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The Creative Team

Metropolitan Jazz Octet is the reawakening of a group that was originally started in the 1950’s by Chicago saxophonist and arranger Tom Hilliard.  The music blends a big band sound with the elegance of a small ensemble.

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Leader, Tenor & Soprano Saxophone, Flute,  Arranger

Jim is Artistic Director of MJO; he has performed with the Chicago Jazz Ensemble, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Chamber Musicians, Lyric Opera  and Fulcrum Point. Jim has arranged and performed with, Fred Hersch, Patricia Barber, John McLean, Grazyna Auguscik, and many more. His string arrangements can be heard on Kurt Elling's Grammy award winning CD “Dedicated To You”. He is artist and faculty at Roosevelt University Chicago College of Performing Arts.  

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Doug Scharf

Trumpet, Arranger

Doug Scharf has played trumpet for live shows with Ray Charles, Tony Bennett, Elton John, Burt Bacharach, Glen Campbell, Lady Gaga, George Benson, Clark Terry, Kennedy Center Awards, Chicago Jazz Orchestra. In LA he recorded several movie and TV show soundtracks, and was in the house band on "Late Show with Joan Rivers." He has written for Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne, Cher, Thomas Dolby, Phil Ramone, Fox TV "Late Show with Joan Rivers," and Me-TV's "Svengoolie."


Ben Lewis, a "monster of a pianist" (Chicago Jazz Magazine), celebrates a career of diverse musical experience. Whether performing at the Chicago Jazz Festival or traveling the globe with Gary Sinise & the Lt. Dan Band, Ben feels at home making music. His "shimmering pianism" and "go-for-broke energy" (Howard Reich - Chicago Tribune) are just part of what give him such a singular voice. Ben has recorded with Chicago luminaries such as  Jackie Allen, Grazyna Auguscik and Tito Carillo. A two-time Jazz Ambassador for the US State Dept and an active performing artist with his own trio, Ben's life is music.


Percussion, Marimba

Joe Sonnefeldt performs around Chicago and the midwest with his own groups and many others.  He occasionally  plays percussion for various Broadway shows that come to Chicago. Joe has been featured on vibes with “Poi Dog Pondering” and the Latin bands “Raices Profundis” and “Grupo Paz”.  Joe has also recorded with  the Pan Go Steel Band, “Azul Oscuro” with Suenos, and “Live Gumbo” with Hurricane Gumbo. He has performed live with these bands as well as Marshall Vente’s Tropicale, Grupo Paz, Fareed Haque, Joe Walsh, Martin Short, Ten City and The Fifth Dimension. leaders.

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John Kornegay

Alto Saxophone, Clarinet Alto Flute, Arranger

John is alto saxophonist and lead arranger for MJO, he has a rich career as a performer, composer and arranger.  He has performed with legends like Tony Bennett, Doc Severinsen, Bernadette Peters and Chita Rivera. He has written for John Frigo on the Tonight Show, the Chicago Sinfonietta, Purdue University Choirs’. He composed and orchestrated the Academy Award-nominated Holocaust documentary, “Eyewitness”.

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Russ Phillips, trombonist, was born in Denver, but grew up and studied in the Chicago area after his Father, Russ Phillips, Sr. left Louis Armstrong’s All Stars as trombonist for 1-1/2 years. Continuing in the tradition, Russ has become a well known and respected performer in Chicago and nationally. He’s been a featured artist in numerous festivals, cruises and concerts appearing with Howard Alden, Harry Allen, Doc Cheatham, Kenny Davern,The Four Freshman and others.



Mike Freeman has been a part of the New York jazz and Latin music scene for a day or two. Dan McClaneghan of Allaboutjazz described him as "masterful" and ranked among other top names of the instrument. With spirited soulful swing Freeman's distinct brand of Latin-jazz-blues has taken him from North America and Europe to the Azores, Caribbean, and South America. His recordings of original music include tributes to Cal Tjader, Tito Puente, and NEA Jazz Master Bobby Hutcherson. Freeman's recordings have received national and international attention and extensive radio airplay, charting on jazz, contemporary jazz, and World Music radio.


John McCortney

Recording Engineer

John Mc Cortney is a recording engineer and recording studio owner whose career began in 1976. Since 1990, He has been the President and Chief Engineer of AirWave Recording Studios, Inc.  John has worked with Tom Waits, Gregg Allman, Charlie Musselwhite, Honey Boy Edwards, Bill Monroe, Ken Vandermark, members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Elmhurst Symphony, the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra, the Apollo Chorus, the William Ferris Chorale and the Newberry Consort. 

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Baritone Saxophone, Bass Clarinet & Bassoon

Born in Davenport, Iowa to public school music teachers, Peter Brusen studied both the saxophone and the bassoon from a young age. After attending the University of Iowa, he began his professional career with the Orquesta Sinfonica de Veracruz in Mexico. Since then, he has performed with The Chicago Symphony, Lyric Opera, Grant Park Symphony, Milwaukee Symphony, and Grand Rapids Symphony. 


At DePaul University, Bob met Tom Hilliard and played in the big band under his direction. While Bob loathes writing about himself in the third person, he has nonetheless managed to work as a pit musician for approximately 35 years, as well as playing music for hundreds of commercial jingles. He appeared on Oprah's show several times, including performances with Patti LaBelle and Andrea Bocelli.


Accoustic Bass

Doug Bistrow received his degree from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY.  He has performed with Itzhak Perlman, the Silk Road Ensemble, Edgar Meyer, Howard Levy, Time For Three, Johnny Osborne, Ky-Mani Marley, Corey Chisel, Keith & Tex, and many others. Bistrow is a member of the Chicago Philharmonic, Rockford Symphony Orchestra, and the Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra. Bistrow is on the faculty at Vandercook College of Music and the Merit School of Music.

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