The U.Va. Jazz Ensemble does more than just jazz

U.Va. Jazz Ensemble joins with Jazz4Justice in a community concert for Legal Aid


The U.Va. Jazz Ensemble and Jazz4Justice partnered Sunday, April 15 to give a soulful performance in support of the local Legal Aid office.

Courtesy U.Va. Jazz Ensemble

After the harrowing events of Aug. 11, the University community responded in variety of ways ranging from bake sales to community gatherings. Of these various events, one of the most inspiring and creative took place Sunday, April 15 with the partnering of the University Jazz Ensemble and the nonprofit group Jazz4Justice. The event allowed the community to gather and connect through the soul and power of African-American jazz. 

The ensemble partnered with the nonprofit group Jazz4Justice in order to raise funds for the local Legal Aid office. Originating at George Mason University School of Music in 2002, Jazz4Justice has partnered with eight universities throughout Virginia and subsequently has raised over $400,000 in funds. 

Early in the event, the co-founder of the group, Laura Weiner, spoke about the similarities between Legal Aid and jazz music. She revealed how both platforms provide hope for communities at the most difficult of times, which is exactly what this program has done for Charlottesville. 

John D’earth — director of Jazz Performance at the University — is a familiar name to many in both the University and Charlottesville communities. Working as a professor, composer and musician in Charlottesville for decades, D’earth has achieved a great deal of success. From working with Dave Matthews to establishing his own quartet, D’earth is a force to be reckoned with. His presence at the event was yet another reminder of the strength of the University community. His profound love and support for his performers was moving and truly added to the atmosphere of the event. 

Headed by Stephanie Nakasian, jazz vocalist and University professor, and a collection of student singers, the event presented a diverse array of jazz pieces. Ranging from improvisation to modern and classical jazz, the ensemble explored the limitlessness of personal expression. Lead vocalist Nakasian has been recognized by the Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz as one of the world’s leading jazz singers and was deemed "the Renaissance woman of jazz" by Her performance of “Someone To Watch Over Me” was particularly impressive. This arrangement displayed the expansive range of her vocals for the first time in the performance and completely captivated the audience. 

Multiple student vocalists accompanied Nakasian throughout the concert. Third-year College student Joy Collins was the first vocalist of the concert and truly left an impact with her performances. Singing arrangements such as “Goodbye/Goodbye” and “Assum Preto,” Collins’s vocals were mature and powerful. Arranged and conducted by ensemble member Rami Stuckey, the performance of the traditional jazz piece “Assum Preto” was the most impressive. The song slowly and ominously built upon itself and beautifully intertwined with Collins’s deep and alluring vocals.

In addition to Collins, student vocalist and third-year College student Grant Frazier gave an delightful rendition of the popular jazz song “Fly Me To the Moon.” This performance was one of the event’s longest but also one of its best. Frazier’s voice intertwined with the accompanied band so naturally that it seemed like his vocals could interact with a band of any genre. Through this piece, D’earth and special guest Chris Rogers from the New York Jazz Academy provided an encapsulating performance on the trumpets that made the performance even more lively. 

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