Brad Richter is the executive director and co-founder of Lead Guitar. Equal parts performer, composer, and educator he has made nearly one-thousand concert appearances in North America and Europe - more than fifty of which were aired on NPR’s Performance Today. Since completing his Master’s degree in classical guitar at The Royal College of Music in London, Brad has performed around the globe with artists such as nine-time Grammy winner David Finckel. Brad is the winner of the National Fingerpicking Championship, the International Composer’s Guild Competition, and the National Music Teachers Association’s commissioned composer award, and he was the first guitarist ever to win the Royal College of Music’s Thomas Mohrherr Prize. He is a sought-after collaborator with artists such as cellist Viktor Uzur with whom he tours as the Richter Uzur Duo, his former mentor from the Royal College of Music, Carlos Bonell, and Broadway star Ben Vereen, as well as The Pacifica String Quartet and The Phoenix Chorale. Brad also enjoys several long-term collaborations as an artist-in-residence, including more than a decade with the Aspen Music Festival and School.
As a composer, Brad is known for his own brand of genre-mashing chamber music. Winner of the International Composer’s Guild Competition, his major commissions have included Navigating Lake Bonneville, a concert-length work for Weber State University; Duo Concerto for Cello and Guitar, co-written with Viktor Uzur for the Jackson Symphony Orchestra; Fragments Transcending, premiered by David Finckel; Devil in the Details, commissioned by the National Music Teachers Association; and the musical score for an episode of the Emmy award-winning PBS series The Desert Speaks. Brad’s collections of concert music for solo guitar are published by Mel Bay, Acoustic Music Records, GSP, and Sky Island Music.
In his role as Director of Outreach for the College of Fine Arts at the University of Arizona, Brad collaborates with CFA faculty and leaders in the field of arts education to develop and operate the CFA in Schools programs, based on the Lead Guitar model. Between Lead Guitar and CFA in Schools, he oversees a carefully selected staff of 23 part- and full-time arts professionals in operating programs in 60 schools in five states.
Holly Holmes, Director of Operations
Holly Holmes is Lead Guitar's primary administrator, managing everything from scheduling and communications with our partner schools to finance and grant-writing. She has worked as an administrator for both non-profit and for-profit arts organizations, including as a jazz programming intern for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Holly earned a PhD in ethno-musicology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and conducted dissertation research in Brazil as a 2011 Fulbright Scholar. Holly has taught jazz voice, music theory, and world music courses at universities and conservatories in the US and the UK and in Brazil she did so in fluent Portuguese. She has released two albums as a jazz vocalist. Having benefited from excellent arts classes in the public schools of her native state of Wisconsin, Holly is impassioned to build upon Lead Guitar's arts education programming for those students most in need.
Marc Sandroff, Board President
Marc Sandroff is co-founder of Lead Guitar. He is a Managing Director of Cadre Partners, LLC, an alternative investment and management services firm. Over the last 30 years, he has been involved with numerous entrepreneurial companies as President and a founding member of their management teams. He has also served on the Board of Directors of numerous companies, both public and private. Mr. Sandroff has also been a board member of several other nonprofit arts and arts education organizations both in Arizona and Chicago.
Regional Director for Chicago, IL
Highly praised by the international press, Denis Azabagic (Bosnia and Herzegovina), performs concerts around the world, maintaining a balance between his solo recitals, chamber music with the Cavatina Duo and Fandango quartet as well as engagements as soloist with orchestras.
Azabagic’s love for performing extends to sharing with others his knowledge of music making. He frequently offers master classes while on tour, teaches at the University of Illinois and is the head of the guitar department at Roosevelt University in Chicago.
He has won twenty-four prizes in international competitions and Mel Bay has published a book based on his experience and insights on the subject of competitions. Azabagic has recorded 13 CDs for international labels such as Naxos, Cedille, Opera Tres, Bridge records, Neos and Orobroy, as well as two DVDs for the Mel Bay Company. His recordings and live performances are highly praised by music critics, for his elegant approach to music and his unique way of communicating and reaching the audiences’ hearts.
As a guest instrumentalist and soloist Azabagic has appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Sinfonietta, Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra, Illinois Symphony Orchestra, Sacramento Chamber Orchestra, Madrid Symphony, Traverse Symphony, Monterrey
Symphony, L’Orchestre Royal de Chambre de Mons, among many others. He has also collaborated with the Casals Quartet, Chicago Chamber Musicians, Civitas Ensemble and Music Now.
His repertoire includes solo and orchestral music from the Baroque era to the present. As half of the active Cavatina Duo (with Eugenia Moliner, flute), he has performed a vast repertoire including many works written expressly for the duo.
Denis Azabagic uses D'Addario strings
Regional Director for Los Angeles, CA
Jaxon Williams began the study of classical guitar at the age of seven. He has won prizes in numerous classical guitar competitions including the OSAA Classical Guitar Competition, Sierra Nevada International Guitar Competition, San Francisco Bay International Guitar Competition, Pacific Guitar Festival and Competition, and most recently a winner of the Beverly Hills National Auditions. Jaxon is also an alumni of the Aspen Music Festival, where he studied with Juilliard's Sharon Isbin, and he holds a Master's of Music in Guitar Performance from Arizona State University with Frank Koonce, where he was the sole recipient of the Burns Guitar Scholarship and also was awarded a Graduate Teaching Assistantship. He is also a 2015/16 Fulbright Scholar, winning the grant to study Flamenco and Spanish repertoire in Seville, Spain. While there he studied with Francisco Bernier, Zoran Dukic, and Judicael Perroy as part of an International Performance program, while simultaneously studying Flamenco guitar at the renowned Fundación Cristina Heerén.
Jaxon is currently a Doctoral Candidate at USC’s Thornton School of Music, where he was awarded the position of Graduate Teaching Assistant. There, he teaches introductory guitar courses and studies performance with William Kanengiser of the renowned LAGQ, as well as Scott Tennant and Brian Head. He also studies Flamenco with virtuoso guitarist Adam del Monte.
As a performer, he stays busy playing solo recitals and performing chamber music in various groups. Jaxon also plays Flamenco guitar, and has gives performances in both the USA and Spain.
As a teacher, Jaxon has worked with Lead Guitar in over 12 different schools in 3 different states, with hundreds of collective students. He was recently promoted to Lead Guitar's Regional Director for California, where Jaxon also works at USC as the Graduate Teaching Assistant teaching undergraduate level guitar courses.
As a recording artist, Jaxon has 3 albums: his self-titled debut album, his album La Catedral, which features works from Spain and Latin America, and his most recent album Far and Away. Jaxon also works as a studio guitarist, writing songs for commercials and/or adding guitar parts into music for original artists.
Lead Guitar Master Instructors
Alfredo "Freddy" Vazquez - Instructor since 2018
Alfredo "Freddy" Vazquez has been amazing the stage since the age of 17 after his solo debut in Salzburg, Austria. Mr. Vazquez has won and placed in numerous guitar competitions such as the William Wolf, Thomas Schaffer, Maricopa County Artist of Promise competitions and, most recently, the Memphis International Competition.
Along with competing and performing, Mr. Vazquez has been a dedicated educator for many years. While in his early music education at Glendale Community College, under the tutelage of Charles Hulihan in classical guitar performance, he was a tutor and section leader for beginning guitar classes and ensembles. While studying with Prof. Tom Patterson and Dr. Renato Serrano at the University of Arizona while earning his Bachelors' Degree in Music, Mr. Vazquez had the opportunity to have multiple lessons with Grammy award winners David Russell, Sergio Assad, and Odair Assad each year. Mr. Vazquez has performed in master classes with world-renowned artists, such as Marcin Dylla, Judicael Perroy, Rene Izquerdo, Carlos Perez, and Vladimir Gorbach. In 2014, Mr. Vazquez won 1st Place in the William Wolf Competition, winning a 2015 Jeremy Cooper guitar.
Mr. Vazquez has premiered pieces and worked with many composers, such as Brad Richter’s guitar duo concerto “Last Man Standing” commissioned for the Tucson Guitar Society Orchestra and Phil Moloso’s “Guitar Trio.” During his graduate career at Oklahoma City University, studying with Matt Denman, Stephan Lochbaum, and Lynn McGrath, he had the opportunity to dive even deeper into music education. Being a part of two teams: one that created a local guitar curriculum for local high school programs; and a second that was associated with the guitar curriculum for ASTA (American String Teacher Association). During that time, Mr.Vazquez developed and instructed a guitar “technique boot camp” for the undergraduate class while also conducting the OCU Freshmen Guitar Ensemble. Alfredo Vazquez currently resides in Tucson, Arizona and is an adjunct guitar professor at Cochise Community College.
Kacey Ellis - Instructor since 2018
Born 1993 in Naples, Florida, Kacey has been studying classical guitar from the age of ten. While in Florida, Kacey studied with Rafael Padron and Thomas Koch. In 2013, Kacey moved to the city of Chicago to study with Denis Azabagic at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Kacey graduated magna cum laude and was awarded the Music Performance Award. He completed his graduate work at the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University.
Kacey attended master classes with notable guitarists and pedagogues such as: Sergio Assad, Eden Stell Duo, Benjamin Verdery, Andrew York, and Margarita Escarpa. Through these experiences and mentors, Kacey has cultivated a thorough understanding of the various teaching methods and styles that exist in the guitar repertoire. He teaches in both private and group settings in Chicago.
Nicholas Epple - Instructor since 2018
Nicholas Epple is pursuing his DMA at the University of Arizona with Tom Patterson and artists in residence David Russell, Odair Assad and Sergio Assad. Nicholas received first prize at the David Russell Bach competition in 2017 and was awarded second place at the Domaine Forget International Competition in Quebec in 2018. Nicholas has performed in France, Italy, Canada, and the states in workshops, festivals, and competitions. In the summer of 2015 he was awarded a full scholarship to study with Antigoni Goni in Volterra, Italy.
Regional Director for Phoenix, AZ
Andrew Lesley Smith is a classical guitarist based in Phoenix, Arizona, where he performs both as a solo artist and as a founding member of the Augustine Strings sponsored ensemble Petrichor Duo. Recent notable performances include the Pinnacle Chamber Series, the Spirit of the Senses Concert Series, and former Senator John McCain’s state funeral at the personal request of the First Lady of Arizona. His playing is influenced by his interest in both very old and very new music for the guitar. In addition to performing his own compositions for solo guitar, Andrew frequently collaborates with composers to develop, premier, and publish new repertoire. Published works dedicated to Andrew can be found through Productions d’Oz and Tradurre Musica. He has been awarded travel grants to both perform and study internationally in Spain and Quebec.
As an educator, Andrew has taught guitar and music theory both privately and in the classroom to students of all ages and has spent multiple years on the teaching staff of the Texas Music Festival - Classical Minds. With Lead Guitar, Andrew works with hundreds of public school students in Phoenix and throughout Arizona each week, often traveling to the Apache and Navajo reservations. Andrew holds a Master of Music in Guitar Performance from ASU, where he taught undergraduate music majors as a Teaching Assistant for the renowned scholar Frank Koonce. Andrew began studying the guitar with the French guitarist Valerie Hartzell, and he completed his undergraduate degree with honors under Steve Kostelnik at Southwestern University. In addition to playing and teaching guitar, Andrew also builds guitars in his spare time. He has built both electric and classical guitars, and recently studied classical lutherie under master builder Sergei de Jonge. When he is away from the guitar, Andrew enjoys hiking, camping and backpacking throughout the southwest.
Pablo Gonzalez - Master Instructor since 2016
Pablo Gonzalez started studying classical guitar at the age of 14 at the Liceo Experimental Artístico under Professor Eduardo Gomez. In 2000, he began studies at the School of Fine Arts of the Universidad de Chile under Professor Ernesto Quezada, one of the most influential and prestigious pedagogues in the Chilean classical guitar scene. In 2010, Pablo was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to pursue his Master's Degree in guitar performance at the University of Arizona under Prof. Thomas Patterson, being the first classical guitar performer ever in his native country to receive such an award. In 2011, he was awarded a Becas Chile (Chilean government award) scholarship to complement his Fulbright award. Upon graduation in 2013, Pablo was the recipient of a second Becas Chile award to pursue a Doctor of Musical Arts degree at the University of Arizona, as well as an invitation to serve as a guest artist in the Latin American Guitar Festival in Chicago.
Pablo also has actively participated in the Tucson classical guitar scene. In October 2015, he performed for a private event organized by the Arizona Opera that took place at the historic Sosa Carrillo Freemont House, receiving tremendous positive accolades from attendees and organizers. He was recently a finalist in the prestigious Third Annual David Russell Bach Prize.
Steven Lerman - Master Instructor since 2015
Steven Jay Lerman is an award-winning classical guitarist from Southern California. Since 2010, Steven has won prizes in 20 guitar competitions – including 1st prizes at the Indiana International Guitar Competition at IU’s Jacobs School of Music in 2017 and the Wilson Center International Guitar Competition in 2016 where he had the opportunity to open for Al Di Meola in Milwaukee as part of the grand prize. Since being selected for the Promising Artists of the 21st Century tour in 2014, Steven has taught, performed, and made radio appearances across the U.S. and in Mexico, Canada, Costa Rica, and France. Steven has been teaching as a graduate teaching assistant for the last 5 years at Florida State University and the University of Arizona. He is currently in the last year of his Doctorate of Musical Arts degree at U of A.
Zhivko Nikolov - Master Instructor since 2016
Born in Stara Zagora, Bulgaria, Zhivko Nikolov started playing classical guitar at age 11. He went on to study at the Professor Pancho Vladigerov National School of Music and Fine Arts in Burgas, Bulgaria. There, he won prizes in music competitions for both voice and guitar, including the top prize for “Interpretation of Music by Bulgarian Composer” in 2004. Zhivko moved permanently to the United States in 2007 to study with concert guitarist Denis Azabagic at Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts. Since then, he had studied under the supervision of the well-known performer and Professor Denis Azabagic. There, Zhivko met and performed for touring artists, including Marcin Dylla, Paul Galbraith, Elena Papandreo, Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, Nicholas Golouses, Mathew Cochran, Eduardo Catemario, Zoran Dukic, Aniello Desiderio, and Berta Rojas. Zhivko performs concerts and guitar seminars in and around the Chicago area as a soloist and a chamber musician and has been broadcast on WFMT, Chicago. Zhivko won 2nd Prize in the Louisville International Solo Competition, was a finalist in the Wilson Guitar Competition in Milwaukee, and was a semifinalist in the Rosario Guitar Competition in South Carolina, and the Indiana International Guitar Competition.
Zhivko has been teaching privately since 2006. He currently teaches at his own studio 6VibeZ Music Inc, as well as for the Gasse School of Music, St. Nicholas School of Arts, and Little Bulgarian School. As a Lead Guitar Master Instructor, Zhivko teaches classical guitar to more than 100 students weekly in a group setting. His private students have performed widely, including awards for 1st Prize in the SAM Competition in Chicago and 3rd Prize at the Latin Arts Guitar Competition in Milwaukee. Zhivko currently performs as a soloist and as half of flute and guitar Duo Utopia.
Regional Director for Colorado
Nick Lenio has dedicated the past 10 years to music education in public schools and has been teaching with Lead Guitar since 2013. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Music Education from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a master’s degree in Instrumental Conducting from Messiah College. Nick served as Director of Bands at Lebanon High School in Lebanon, PA for three years before moving to Colorado to be the Director of Bands at Basalt Middle School and Basalt High School.
During the 7 years that Nick directed the 5th-12th grade bands at Basalt, the program grew from ~150 students to over 330 students. In 2015, Nick was named “Music Teacher of the Year” by Jazz Aspen Snowmass. In 2016, he was nominated and became a semi-finalist for the GRAMMY Music Educator Award.
His New Orleans-style street band, the Basalt StreetHorns, has performed for many local events and as an opening act for groups such as Train, Andy Grammer, Michael Franti, and Lionel Richie. As a local musician, Nick is in high demand; performing on guitar, bass guitar, and trombone.
Outside of the classroom, Nick spends as much time as possible trail running, rock climbing, mountain biking, and snowboarding with his wife and pups.
David Sewell - Instructor since 2020
Born in Biloxi, Mississippi David began playing electric guitar at the age of 13 and by 16 was teaching guitar at a local music store to all ages and levels. His electric guitar influences drew him to classical music where he began his pursuit as a classical guitarist.
David earned his Bachelor's Degree in Guitar Performance at the University of Southern Mississippi under Dr. Nicholas Ciraldo. He was awarded a teaching assistantship at the University of Louisiana and went on to earn his Master’s in Guitar Performance with Dr. Jeffrey George. While earning his DMA at Arizona State University under renowned pedagogue Frank Koonce, David was honored with an additional teaching assistantship, and was privileged to study with South Korean virtuoso JIJI.
David has performed in masterclasses with celebrated guitarists such as Brasil Guitar Duo, Martha Masters, Francisco Bernier, Rene Izquierdo, Anton Baranov, Adam Holzman, and Marcin Dylla. He regularly works with other musicians performing a broad range of genres. As a passionate chamber musician, David has premiered a guitar orchestra piece “By Chants” written by notable composer/guitarist Andrew York with the Arizona Guitar Orchestra and the Grammy-winning Los Angeles Guitar Quartet. He received first prize in the UL Friends of Music Guitar Competition of 2016. Dr. Sewell’s further accomplishments include an arrangement of Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre’s Harpsichord Suite in A Minor for solo guitar. His first solo album of all harpsichord music is set to be released in 2020.
Residing now in Phoenix, Arizona, Dr. David Sewell is a guitarist, arranger, educator and instructor for Lead Guitar. He is devoted to arranging unique repertoire for the guitar and teaching his students a wide variety of styles and techniques.
Laura Meador - Instructor since 2019
Laura is a teaching artist from Phoenix, Arizona with a strong background in community arts education. She holds a MM in Guitar Performance Pedagogy and MM in Music Education from Arizona State University. She is also an alumna from the Glendale Community College guitar ensemble program.
Laura's professional background includes community outreach and engagement, curricula design for guitar, popular and original music, program design and coordination, group classes, community workshops, and private lessons.
Laura’s private students have received scholarships to the Berklee College of Music, Belmont University, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the University of Arizona, and Arizona State University.
In 2015, Laura presented at the Berklee International Arts Symposium hosted at Columbia University in New York. Part of this research contributed to Laura obtaining a Faculty Associate role with Arizona State University during her graduate studies in 2018.
Laura is highly driven by learning, improving her craft(s), and exploring new ideas. She is excited to join the Lead Guitar team because she is passionate about youth guitar education and mentoring others.
Pedro Pérez - Master Instructor since 2016
Pedro L. Pérez Cáceres was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He began studying the guitar with Emilio Cruz and later continued with Jacques Landry and Michael Curtis at the Interamerican University in San Germán, Puerto Rico. He obtained his BA in Music from the Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico, studying under Luis Enrique Júlia, José Rodriguez Alvira, and Leonardo Egúrbida. Later he received his Masters Degree in Music from Arizona State University, where he was a Fulbright Scholar and a student of Professor Frank Koonce.
In 1998, Mr. Pérez was awarded the Pro-Arte scholarship from Asociación Pro Orquesta Sinfónica (APOS), to attend the National Guitar Workshop directed by Nathaniel Gunod, where he studied with Julian Gray, Michael Cedric Smith, and Richard Provost. He has performed in master classes by Nicholas Goluses, Juan Mercadal, Leonardo Egúrbida, Eladio Sharon, William Kanengiser, and Xavier Jara. In 1999, he was invited to perform an opening recital for the renowned popular music guitarist, José Feliciano, in El Paso, Texas. During the school year 2003-2004, he joined the high school music faculty at the Rivera High School in Brownsville, Texas, where he was in charge of the music elective guitar classes. While there, he also served at the Estudiantina Director for the Rivera High School in the Brownsville Independent School District Fine Arts Program. His latest performances include duo concerts with the former Phoenix Symphony Principal Flutist Alex Viazovtsev for the Downtown Chamber Series directed by Mark Dix, a recording session with the flutist Sherry Finzer, 2 concerts with the flutist Monica Anthony for the Mill Ave. Chamber Players Concert Series, and performances as a member of the Glendale Community College Guitar Orchestra, directed by Chuck Hulihan.
Currently, Mr. Pérez is a doctoral student in Guitar Performance at Arizona State University, where he has studied under Prof. Frank Koonce and Prof. Jiyeon Kim. Pedro regularly performs for the Phoenix Guitar Society Meeting, hosted monthly the every second Sunday at the Tempe Historical Museum. He likes to spend his time off practicing the electric guitar, swimming, hiking, dancing salsa (badly), and drinking coffee.