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All That Jazz

For local jazz musicians, Richmond's a happening little scene.


Garcia plans to test the depth of that appreciation; his program in spring 2002 received the largest gift ever made to university-level jazz education in the United States, a pledge of $2 million from real estate entrepreneur W.E. Singleton. The funds, which will be paid out over several years, give a major boost to a program that, according to Garcia's predecessor Doug Richards, had never received more than $2,000 a year.

Part of the money will go toward improving infrastructure, but a significant portion is earmarked for bringing guest artists to town. Garcia recently directed his studio faculty to start lining up artists for VCU appearances; the results will start appearing on the Singleton Center stage later this year.

If all goes well, there could be an urban counterpart to the ongoing University of Richmond musical programs. It may be a challenge to lure audiences downtown, Richards says. "[UR's Modlin Center Director] Kathy Panoff does a brilliant job," he says. "And she has the advantage of being in the suburbs. Location is everything."

Attracting a paying audience isn't the most important consideration; the concerts and workshops are essential for musical education. "Our faculty is great," Garcia says. "But it's a fact of life that when a stranger comes to town, it pays off in all of the academic classes. There is a huge amount of inspiration and electricity that results from having a visiting artist come in and kick their butts.

"Its great for the students to rub shoulders with these musicians, see what it took, and make them aware they have to start now if they want a musical career."

However much Richmond loves jazz, making a living playing live music is a challenge. The VCU jazz studies all-stars who formed The Devils Workshop Big Band have learned that being part of a hot band doesn't guarantee cold cash.

"It's a happening little scene," Devils Workshop founder Steve Norfleet says. "But Bogart's is about it. You can play at places like Ipanema or the Tap Room, but there's not much money in it. You have to piecemeal a living together, play at weddings or parties. I was touring with a rock band for a while, but I wasn't proud of it, or happy. It got to be a job just like any other."

While trying to launch The Devils Workshop with its recent CD, Norfleet has landed a day job working in the warehouse of independent record store Plan 9.

While a few of the original DWBB founding members gravitated to the center of the jazz universe, New York City, others have memberships in multiple bands. Trumpeters Bob Miller and Taylor Barnett have found a second home in the burgeoning local Latin music scene.

For Barnett, who plays salsa with Timba Son and calypso with Tropikinea, it's an enjoyable necessity. "The Devil's Workshop is not a money gig, but with the others I can play a lot more often in the summer, when the club scene dries up a bit. There's the Latino festival, the monthly Latin Mercado at the Farmers' Market in Shockoe Bottom."

Barnett's strategy illustrates the core message of Garcia's music business classes. "To survive, you need to diversify," Garcia says. "Play classical, pop or in society bands; or write, teach or hold down nonmusical jobs. This is a great jazz town; people like the Richmond Jazz Society have done a lot, but if you divide the amount of money people will pay to listen by the number of local jazz musicians, it's not going to amount to much."

Garcia would like to see more venues, especially a midsized club that would support more visits by players passing through. "Bogart's is fine, but it isn't even big enough for some of Bogart's attractions."

But expansive space isn't a requirement for exceptional music. One of the most enjoyable regular jazz performances in Richmond is the monthly concert organized by public radio jazz host/trombonist Peter Solomon at Shockoe Bottom's 17.5 Coffee Shop. And the shows are gaining momentum. Last month Charlottesville trumpeter John D'earth sat in. Not bad for a place is so intimate that even for the drummer it's standing room only.

The Singleton funding of the VCU program promises to construct a richer future for improvised music in Richmond. That future will be founded on the solid talent of the local players, and on the taste of an audience that orders jazz with their meals. S

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