drummer Magazine as “Up & Coming Drummer of 2011”, and Jet Magazine, on Wynton Marsalis’ list of the next generation of jazz greats to watch. He is now emerging as an up & coming producer, with three albums slated for 2011 release. As Artistic Director for his family’s 501 (c) 3 organization don’t Miss A Beat, Inc he creates programs for inner –city students in Jacksonville Florida about the Arts, as a tool to enrich and educate their lives. Ulysses is incredibly gratuitous and appreciative to be granted such vast opportunities.


Many thanks to our hosts: Jazz Standard and Blue Smoke.