The Spirit of Innovation & Freedom

Discover Improvisation


Our Speakers & Artists

The presenters of the Spirit of Innovation & Freedom programs are individuals who have done and are doing groundbreaking work in aviation technology and the arts. From fighter jet designers to world class musicians, we utilize their expertise and experience to share the mindset of innovation through panel discussions and cutting edge, fully improvised concerts. Their perspectives shed light on the requirements of true innovation: foundation of history, free thinking, open interaction and communication, mutual listening, adaptability, and the willingness to explore and embrace new and different ideas.

Pierre Sprey


Pierre Sprey is a defense analyst and record producer. As a defense analyst, working together with John Boyd and Thomas P. Christie, he was a member of the “Fighter Mafia” which advocated the use of energy–maneuverability theory in fighter design. Sprey was educated at Yale, where he studied aeronautical engineering and French literature, and also at Cornell, where he studied mathematical statistics and operations research. He subsequently worked at Grumman Aircraft as a consulting statistician on space and commercial transportation projects. From 1966 to 1970 he was a special assistant at the Office of the Secretary of Defense. After 1971, Sprey left the US Department of Defense, but continued working as a consultant on military issues. He is also a recording engineer and the founder of Mapleshade Records where he works to develop cutting edge audiophile technology. Sprey is an integral member of the design team for the F-16, F-15, and A-10 fighter jets.

Matt Scassero


Matt Scassero is the Director of the University of Maryland Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Test Site, focusing the resources and efforts of the state of Maryland on working with the FAA to integrate UAS into the national airspace, and enabling public access to these valuable assets to empower a flourishing civil and commercial UAS industry.

He is also the Associate Director for Maryland for the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership, one of six FAA-designated national UAS test sites. His focus is to lead the university’s efforts to be a premier force in advancing UAS safely, efficiently, and effectively while delivering products and programs in support of workforce development and higher education goals. Prior to his work with UAS, Matt was the Chief Contracts Officer for Melwood, a non-profit dedicated to empowering people with differing disabilities to enrich their own lives through rehabilitative services and employment opportunities. Prior to joining Melwood, Matt completed a 27 year career in the US Navy, retiring at the rank of Captain as the Vice Commander for the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division, the Navy’s principal research, development, test, evaluation, engineering and fleet support activity for naval aircraft and systems. He is certified by the federal government in program management, test and evaluation, software acquisition, safety program management, and electronic warfare operations. Matt earned a BS in Physics (Oceanography) from the United States Naval Academy in 1982, a Master of Public Administration from the University of Baltimore in 2017, and is a Leadership Maryland 2007 graduate. He is blessed with his family to live in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, enjoying the rural lifestyle and outdoor pursuits.

Paul F. Murphy

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Percussionist, bandleader, and composer Paul Murphy began playing drums as a child. He was befriended by Gene Krupa at age six and later studied with Louis Bellson. He also worked under the tutelage of Joseph Leavitt, the director of percussion at the Peabody Conservatory and the principal percussionist of the National Symphony Orchestra. By age 16 he was performing regularly with Duke Ellington's bass player Billy Taylor.

In 1970 Murphy relocated to San Francisco and established himself as a bandleader in such jazz venues as Keystone Korner. After meeting Cecil Taylor and his longtime alto saxophonist Jimmy Lyons in San Francisco, Murphy moved to New York. There he managed Rashied Ali’s club, Ali’s Alley, and became Lyons’s first-choice drummer until the saxophonist’s death in 1986. During the 1980s Murphy led recording dates at CBS and RCA with a band that included Mary Anne Driscoll, Karen Borca, Lyons and Dewey Johnson. He has subsequently collaborated with renowned pianist Larry Willis and poet Jere Carroll, performing works that link the worlds of bebop and the avant garde and that have been noted as a new direction in the jazz and art arena.

In addition to leading pioneering recordings and ensembles, Murphy is renowned for his innovative approach to the drum set. He is a fluent, compositionally minded master drummer and has performed with numerous musicians across a vast spectrum of genres. Murphy’s biography is included in Oxford University Press’s Grove Dictionary of American Music (2013).

Larry Willis

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Larry Willis is a world-renowned jazz pianist and composer who performs jazz fusion, rock, bebop avant-garde. He is a three-time Grammy nominee for his work with The Fort Apache Band (Crossroads, 1994; Pensativo, 1995) and Roy Hargrove (Strength, 2004).

Willis was born in Harlem, New York City. After his first year studying music theory at the Manhattan School of Music, where he regularly played with Eddie Gomez and Al Foster, he began performing regularly with Jackie McLean. After he graduated he made his first jazz recording, McLean's Right Now! which featured two of Willis' compositions. His first recording of any type, however, was as a singer with the Music and Arts Chorale Ensemble, performing an opera by Aaron Copland under the direction of Leonard Bernstein. He decided to concentrate on jazz because of the difficulties African American musicians had in finding work in concert music.

Throughout his career Willis has performed with a wide range of musicians, including seven years as keyboardist for Blood, Sweat & Tears (1972-1979). He appears on more than 300 recordings and has performed, toured, and recorded with iconic artists, including Dizzy Gillespie, Woody Shaw, Art Blakey, Stan Getz, Lee Morgan, the Adderley Brothers, Carmen McRae, Shirley Horn, Wynton Marsalis, and Hugh Masekela. He spent several years as pianist for Nat Adderley and Roy Hargrove.

Willis has recorded 19 albums as leader, including A New Kind of Soul (Brunswick, 1972), My Funny Valentine (Evidence, 1988), Unforgettable(SteepleChase, 1992), Solo Spirit (Mapleshade, 1993), and Let's Play(SteepleChase, 1994). His composition "Sanctuary," from the album of the same name (Mapleshade, 2003) began exploring works employing strings. After a successful performance in Frank Lloyd Wright's Annie Pfieffer Chapel at Florida Southern College's Child of the Sun Jazz Festival, Willis was commissioned to write a full-scale orchestral work for jazz trio and orchestra. His 2008 recording with Paul Murphy, Exposé (Murphy Records), demonstrated the fusion principles of bebop and avant-garde jazz. His latest recording as a leader is This Time the Dream's on Me (High Note, 2012).

Willis received the Don Redman award in 2011, and the Benny Golson Jazz Master Award at Howard University in 2012. He is still recording and touring around the world.

Jere Carroll

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Jere Carroll, master poet, artist, and dancer, was a staple of the Washington, DC art scene from the 1980’s into the turn of the century. She was poet laureate of the grand opening of the Mary Pickford Theatre at the United States Library of Congress (1983) and is the subject of Real Earth Productions’ documentary, Poet’s Song (1990). Her recordings include a spoken word album, Breakaway, with jazz drummer Paul Murphy and pianist Joel Flutterman (Cadence, 2000).

Carroll is a co-founder and former director of Amnesty International’s call for posters human rights campaign. She has performed at the DC Jazz Festival, DC Space, Howard University, George Washington University, Morgan State University, the Duke Ellington School of Performing Arts, and the Wentworth Gallery.

Sybol Anderson

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Social and political philosopher Sybol Anderson, PhD, is Chief Diversity Officer at Loyola University New Orleans. She joined The Spirit of Jazz & Democracy as a lecturer and program developer in 2016. Previously, Anderson was Associate Professor of Philosophy at St. Mary’s College of Maryland where, among other things, she organized campus-wide democratic community conversations and was lead architect and former director of the DeSousa-Brent Scholars Program, which promotes leadership for inclusiveness among students from underrepresented groups. Anderson has also served as Senior Program Manager and Senior Consultant for the GE-National Medical Fellowships Primary Care Leadership Program, which provides service-learning experiences in community health centers for medical students, graduate nursing students, and graduate physician assistant students interested in practicing in medically underserved communities.

Anderson’s scholarship focuses on liberal theory, recognition theory, and the philosophy of race. She is author of Hegel’s Theory of Recognition: From Oppression to Ethical Liberal Modernity, and is co-editor of Race and Racism in Continental Philosophy and A Passion for Wisdom: Readings in Western Philosophy on Love and Desire. She has also authored articles on liberalism, recognition, race, and pedagogy. A Ford Foundation Pre-Doctoral Fellow, Anderson earned her PhD in philosophy at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.

Dominic Fragman

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Dominic Fragman “brings innovation to his musical approach” states WBAL news radio. Right This Minute TV calls him a “musical genius.” His work has been recognized by Guitar Player Magazine and Laughing Squid as “amazing” and “remarkable.” What’s Up Magazine says he is “exploring music from all angles with his instrument and free spirit.”

Fragman is a modern artist of craft and spirit aligning with that of the old masters, ethereally and literally. He is a direct descendant of the lineage of groundbreaking jazz musicians including iconic master improvisors, Paul F. Murphy, Larry Willis, and Cecil Taylor. An internationally regarded multi-instrumentalist, Fragman is a music performer, educator, lecturer, and program designer who’s work focuses on improvisation, innovation, and freedom.

He is the co-founder of the Spirit of Jazz & Democracy, the Spirit of Innovation & Freedom, and the Mind Set of Innovation. He has partnered for programming with Zildjian, Loyola University of New Orleans, the Voice of America, St. Mary’s College of Maryland, Regis University, PAX Naval Air Museum, and others. His work with Paul Murphy, Larry Willis, poet laureate Jere Carroll, and philosopher Dr. Sybol Anderson in the Spirit of Jazz & Democracy has been recognized as historic. Oxford University Press’s Grove Dictionary of American Music has noted the fully improvised music as “a new direction in jazz and art.”

Fragman has also toured Europe and the U.S. with various groups including performances at the Kennedy Center and international jazz festivals. He has given masterclasses and clinics at Loyola University of New Orleans, St. Mary’s College of Maryland, and the Salerno Conservatory of Music.