Jazz & Creative Institute

About the Jazz and Creative Institute

Passion. Experience. Excellence.


Benje and Ashley Daneman met over ten years ago while getting their masters degrees in jazz performance at Manhattan School of Music in New York City. Several years (and three kids) later, the Danemans have made Kalamazoo their home, partially because Benje had roots here from his time in Western Michigan University’s jazz program. They have a passion for bringing their love of jazz and creative music to others. Realizing that there was no “home for jazz” in the Kalamazoo area, they set out to build the Jazz and Creative Institute in 2017 by starting a youth jazz orchestra. Since then, they’ve created a community where people can learn an instrument, play with others, perform in public, and belong.


Get in touch

We’ve spent our whole lives pursuing music. We know all the “ins and outs” of learning to play and making the most of musical opportunities. We’d love to talk to you about your needs or goals and give you our best advice!



Leadership Team

Photo: Grant Beachy

Photo: Grant Beachy

Co-Founder, Co-Director

Benje Daneman

A musician known for his personal approach, creative musicality and strong versatility, Daneman got his start professionally in 2007 on a national tour with with Doc Severinsen’s Big Band. Since then he has performed with the world renowned Jose Limon Dance Ensemble, recorded for the Grammy nominated album "Elevation" (HMI Big Band) and has appeared as both a leader and sideman at prestigious venues across the country including The Kennedy Center, Baryshnikov Arts Center, Festival of New Trumpet Music and The Iridium.

Daneman is equally passionate in the classroom as he is onstage. He has led clinics and workshops throughout the country at such institutions as McNally Smith College, Western Michigan University, Luther College, Concordia University and for the Michigan State Band and Orchestra Association. He has worked as a faculty teaching artist for The New York Pops, Afro-Latin Jazz Alliance (NYC) and Western Michigan University’s SEMINAR Program, in addition to being the Education Manager for the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra. Currently, Benje directs the Kalamazoo Youth Jazz Orchestra, and is co-founder/director of the Kalamazoo Trumpet Workshop.

An avid composer, arranger and music copyist, Daneman has received commissions from the United States Air Force Band (in Europe), Spark and Echo Arts (2015 Artist/Composer in Residence) and Redeemer Presbyterian Church (NYC). Additionally, he has collaborated with many composer/arrangers including Dr. Steve Zegree, Peter Prochnow and Roger Treece. In addition to his music and teaching, Daneman works as an arts administrator creating opportunity and managing creative endeavors all across the nation. He has worked with The Festival of New Trumpet Music, jazz pianist Pascal Le Boeuf, Dave Douglas’ Greenleaf Music Record Label.

Daneman has attended and holds degrees from Western Michigan University, The Henry Mancini Institute (Los Angeles, CA), and Manhattan School of Music (New York, NY). He lives in Kalamazoo, MI with his wife, jazz singer-songwriter, Ashley Daneman and their three children.



M.M., Jazz Trumpet Performance

B.M., Jazz Trumpet Performance; Minor in Music Education

Activities & Affiliations

• Henry Mancini Institute alum
• Co-Founder/Director of the Kalamazoo Trumpet Workshop


Photo: Grant Beachy

Photo: Grant Beachy


Ashley Daneman

Ashley Daneman is a singer who a combines “a literary sensibility with a driving experimental jazz style where the heart of the song can find itself anywhere and always in a personal intimate space” (Marlbank). Her new release, People Are Fragile (Flood Music), traverses the emotional waters of pain, recovery, and rebirth following a series of losses.

The music feels very exposed and intimate, like a deep, late-night conversation between old friends who don’t spare each other’s feelings. It features Rob Clearfield and Rufus Ferguson on piano, wurlitzer, and organ; Matt Gold on guitar and lap steel; Andrew Vogt on electric bass; Makaya McCraven and Quinlan Kirchner on drums; and Kevin Bujo Jones on percussion. It’s a mature, honest and fearless record that signals the next big step in the musical career of Ashley Daneman.

Daneman grew up in Toledo, Ohio studying classical voice and performing in musicals before turning to jazz and songwriting in her twenties. She honed her craft in Washington, DC, New York City, and by touring in the U.S. Daneman was also a resident artist at The Kennedy Center’s Betty Carter’s JazzAhead and The Banff Centre’s Jazz and Creative Workshop in Alberta, Canada. She earned her master’s degree from Manhattan School of Music under the guidance of Peter Eldridge, Kate McGarry, and Theo Bleckman.

People Are Fragile follows her 2015 critically acclaimed album Beauty Indestructible. Selected by DownBeat Magazine as “Editor’s Pick,” her music draws comparisons to Becca Stevens, Laura Nyro, and even Stephen Sondheim. “Beautiful jazz art music from a gorgeous voice with superb accompaniment,” says Mark S. Tucker, Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange, and Richard Kamins (Step Tempest) called it, “a profound work of art that is so alive, so positive, and so blessedly musical.” Daneman addresses the fundamental healing power of love” (C. Michael Bailey, All About Jazz).

Ashley lives with her husband, trumpeter Benje Daneman, and their three children in Kalamazoo, MI and is the founder of Tiny Voice Box, a voice studio to inspire and encourage people finding their voices.



M.M., Jazz Vocal Performance

B.A., Psychology

Activities & Affiliations

• Level II Certified in Somatic Voicework(tm) contemporary vocal technique
• Betty Carter JazzAhead & The Banff Centre' Resident Artist Alum


Liz Townsend, Administrative Manager at JCI

administrative manager

Liz Townsend

Liz Townsend comes to the Jazz and Creative Institute as a certified nonprofit professional via her experience with the Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival Education Department. She also brings her expertise as an experienced music educator. Her choirs have received “Excellent” ratings at MSVMA District Choral Festival and she has taught privately for over five years using Estill Voice Training methods in addition to her jazz training as part of Gold Company at WMU.



B.M., Choral/General Music Education; Minor in Non-Profit Leadership

Activities & Affiliations

• Annual Michigan Music Conference
• Michigan School Vocal Music Association


Why choose the Jazz & Creative Institute?

The Most Highly Qualified Jazz Faculty in Southwest Michigan. From decorated performing artists to award-winning composers, our faculty is dedicated to learning about your musical goals and helping you achieve them. They have instrument specific degrees from renowned jazz programs at Manhattan School of Music, New England Conservatory, Temple University, University of Michigan, Michigan State University, and our own Western Michigan University. Our faculty are chosen for their teaching ability, their expertise as jazz musicians on their instrument, their passion for artistry, and their personal integrity.

The Only Comprehensive Jazz Education in Southwest Michigan. Jazz can be practiced by an individual, but it is only learned in a community setting through mentorship and group interaction. At the Jazz and Creative Institute, individual instruction, artistic mentorship, and group experience come together for students to truly grow and develop into an improvising musician. Additionally, Jazz Academy students can audition for our 18-piece large ensemble, the Kalamazoo Youth Jazz Orchestra, or the Lab Band for students wanting more group experience.

Musician Family Owned and Operated. Husband and wife team Benje and Ashley Daneman have been collaborating on successful projects since they met at Manhattan School of Music in New York City in 2008 - including raising three children. Both critically acclaimed performing artists and composers, the Danemans bring their belief in the value of music education to the forefront of the Jazz and Creative Institute. As co-directors and owners, they've assembled a team of professional musicians who share their passion and enthusiasm for quality music education.

Integrative Performance Experiences. Students interact with peers by participating in performances, coached jam sessions, and clinics with faculty and other visiting artists. All included in the flat monthly tuition fee, these valuable experiences display and elaborate each student's achievements in their instrument of choice. Our directors seek out unique performance opportunities for our students as they arise in the greater Kalamazoo area in addition to regular recitals.

Online Student Portal for Easy Information Access. View our calendar, track attendance, make-ups, practice times, and repertoire. Contact teachers and keep track of your account.

Convenient Location, Practical for Families. Centrally located in downtown Kalamazoo, the Jazz and Creative Institute has tons of seating and a children's play area for younger siblings. If you want to drop a child off for lessons, head two doors down the street to Civil House Coffee for some focused work time.

Open 7 Days a Week for Today's Busy People. We offer lessons seven days a week to accommodate your busy schedule. Music lessons are billed monthly with no semester commitment. Monday - Friday 9am - 8pm; Saturday and Sunday 9am - 5pm.

Exterior of the Jazz & Creative Institute/Kalamazoo Piano Company at 310 North Rose Street, Kalamazoo, MI.


Street Parking in front of JCI is free after 5pm and on weekends. There is also a paid parking ramp above the building. We recommend downloading the app, Parkmobile to pay for meters without cash if you're coming during 8am - 5pm.


JCI has ample seating for you to wait for your student during lessons or rehearsals with WiFi available. Civil House Coffee Co is two doors down and a great optional place to hang, or you could make use of the Kalamazoo Valley Museum (1 block away). If you have other kids with you who need a place to play or work on homework, we've got that too.