by Maggie Schlageter This year the Richmond Jazz Society is celebrating its 30th anniversary as the city’s primary Jazz service organization. Richmond Jazz Society is a nonprofit corporation created to educate the public regarding the historical development and significance of Jazz music, with a special emphasis on young musicians and young audiences, to be a […]
This year the Richmond Jazz Society is celebrating its 30th anniversary as the city’s primary Jazz service organization. Richmond Jazz Society is a nonprofit corporation created to educate the public regarding the historical development and significance of Jazz music, with a special emphasis on young musicians and young audiences, to be a valuable resource/referral and support center for Jazz in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and to promote the advancement of Jazz as an American art form with activities such as performances, lectures, workshops, and exhibits. Each year they support countless events throughout the region, including the upcoming RVAjazzfest.
In 1979 a small group of Jazz fans and musicians agreed to create a support group for Jazz in Richmond. Founding board member B. J. Brown explained the environment that catalyzed the forming of RJS, “There were too many instances where promoters and presenters brought high quality, nationally recognized Jazz artists to town, but there would be such small attendance that Richmond gained a reputation as not being Jazz-friendly. We knew that we had to change that perception.” Richmond jazz society was formed, a non-profit organization with the mission: “dedicated to the education, preservation and advancement of Jazz as an American art form”.
The Richmond Jazz society newsletter quickly became the lifeline of Jazz information. They supported Jazz concerts and festivals presented by VCU and other organizations, and produced several Jazz radio shows to spark further interest. From 1982-1984 the organization owned a venue and hosted more than 150 shows. Over the years they have hosted such artists as Miles Davis, Joe Kennedy Jr., John Hicks, Lonnie Liston Smith, Kevin Eubanks, and a myriad of others. The Guest Educator Series continues to be a driving force in Jazz presentation in Richmond, offering a diverse selection of musicians the first Tuesday of the month. Program and Administrative Assistant Daphne Kelly stated, “We want to provide what everyone likes, maybe even stretching the definition of jazz. And it’s great being able to support local musicians as well. We pride ourselves on our diversity, many people see jazz as a black art form but all races of people enjoy it, support it and partake.”
Richmond Jazz Society continues to build upon its initial success by adding innovative performances and educational programs each year, striving to serve the existing jazz audience and to expand. RJS runs the jazz stage at the 2nd Street Festival and sends musicians into schools and senior citizen groups around Richmond to further educate and support this art. In 2008, RJS was one of ten recipients of the prestigious Governor’s Award For The Arts.
One of RJS’ newest projects is the Jazz Preservation Initiative, a program with the goal of producing a reference book featuring the chronology of the development of Jazz in Richmond and an encyclopedia with biographical information and vintage photographs. A DVD featuring music, performances, and interviews will accompany the book. The goal is to distribute these materials to every public school and library in the City of Richmond, free of charge. Thanks to a significant 2008 grant from The Community Foundation, RJS has begun Phase I of the preservation initiative by videotaping interviews and the oral histories of the Richmond Jazz pioneers. Daphne Kelly expressed, “There is a real sense of urgency as we have already lost several of them and others are in poor health. Jackson Ward was known as the Harlem of the south, it was a well-known center for jazz and other African American art forms. It’s such an important part of Richmond history that needs to be documented. Many of our interviewees have voiced how it was for them, working as minority musicians playing with white musicians. That was something that happened much more frequently than was originally thought.”
Regarding the jazz legacy in Richmond, RJS Executive Director B. J. Brown stated, “In the past 30 years we’ve seen support for Jazz in this city grow in many ways. Jazz is being taught in our schools and universities. Audiences can be found for nearly all styles of Jazz including traditional, modern, contemporary, avant garde, spoken word and danceable styles. While large audiences lean towards the more accessible styles like ‘smooth Jazz’; many audiences prefer the intimate settings and listening rooms where more ‘authentic Jazz’ is played. But the point is that there is something for everyone. Take a look at the photos on our website and see the diversity of our performers and audiences – old, young, Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, and every socio-economic demographic you can imagine. That’s the real legacy.”
Looking to the future, it is the goal of the Richmond Jazz Society to continue serving our community in keeping Jazz music alive and vibrant for generations to come.
For more information, visit www.vajazz.org