Check out my YouTube Channel,

Melissa Gilstrap, where I feature

live jazz performances I film

in Philadelphia; over 80 videos and over 1,000,000 views!

* = autographed drawing

Classical Musicians

Academy of St. Martins in the Fields members
Adam Unsworth
Addison Quartet (Johannes Dickbauer,

Jose Maria Blumenschein, Lily Francis,

Nicholas Canellakis)
Alexander Martin Hanna
Alfred Brendel
Anner Bylsma
*Amy JiaQi Yang
*Anna Polonsky
*Ann Crumb
Bernard Labardie (conductor)
Brian Ganz
*Charles Dutoit (conductor)
Clancy Newman
Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia members
*Christophe Eschenbach (conductor)
David Daniels (countertenor)
*David Kim
*Di Wu
Don Liuzzi
*Efe Baltacigil
Elizabeth Hainen
*Emanuel Ax
*Emilio “Lee” Gravagno
*Felix Hell
*Fora Baltacigil
*George Crumb
Gloria Justen
Gil Shaham
Hal Robinson
Helene Grimaud
Holly Blake
Hugh Sung
*Ignat Solzhenitsyn
Igor Szwec
Jaime Laredo
James Conlon (conductor)
James J. Kee (baritone)
*Jeremy Denk
Johnanes Dickbauer
Julliard String Quartet
Katherine Needleman
Lambert Orkis
Leila Josefowlcz
*Lily Francis
Lisa-Beth Lambert
Nadia Solerno-Sonnenberg
*Nick Canellakis
Nitzan Haroz
Magdalena Kozena (mezzo soprano)
*Matt Haimovitz
Meredith Arwady (contralto)
Murray Perahia
Orion Weiss
Paul Jones
Paul Krzywicki
Philadelphia Orchestra members
Renee Fleming
Richard Amoroso
*Richard Goode
Ricardo Morales
Richard Harlow
Rob Arnold
Rossen Milanov (conductor)
Sheryl Woods Olson
Spencer Myer
*Simon Rattle (conductor)
Udi Bar-David
Yefim Bronfman
Yo-Yo Ma
Yumi Kendall
Yuri Temirkanov (conductor)
*Yuja Wang
Vladimir Jurowski (conductor)

Jazz Musicians

Aaron Goldberg
Abraham Burton
*Adi Meyerson
Al Harrison
Andy Lalasis
Akiko Tsuruga
Alex Claffy
Alex Hernandez
Anwar Marshall
*Ari Hoenig
*Avishai Cohen
Barry Sames
Ben Allison
Ben Williams
Benny Golson
*Berndt Sjogren
Bill Avayou
*Bill Charlap
Billy Jones
Bim Strasberg
Bobby Rae
*Bobby Watson
Bob Howell
*Bootsie Barnes
*Brad Mehldau
Branford Marsalis
Brian Betz
Brian Blade
*Bruce Barth
Bruce Hornsby
*Buster Williams
*Byron Landham
*Camilla Meza
Charlie Pillow
Chris Aschman
Chris Beck
Chris Brown
*Chris Farr
*Christian McBride
Clarence Watson
Craig Ebner
Craig Thomas
Cornell Rochester
*Cuong Vu
Curtis Lundy
Dan Hanrahan
*Dan Monaghan
*Danny Janklow
Darrell Yoakley
*Dave Kikoski
*David Brodie
*David Posmontier
Denis DiBlasio
Denise King
*Diana Krall
Diane Monroe
Don Wilson
Donald Edwards
*Doug Hirlinger
Duane Eubanks
Dylan Principe
Ed Wise
*Eden Ladin
E.J. Strickland
*Eldar Djangirov
*Eric Alexander
Eric Allen
Erik Johnson
*Esperanza Spaulding
*Farid Barron
*Francesco Mela
Gabe Globus-Hoenich
Gary Moran
George Livanos
*George Mesterhazy
*George Rabbai
Gerald Veasley
*Grant Stewart
Gregg Kettinger
Harold O'Neal
*Harry Allen
*Houston Person
Howard Cooper
*Jack Jones
*Jack Saint Clair
*Jackie Ryan
Jaleel Shaw
*James E. Weidman
Jarred Antonacci
Jason Brown
Jason Fraticelli
Jason Shattil
Jay Webb
Jean-Michel Pilc
Jeff Ballard
Jeff Pedraz
*Jeff “Tain” Watts
Jim Hayward
Jim McFalls
Jim Miller
*Jimmy Bruno
Jim Ridl
Jim Smyser
Jimmy Coleman
Jimmy O'Dell
Joanna Pascale
Joe Magnorelli
*Joe McDonough
*Joe Lovano
*Joey DeFrancesco
John Abercrombie
Jon Barnes
John Blake, Jr.
John Chin
John di Martino
John Fedchock
*John Swana
John Venore
*Jorge Rossy
John Patitucci
Joseph Tayoun
*Josh Lawrence
Josh Nussbaum
*Joshua Richman
*Justin Faulkner
*Kevin MacConnell
Khary Abdul-Jaheed
*Kurt Elling
*Larry Grenadier
*Larry McKenna
Larry Tamanini
Laurence Hobgood
*Lee Smith
Les Paul
Lou Donaldson
Lucas Brown
*Madison Rast
Maeve Royce
Marcus Belgrave
Marcus Strickland
Mark Allen
*Mary Fahl (folk singer/songwriter)
Matt Davis
Matthew Keppler
*Matthew Parrish
Michael Brecker
*Mike Boone
Mike Cemprola
*Mike King
Mike LeDonne
Mike Mee
Mike Renzi
*Mickey Roker
Mingus Big Band members
Nancy Reed

Neal Miner
*Noam Wisenberg
Norman David
Odean Pope
Orrin Evans
*Pamela Luss
Paul Sottile
*Pat Martino
Patricia Franceschy
Pete Smyser
Pete Souders
*Peter Bernstein
Philip Dizack
*Phil Woods
*Rachel Z
*Ralph Bowen
Ranaan Meyer
Roger Mgrdichian
Rolando Morales
Ron Horton
Rudy Royston
Sam Greenfield
Sam Harris

Sam Taylor
Sean Markey
*Shamie Royston
Sharon Sable
*Sid Simmons
*Sonny Troy

*Steve Ash
Steve Barbone
Steve Beskrone
Steve Masakowski
Steve Varner
Sun Ra Arkestra members
Susie Meissner
*Terell Stafford
Tessa Souter
Tim Hagens
*Tim Warfield
Tom Adams
Tom Cohen
Tom Moon
Tom Ranier
*Tony DeSantis
Tom Giacabetti
*Tom Lawton
*Tony Bennett
*Tony Miceli
*Uri Caine
Vanguard Jazz Orchestra members
Vic Stevens
Victor Baker
*Victor North
Vince Lardear
*Wallace Roney
Warren Oree
*Warren Vache
*Warren Wolf
Wayne Shorter
Wendy Simon Sinkler
Wynton Marsalis

Lyricist / musician  (scroll down for Artist bio)

"Melissa Gilstrap wears many hats when it comes to music. Composer,

lyricist, record producer, vocalist, you can list them all. What amazes

me is that she excels at each one. I have had the good fortune to

collaborate with Melissa in writing songs that appear on my two latest

CDs as well as on recordings by other artists. The lyrics she created for

these songs are astonishing in their originality, with subject matter

that is far from ordinary. She has recently contributed her talents to

a recording project with the late, great guitarist, composer, Tom

Giacabetti. Melissa acted as producer of this CD as well as lyricist,

vocalist and even as guitarist on one of her original instrumental

compositions. I could go on and on, but suggest rather that you

check her out for yourself.”

- LARRY McKENNA, tenor saxophonist and composer

Called “a brilliant songwriter” by WRTI 90.1 FM Philadelphia Jazz Host Jeff Duperon, Melissa Gilstrap is a multi-talented lyricist with a passion for music and art.  Her most recent work as a lyricist is showcased in the late guitarist Tom Giacabetti’s September 2016 CD release that she produced, “Tender Heart: Songs Of Tom Giacabetti And Melissa Gilstrap.”  Six songs with her words are premiered on the CD by the outstanding vocalists Denise King, Joanna Pascale, Sharon Sable and Paul Jost.  Her songs are earning praise:

“Gilstrap's lyrics hover somewhere between wistful jazz standards and cultured language, the latter reflecting her interest in poets like Emily Dickinson, Rilke, and T.S. Eliot.  Her words are artfully tailored to the music, and her sensitive use of vowel sounds (almost a lost art) allows the singers to achieve fluency and full vocal sonority. The flowing quality of the words and music gives the songs a feeling of familiarity like a jazz standard rather than sounding like a new piece that one must stretch to appreciate.”
–Victor L. Schermer,

Tom Giacabetti also expressed appreciation to Melissa:  "So, I’ve spent the better part of today focusing on your lyrics.  I understand better now how each word you write is more than an art form. It is the essence of being and making music really mean something and come to life. You are a consummate musician!"

 Tom Giacabetti and Melissa Gilstrap's song "Fantasy Of You And Me In Love" sung by Joanna Pascale was voted the #3 song of the year out of 100 for 2016, AS WELL AS the#5 song of the year out of 100 for 2017, by listeners at WRTI 90.1 FM Philadelphia.

Over the past 10 years, Melissa has written songs with the great tenor saxophonist Larry McKenna that received praise from fans, critics and jazz radio hosts.  Their debut song on Larry’s “Profile” CD, “Perhaps This Wintertime” premiered by Nancy Reed, was hailed by one critic as
“destined to become a jazz standard.”  This ballad has been recorded by The Hot Club Philadelphia with Denise King and by Mary Ellen Desmond and performed by several others, including Lisanne Lyons in Florida and Jackie Ryan on both coasts.

More recently, the McKenna/Gilstrap bossa nova “One Falling Tree” sung by Joanna Pascale on Larry McKenna’s “From All Sides” CD that Melissa co-produced was voted the #2 song out of 100 for 2013 by listeners of WRTI, who also voted it onto the station’s “Hot 11 Countdown” of favorite new releases for 18 consecutive weeks, with four weeks at #1

In 2014, rising star Philadelphian saxophonist and composer Sam Greenfield commissioned Melissa to write lyrics for one of his songs.  The result of their collaboration, "Some Stars Above," was debuted by another rising star, vocalist Alita Moses, winner of the 2014 Montreux Jazz Vocal Competition in Montreux, Switzerland.  Alita Moses has also publicly performed "One Falling Tree" and "Friends For A While," two McKenna/Gilstrap songs first premiered on Larry McKenna's "From All Sides" CD.

Musical from an early age, Melissa studied classical piano for 10 years and classical clarinet for eight years, performed and competed in many concerts, competitions and festivals through high school, and earned a merit scholarship as a teenager to study clarinet at The Levine School of Music in Washington, D.C.  She continued to perform clarinet in college and deepened her knowledge in several music appreciation courses, including History of Jazz.  She sings on two songs (”Batidinha” and “Japama”) and performs a guitar duet with Tom Giacabetti (the song “Like The 
Sky” that she composed on piano and he arranged for two guitars) on his new CD, “Tender Heart: Songs Of Tom Giacabetti And Melissa Gilstrap.” 

Melissa excelled in the study of literature at The University of Virginia, where she graduated With Distinction, an English Major with a Concentration in American Studies, a French Minor, and a member of Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society.  She subsequently earned her J.D. at The University of Virginia School of Law.


A busy corporate lawyer in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for many years, Melissa has consistently found time to pursue her lifelong passions for art and music.  She has always loved to draw, and her work as a child and young adult won many awards.  She has also developed her skill in photography with numerous darkroom courses, and her work has appeared in several shows including the prestigious Photography 20 show at The Perkins Center for the Arts, Moorestown, New Jersey. 

An avid concertgoer, today she is known in Philadelphia jazz and classical music circles for drawing hundreds of musicians in live performances, and many of the world’s leading classical and jazz artists have signed these portraits. Her artwork graces the covers of tenor saxophonist Larry McKenna’s jazz CDs "Profile" and "From All Sides" and guitarist Tom Giacabetti's jazz CD "Tender Heart: Songs Of Tom Giacabetti And Melissa Gilstrap."  In addition, her photography is featured on the cover of jazz bassist Lee Smith’s jazz CD "Sittin’ On A Secret."  

In 2020, Melissa would have exhibited three drawings in the juried show "An Ode to the Instruments of Jazz" (Richard J. Watson, juror) and a photograph in the show "Emerging Jazz Showcase," both presented by the City of Philadelphia's Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy in the Philadelphia City Hall art gallery, but these exhibitions were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  She was also invited to participate in the exhibition "Music to My Eyes" at New Hope Arts in New Hope, PA.  

In 2019, Melissa was invited as one of 6 artists to create an installation in the jazz-inspired art exhibition "Reflections" in Philadelphia City Hall (March 28 - May 24).  Her installation included 35 drawings of jazz musicians, a video, and artifacts about her songwriting and CD collaborations with Larry McKenna and Tom Giacabetti.  Several of Melissa Gilstrap's musician drawings also were shown in the juried art exhibitions "Transforming Jazz: A Visual Journey" (2018) and “All That’s Jazz” (2015) at the Philadelphia City Hall Art Gallery.  In addition, her photography was shown in the juried photography exhibition "Live Philly Jazz – Through the Photographic Lens" (2016) and the invitation-only exhibition "Live Philly Jazz Vol. II" (2017) at the Philadelphia City Hall art gallery.  Her artwork also resides in private collections.

Some of Melissa Gilstrap's musicians drawings may be seen in the CD cover artwork and two videos below that she created.  At the bottom of this page is a list of many of the classical and jazz musicians she has drawn in live performance.

Get ready to scroll!  Below is a list of many of the classical and jazz musicians that Melissa Gilstrap has drawn in live performance over the past 20 years.

Read more about the "Tender Heart" CD at its Facebook page:


Here's our Number One song, "Fantasy Of You And Me In Love":


"Tender Heart" is available at and iTUNES.

NEWS:  I'm now on the NPR Live Sessions website!  "One Falling Tree" and "The Close Things" by Larry McKenna with my lyrics are performed on video by The Larry McKenna Jazz Orchestra, and my drawing of Larry McKenna is featured on his bio page.

         Welcome to the website of Melissa Gilstrap, Artist and Lyricist! 

My website is under construction. Please join my contact list (Contact Me tab) for news. 

Please check out my latest project, the jazz CD "Tender Heart:  Songs Of Tom Giacabetti And Melissa Gilstrap"!  I had the honor to collaborate with the late great Philadelphia guitarist Tom Giacabetti, writing lyrics to many of his instrumentals and producing his first CD before he passed away after a prolonged illness in Dec. 2015. Performing with Tom are vocalists Joanna Pascale, Denise King, Sharon Sable, and Paul Jost, with the legendary Larry McKenna on tenor saxophone, Mike Quaile on guitar, Craig Thomas on bass, and Joe Nero on drums. Thanks to Tom, I make my singing debut and also play a guitar duet with him that I composed and he arranged.

​"When will such beguiling performances as these be properly recognised? Indeed, when will music so perfect in melodic pleasure and grace receive its just deserts? These are some thoughts that boggle the mind."

NUMBER 3 SONG OF THE YEAR, OUT OF 100!!  "Fantasy Of You And Me In Love" written by Tom Giacabetti and Melissa Gilstrap and sung by Joanna Pascale was listener-voted # 3 in the 2016 Jazz 100 Countdown of favorite new releases at WRTI 90.1 FM Philadelphia!!!  It was also voted NUMBER ONE favorite new release for 5 weeks in a row in the weekly WRTI Hot 11 Countdown, where it spent 13 weeks overall!!!  (Scroll down for a video)