the Directors

Ben Medler

Director / Co-founder

Ben grew up in Andover, Massachusetts. He spent his high school years with trombonist Phil Wilson and vocal teacher Earl Miller. During his summers, he studied with German trombonist Jiggs Whigham. After attending Berklee College of Music in Boston, Ben moved to Oregon and completed his Bachelor of Music in Jazz at Portland State University. He spent seven years teaching at Portland’s Wilson High School and then started PYJO with wife, Michelle Medler. Ben Medler is a talented mulit-instrumentalist. He plays & teaches: trombone, acoustic and electric bass, trumpet and vocals. He is on faculty at Portland State University in the Jazz department & as a Trombone instructor at Lewis & Clark College. Ben is the current bandleader & musical director of The Shanghai Woolies. He also directs and composes for Mystery Seed, Trombone 8 and the Trombone Encounters Project and is an active freelance musician in all styles. Ben has performed with Randy Brecker, The Rebirth Brass Band, The Temptations, Yoron Israel, Rick Peckham, The Heavy Brothers, Darrell Grant, Bob Mintzer, Latin Expression, Cambalache & many others.

Michelle Medler

Director / Co-founder

Michelle Medler is a multi-instrumentalist, music educator, composer & arranger from the Pacific Northwest, USA. She is the co-founder and director of the Portland Youth Jazz Orchestra as well as active and versatile musician. Michelle holds down the woodwinds & vocals in the 1920s-40s Jazz ensemble, the Shanghai Woolies, plays tenor in the female saxophone band, The Quadraphonnes, plays tenor/flute/keyboards and sings in the original funk/pop band Mystery Seed & is in salsa band, Melao de Cuba. Michelle also fronts a Jazz group under her name finding an outlet for her modern Jazz playing and composing & for touring. She has been a mentor and composer for Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble's (PJCE) Grasshoppers Program as well as played in PJCE's band. Between gigs, she has a private lesson studio, works as a clinician and adjudicator for school bands and solo/ensemble contests, teaches "Jazz Techniques for Educators" at Portland State University and various music classes at the Burlingame Space. Her other interests include art & design, hiking and enjoying the NW wilderness.

Michelle graduated from Portland State University with a Bachelors of Music, Jazz Emphasis. Simultaneous to college she was an artist in residence at Portland, Oregon’s Wilson High school band program. She has performed with The Rebirth Brass Band, The Temptations, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Charmaine & Charles Neville, Yoron Israel & Rick Peckham. Medler performed on the soundtrack to the film “The Go Getter” (2008) and has recorded as a side-person on various jazz r'n'b albums and soundtracks for musicals.

Mieke Bruggeman

Director of PYJO 3

Mieke Bruggeman is a performer, educator, composer/arranger as well as the education and community coordinator for the Portland Jazz Composers’ Ensemble (PJCE). She performs in a wide variety of groups, including the all-female sax quartet, Quadraphonnes; the Afro-Cuban band, Melao de Cuba; the 12-piece jazz chamber orchestra, PJCE; Mystery Seed; the Ezra Weiss Big Band; as well as playing classical alto when she can, and performing musicals. Mieke also enjoys teaching private lessons at her home studio and co-teaching at Roosevelt High School, Beaumont Middle School and the Portland Youth Jazz Orchestra. She is heavily involved in promoting music education and loves collaborating with her music community. Music is the one outlet that (as author Tom Robbins might say) keeps the oxygen from leaking out of her life! She has shared the stage with local and international artists such as The Miracles, Charles Neville, The Temptations, Greg Yasinitsky, Janice Scroggins, Reggie Houston, David Valdez, Susie Jones, Lily Wilde, Miguel Bernal, Mike Snyder & Libby Roach. Mieke’s been involved in recording 7 albums as a soloist, collaborator or side-person on flute, clarinet, alto, bari and vocals. She has played at all the local jazz festivals, toured Southern California and played on the local radio stations KMHD and KBOO. Mieke and her husband Kent enjoy tending to their garden, nurturing their bee hive and spending as much time as they can camping all over Oregon.

Bryan Smith

Director of PYJO Pops!

Saxophonist, composer and educator Bryan Smith has been an active member of the jazz and improvised music scene in the Northwest. Having been a musician in both Seattle and Portland, Smith has been able to develop a unique and individualistic voice that is synonymous with West Coast jazz. Influenced by West Coast bebop with players such as Warne Marsh, Lee Konitz, and Lennie Tristano, mixed with the alternative rock of the 90’s that was popularized in the Northwest, Smith has found a way to incorporate history and regional identity in his music.
Growing up in Portland, Smith was introduced to the saxophone and jazz music early on through Portland Public School music programs and eventually the Portland Youth Jazz Orchestra. Smith eventually landed in Flagstaff, Arizona on a full tuition scholarship to pursue music. It was during these four years Smith developed his proficiency in classical saxophone. As the winner of the 2006 Concerto Composition, he had the opportunity to perform as a soloist with the Northern Arizona University Symphony.
After receiving a bachelor’s degree at Northern Arizona University, Smith continued his studies at the University of Washington in Seattle and graduated with a Master of Music. He continued to live in Seattle after graduation and was an active leader and sideman with many groups, including the Seattle Symphony, Seattle Youth Symphony, Seattle Modern Orchestra, Anomie Belle, Seabop and the Fabulous Party Boys. Smith also led and organized modern jazz ensemble Jargon and released two records as a leader, See, See and The RE: Project, the latter of which was created through an artistic residency granted to Smith by the Jack Straw Cultural Center.
In 2015 Smith moved back to his hometown and has been an active educator with Portland middle, high school and adult students. Smith currently is the music director for a small charter school in Canby, Oregon, a faculty member with the Portland Jazz Youth Orchestra, and teaches privately out of his home studio. He can be found performing around town with ensembles such as the Portland Jazz Composer Ensemble, Transcendental Brass Band and Portland Choir and Orchestra. Additionally, Smith leads a performance lecture series call the History or Bebop that aims to educate audiences on jazz music during the 1940’s and 50’s. In October 2017, Smith will be going back into the studio to record his third album as a leader.

Other PYJO Staff