Carmen Staaf is a rising star on the New York and Los Angeles jazz scenes, as well as an in-demand player in world and new music settings. She won the 2009 Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Pianist Competition and was chosen last year for the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance Ensemble at UCLA's Herb Alpert School of Music, where she is completing her Master’s degree in music. A classically trained pianist, she studied music in Cuba for six months as well as immersing herself in music from India, Eastern Europe, West Africa and Mexico; she brings these diverse influences to her foundation in swing. As a consequence of this versatility, she has performed with great musicians from many traditions, from playing at Carnegie Hall with Lila Downs, as a guest soloist with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, to duo settings with bass legend Henry Grimes. She has also performed with younger stars such as Alan Hampton and Kate McGarry, and she currently works with drummer Allison Miller and Roberto Rodriguez’s Octeto Masada (of John Zorn’s Masada project).

With the Monk Institute, Carmen gives outreach presentations on jazz history and performance to students around the country. Staaf has also taught in the piano department at Berklee College of Music (beginning at age 24 upon finishing her undergraduate studies) and at the Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music in India. She has toured the U.S., Europe, Latin America, and Asia, most recently performing with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and the Monk Institute ensemble at the Hollywood Bowl during the Playboy Jazz Festival. She also toured Morocco with Herbie Hancock and Dee Dee Bridgewater, appearing as well on the Tavis Smiley Show with Dee Dee and Irvin Mayfield. The Carmen Staaf Sextet’s forthcoming album of standards due out this spring features her uniquely sensitive approach to arranging and improvisation, as well as inspired performances by key members of the creative improvised music world including George Schuller and Dave Ballou.