Associate Professor, piano | Director of the FIU Latin Jazz Ensemble
Michael was born in Reading, Pennsylvania. He began studying piano at the age of seven. His greatest jazz influences have been Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, and Herbie Hancock.
Michael was given a full arts scholarship to study at Miami Dade Community College-South Campus (MDCC-S) from 1984-86. While at MDCC-S, Michael performed in the Jazz Ensemble, under the direction of John Georgini, and recorded on their album, “Top Secret.” In 1986, he performed with this ensemble at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, and the North Sea Jazz Festival in Holland, as well as a 5-week tour of Africa with the MDCC-S Jazz Sextet. Michael graduated in 1986 with an Associate of Arts degree.
From there Michael went on to study, under full scholarship, at the University of Miami. While there, he studied with well-known jazz pianist and educator, Vince Maggio. Michael performed in UM’s prestigious Concert Jazz Band (CJB) under the direction of Whit Sidener. He played on the band’s CD entitled Pandamandium as well as performing on the CJB’s one month Italian Tour. Michael received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Jazz performance from UM in 1989 and his Master’s degree in 1992.
Michael has been very active on the jazz scene. He recorded two albums with his jazz/fusion group, “The Wave,” on the Atlantic Jazz record label. This outfit also displayed his compositional abilities.
In 1991, Michael toured as pianist for the Arturo Sandoval group as well as recording on Sandoval’s American debut album on GRP, “Flight To Freedom.” With this group Michael toured throughout the United States, Canada, Latin America, and Europe. In 1993, Michael was chosen as one of five finalist in the prestigious Great American Jazz Piano Competition. He was selected out of a field of one hundred entrants from around the world. In 1994, Michael spent the year touring and recording with the Paquito D’Rivera group. He played concerts and clubs in Trinidad, Curacao, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Paris, Germany, Switzerland, Poland, Romania, Greece, Holland, and Slovenia. Michael has performed and/or recorded with some of the major names in jazz: Randy Brecker, Dave Weckl, Eddie Daniels, James Moody, Ira Sullivan, Gary Campbell, Toots Thielmans, Ignacio Berroa, Rene Toledo, Bobby Thomas, Jr., Nestor Torres, Nicole Henry, Ed Calle, Larry Coryell, Sammy Figueroa, and the list goes on. In 2006 Michael received a Grammy nomination for his participation on the recording, “And Sammy Walks In,” with Sammy Figueroa and another one for “The Magician” in 2007.
Michael has also been an active clinician, sharing his musical knowledge and philosophies with music students in the U.S., Europe, Africa, and throughout South America.
Michael is an Associate Professor of Jazz Performance at Florida International University teaching jazz piano, jazz improvisation, and directing both jazz and latin jazz ensembles. Michael has released his debut album, FREEDOM TOWER on the Fantasy/Contemporary label. This CD features Paquito D’Rivera, Nicky Orta, Gary Campbell and others. His book, “Jazz Etudes for Piano” is available on Warner Brothers Publications. Michael is currently on tour with his group, the Araya-Orta Latin Jazz Quartet. They recently performed at the RiveraMaya Jazz Festival in Tulum, Mexico and at the National Theater in Costa Rica with guest artists Paquito D’Rivera and Diego Urcola. They are currently working on a DVD/CD of these performances.