Artists in Residence

Eldar Djangirov was just nine years old and still living in Kyrgyzstan when the late New York City jazz aficionado Charles McWhorter first saw him perform at a jazz festival in Novosibirsk, Russia. Struck by his mature talent on the piano, McWhorter urged Djangirov's parents to bring him to the U.S. so their son could develop his already blossoming musical gift. In 1998, family followed their American dream to a quintessentially town, Kansas City—which they chose for its historic link to jazz—and began spending his summers studying piano on a scholarship at Michigan's prestigious Interlochen School of Music. He rapidly earned a reputation as a child prodigy, appearing on Marian McPartland's NPR show, "Piano jazz," at age 12—making him the youngest performer ever to appear on her program.

A sophomore music major at the University of southern California until recently, Djangirov has three albums and hundreds of performances under his belt.

For the young man Billboard called "the fastest hands in jazz," the trip across the world has paid off. 2005, released his self-titled debut album with Sony Classical, and last May, he followed up with the sequel "Eldar live at the Blue Note," which includes collaborations with contemporary trumpeting greats Chris Botti and Roy Hargrove. Critics have hailed his ability to blend the influences of past jazz greats with a youthful energy and contemporary edge.

Djangirov says, "playing music that lets you channel creativity is the most you can ask for as canvas to paint your own picture." At the age of 20, his repertoire of performances includes stints at the 2000 Grammy Awards, the White House and on "late night with Conan O'Brien," besides earning top awards at a number of major jazz festivals.

If you're regretting having nagged your parents into terminating your piano lessons a decade ago, don't feel too bad. Djangirov's got genes and a work ethic that are hard to beat. His father is a jazz aficionado and his mother is a musicologist and piano teacher, whom he credits with teaching him "about work ethic, discipline, touch and many other sensibilities," he says. You can catch him in Germany, Japan or Indonesia this spring—or, for those of us content to spend a few more years in college enjoying music our parents hate—at stops closer to home in California, Massachusetts, Arizona and New York.

Jennie Markham doesn't just think she can dance; she knows she can dance. The Cha-Cha, Rumba, Samba, Paso Doble, and Jive are all well within her repertoire. While attending 20-plus hours of dance practice per week and pursuing a degree in biochemistry at Harvard University, Markham won first place in last fall's National Collegiate Championships in Latin dance.
Markham, a 21-year-old senior, is an accomplished member of one of the top-ranked competitive dance teams in the country, Harvard's Crimson Dance Team. But her real passion is Latin dance, a form that she says encourages "emoting and performing through interpretation of music," and not just physical mastery.

Markham's career in Latin dance actually began by chance. During her freshman year of high school in La Jolla, CA, Markham was out salsa dancing with friends when a professional instructor picked her out of the crowd and told her not to let her natural talent go to waste. He urged her to commit to formal training, and so Markham decided to give it a try and hasn't stopped since. Having worked extensively through high school and college, her efforts finally paid off when she and her partner, Filip Ilievski, took first place at the Collegiate Championships.

After graduation, Markham plans to teach English in Spain before pursuing a job in biotech marketing. But, according to Markham, her competition days are far from over—"I will try to go pro at some point."

Sean Wehrli knows how to combine art and marketing to catch a consumer's eye. The March 2007 graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design is now a motion graphics designer at Prologue Films, a design firm that produces credits for movies such as "Superman Returns" and "Se7en," as well as commercials for brands including HP, the Sci-Fi Channel and iPod. Wehrli specializes in animatics, a form of computer art that combines animation, visual effects and film to create media like commercials and music videos. "The first thing that really drew me to this field was music videos," says Wehrli. "I love music and feel that every good song needs good visuals, to the extent that the visuals are another instrument in the song." For his last quarter at SCAD, Wehrli created a music video for a local band called Flight Out. What he's best know for, however, is his concept for a Chevrolet commercial that aired during the Super Bowl this year. "It opens on cars on a white background, and each car opens up like a pop-up book. Each car has an environment and a culture that comes out," says Wehrli, who got to the top five in the Chevy College Superbowl Ad Challenge with his partner, Masahiro Wakabayashi. "Our concept and animatic were shown on national TV. It was very exciting to see the public's reactions to my work and it's probably the best way learn how to improve." Planning a move to LA after graduation, Wehrli has dreams of eventually becoming a music video director—and someday directing a video for his favorite band, Coldplay.