Antonio García’s Top 10 Reasons for Students to be a Part of VCU Jazz
1. Quality of faculty
Exceptional faculty abound at the university, department and program levels. I am extremely proud to be associated in particular with my jazz colleagues Skip Gailes (saxophone), J.C.Kuhl (saxophone), Rex Richardson (trumpet), Mike Ess (guitar), Adam Larrabee (guitar), Wells Hanley (piano), Victor Dvoskin (bass), Tony Martucci (drums), Brian Jones (drums), Doug Richards (arranging), and Bryan Hooten (Jazz Orchestra II and Small Jazz Ensemble).
2. Quality of musicianship
Come hear the sound of our ensembles — jazz and non-jazz. In particular, enjoy the maturity of our various jazz ensembles or visit the challenging jazz classes and rehearsals. VCU jazz students are serious about their jazz education and so are our faculty. Hear the VCU Jazz Program’s latest CD, “A Joyful Noise,” featuring the VCU Jazz Orchestra I, one of our Small Jazz Ensembles and our Faculty Jazz Septet — plus performances with guest artists Steve Wilson (sax, a former VCU student) and Wycliffe Gordon (trombone).
The sixth recording in the last 25 years, “A Joyful Noise” is VCU’s first recorded entirely live before an audience — and without a single remix, EQ adjustment, overdub or intercut. This CD is available at CDBaby.com, or call 1-800-BUY-MY-CD with any major credit or debit card. Locally, find the CD at Plan 9 Music stores (804-353-9996).
3. Quality of university
VCU, Virginia’s largest university, is an urban, state-aided institution ranking among the top 100 universities in the nation in sponsored research. It serves more than 32,000 students (approximately 22,000 undergraduate) via some 1,700 full-time faculty. Located in the heart of Richmond’s historic Fan District, the Monroe Park Campus provides a vibrant setting for the study of music and there are extensive, nationally ranked health and science programs at the nearby MCV Campus. The most popular undergraduate majors are the arts, biology, criminal justice, English, forensic science, history, mass communications, nursing and psychology.
Its School of the Arts comprises 16 programs and departments, with 3,000 students in Richmond and nearly 200 more in Doha, Qatar. It is the No. 1 public university school of arts and design in the country, according to U.S. News and World Report. The VCU Music faculty numbers more than 20 full-time members, more than half of whom hold doctorates, plus more than 30 part-time instructors. More than 300 undergraduate students are enrolled as music majors and more than 400 others take music courses each semester. The Jazz Studies Program is but one of the great strengths of the department, as evidenced in part during the 2007-08 year by the VCU student Trumpet Quartet and Trombone Quartet performances in the United Kingdom, the Symphonic Wind Ensemble’s concert in Carnegie Hall, the Commonwealth Singers’ tour to China and the Jazz Orchestra I’s performances at The Midwest Clinic and at the Virginia Music Educators Association Conference.
4. A jazz community
Established in 1980, the VCU Jazz Studies program offers its students outstanding opportunities. The Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies degree annually affords some 70 students avenues for pursuing jazz and classical studies — including with 13 jazz faculty covering all the traditional jazz instruments — and VCU’s urban campus offers opportunities for students to play in area club settings. The program has received Down Beat “Outstanding Performance” awards in the big band, combo, soloist and vocalist categories and has appeared at the Smithsonian Institution, the IAJE Conference, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and in 2007 became the first university jazz band from the commonwealth of Virginia to perform at The Midwest Clinic (an international band and orchestra conference, then in its sixty-first year).
The jazz program and Department of Music have recently benefited from the addition of a Music Business Emphasis to its Bachelor of Arts in Music degree offerings, capitalizing on the strengths of VCU’s Business and Marketing minors, its acclaimed Digital Recording and Music Industry courses and the extremely active music and arts scene in Richmond, Va., that surrounds VCU.
Our jazz community includes Greater Richmond and its Richmond Jazz Society, an organization with more than 400 members, and it includes real estate investor and philanthropist W.E. Singleton, who has committed $3 million to VCU, specifically to support the Jazz Studies program. His gift-pledge, at the time, was the largest ever made in the U.S. to support university-level jazz education. In recognition of this gift, VCU’s Performing Arts Center is formally named the W.E. Singleton Center for the Performing Arts; and the music center is named the James W. Black Music Center. This gift-pledge, arriving in installments, gives us a lot of flexibility to fund musical instrument repair and purchase, guest-artist visits, faculty and student ensemble recording, travel towards recruitment and potential student scholarships.
Our community also includes numerous local venues at which students and faculty perform jazz. (See Richmond below.) The VCU Jazz E-newsletter, which goes out to the local and national community, highlights not only the achievements of our current students, alumni and faculty but also their recurring gigs so that the public will attend. VCU Jazz makes sure that the community knows where they can come out to support your music-making and your career!
5. Menu of programs and guests
With our Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies for undergraduates, plus the Greater Richmond High School Jazz Band for visiting high school students, students learn not only from their instructors but also from each other. In addition, guest artists and clinicians abound. VCU students have benefited from visits by numerous guest artists and clinicians ranging from creativity clinician Stephen Nachmanovitch and historian Kurt Dietrich to legends such as Frank Foster, Benny Carter, Woody Shaw, Thad Jones, John Abercrombie, Barry Harris, Dave Holland, Louie Bellson, Max Roach, Billy Hart and Gunther Schuller to such acclaimed artists as Wynton Marsalis, Tim Berne, Tony Malaby, Art Baron, Ray Anderson, Ed Neumeister, Scott Colley, William Parker, Johnny Vidacovich, Matt Wilson and John Hollenbeck.
6. Career placement
Former VCU students include Steve Wilson (sax, Chick Corea’s Origin); James Genus (bass, Saturday Night Live Band; recordings with Dave Douglas, Michael Brecker, Mike Stern and John Abercrombie); Victor Goines (sax/clarinet, Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra; former director, Juilliard Jazz Studies); Alvester Garnett (drums, recordings with Abbey Lincoln, Cyrus Chestnut, James Carter and Regina Carter); Mark Shim (sax, Blue Note recording artist, member of Terence Blanchard sextet); Al Waters (sax, featured with Ray Charles); and Alvin Walker (trombone, Count Basie Orchestra).
For example, the 53rd Annual Down Beat Critic’s Poll recognized a number of VCU-related artists. Saxophone alumnus Steve Wilson merited No. 2 Rising Star/Soprano Sax and No. 8 Rising Star/Alto Sax and also placed in the category of Overall/Soprano Sax. Bass alumnus James Genus placed No. 2 in the category of Rising Star/Electric Bass. Alumnus Victor Goines placed in the Overall/Clarinet category. Grammy-winning composer/bandleader and VCU Music Industry guest lecturer Maria Schneider won in the categories of Jazz Album, Composer and Arranger of the Year and also placed in the Jazz Artist and Big Band categories; her drummer is VCU alumnus Clarence Penn. Violinist Regina Carter, for whose combo our drum alumnus Alvester Garnett performs, placed first in the Jazz Violinist category. Former VCU student Nate Smith was saluted on drums via Down Beat’s recognition of The Dave Holland Quintet as Jazz Artist, Big Band and Bassist of the Year. Also placing in the Artist of the Year category were Wynton Marsalis, allied with alumnus Victor Goines, and Dave Douglas, who regularly collaborates with alumni James Genus on bass and Clarence Penn on drums. Brazilian vocalist Luciana Souza, with whom Penn and Genus perform, again received the No. 1 slot in the Rising Star/Female Vocal category and placed in the Overall category.
This trend continues annually. Our faculty are committed to your best interests and our alumni can provide you a network of contacts and advisers.
7. Participate regardless of major
At many institutions, non-jazz majors have a considerably reduced opportunity to take jazz classes and ensembles. At VCU, if your audition is strong enough, you can be in the top jazz ensembles and if your academic prerequisites are sufficient, you can usually get into a given jazz class.
8. Campus diversity
VCU believes in the importance of a diverse student body. The student population at this writing is 38 percent male, 61 percent female and 1 percent undocumented; 60 percent white, 18 percent African-American and 22 percent other. This environment not only provides for the understanding and acceptance of other cultural backgrounds, but is also a great atmosphere for learning jazz, which itself stems from diverse cultural and musical influences and continues to be influenced by the world’s music.
9. Affordable tuition and financial support
Undergraduate tuition and required fees for Virginia residents majoring in the arts in fall 2008 is $6,779/year, including required fees; non-resident undergraduate tuition is $19,724, including fees, with room and board approximately $8,000/year. More than 70 percent of VCU students receive financial aid, with an average value of $9,500.
At many colleges, once you receive your scholarship as an entering freshman, that’s pretty much the end of the funding you’ll receive from your university. Contrast that with VCU — last November was the fourth year in a row that VCU Jazz Studies awarded supplemental scholarships from the concert stage, totaling more than $20,000 annually. Not a single student had to apply for it and it was funded entirely by donations from the community to the VCU Jazz Students Fund.
The year 2005 also saw the establishment of the VCU Jazz Studies Student Grant program, to which students can apply for financial support towards research and creative projects. How many other jazz programs offer independent grants to its undergraduate students? In addition to formal scholarships and grants, VCU Jazz Studies frequently refers paid gigs to its best students.
If you are serious about jazz study, apply to VCU and apply for every pertinent financial aid. You are likely to be pleasantly surprised by the results!
I am fond of saying that Richmond has “more art per square inch than any town its size.” It really is impressive. Take a look at the local music listings in our local daily or weekly papers in print or online — they’re extensive and not even comprehensive! You’ll find jazz, pop, rock, blues, metal, bluegrass, grunge, experimental, classical, country and more right here in Richmond — much of it close to VCU. Beyond that, there are museums, art galleries, theaters, ballet, historic districts and more.
I also proudly state that while Richmond is not necessarily an ideal locale in which to make a lifelong career as a jazz musician, it is an ideal locale in which to be a jazz student. There are so many places that a young musician can take his or her creative music and find a venue in which to try it out on the public. The pay may not be great for a 50 year-old raising a family, but it is great for a college student and probably beats delivering pizzas.
Richmond includes a redeveloped riverfront and the largest convention center in the state. The city has been a center for Fortune 500 companies, high-tech manufacturing, biosciences and pharmaceuticals, and its business advantages and quality of life have been recognized by such publications as Money, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, Fortune, Forbes, CNN Money and Inc. magazines.
Kiplinger’s announced its 2006 listing of Richmond as the “26th smartest place to live” in the U.S. based on criteria such as education, transportation, cultural offerings, health care, economic diversity, crime rate, weather and cost of living. Inc., in 2006, named Richmond as “One of the top 15 places to do business in America.” Forbes magazine’s 2008 listing again noted Richmond as “One of the Top 10 Business Cities.” The 2004 National Policy Research Council’s Gold Guide of America’s Best Cities and States ranked Richmond as 10th in “Business Climate.” CNN Money set Greater Richmond as one of 2006’s “seven best summertime trips.” Employment Review magazine recently selected Richmond as “One of the Top 20 Best Places to Live and Work.” When the Southeastern Institute of Research released its 2004 study of the reactions of 25- to 34-year-olds, it ranked Richmond as the third “coolest city” in America (after Washington, D.C. and New York and ahead of San Francisco).
Richmond has been called America’s most historic city, its history largely defined by its location at the falls of the James River. It lies approximately two hours’ drive east of the Blue Ridge Mountains, west of the Atlantic Ocean, and south of Washington D.C. It became a town in 1742 and the capital of the commonwealth in 1780. Richmond’s population is 191,300 (with a greater metropolitan population of some 935,000). The city covers 63.5 square miles and its population is 56 percent African-American. Notably, the cost of living in Richmond is 40 percent below that of my former home in the Chicago area.
Virginia also fares well in the rankings. The 2004 National Policy Research Council’s Gold Guide of America’s Best Cities and States listed Virginia as fourth overall, behind only Massachusetts, Colorado and Minnesota. That included fourth in business climate; sixth in technology, quality of life, and entrepreneurship and small business; and ninth in economic dynamism.
So come join VCU Jazz in Richmond, Va. — experience all that we have to offer!