Talkin’ Jazz

B.J. Brown of the Richmond Jazz Society is on a mission.

With its exhibition Virginia Jazz: The Early Years, the Valentine Museum in Richmond pays tribute to the lives of 30 Virginia-born jazz artists that made significant contributions to the development of Jazz from the early 1900s to the mid 1960s—including Ella Fitzgerald, Walter Davis, Jr., Putney Dandridge, Lonnie Liston Smith and Salena Jones. But the museum couldn’t have pulled it off without the help of the Richmond Jazz Society, the curator of the exhibit that runs through April 30. We talked to RJS Executive Director B.J. Brown about her group’s mission.  

What does the Richmond Jazz Society do?

We have provided daily resource and informational assistance to area students, journalists, researchers, promoters, arts organizations, musicians and the general public since 1979. RJS continues to be a major clearinghouse for jazz support and technical services for area arts and civic organizations, festivals and other presenters. Program and technical support services include event planning, artist referrals, concert emcees, promotional support, audience development and volunteer staffing. In the fiscal year 2016-17, we contracted 90 performances providing 343 job opportunities for area musicians generating $43,935 in income for the artists.

With many greats gone, has it become harder to bring great jazz talent to the Richmond area?

There are still many jazz greats performing. The issue for RJS is securing financial support to help us pay for expenses associated with bringing these artists so that persons of all economic backgrounds can attend, in a listening room setting, at an affordable fee.

In jazz, there is the New Orleans sound, the New York sound, the Chicago sound, the Kansas City sound. Is there such thing as a Virginia sound?

Well … perhaps a case can be made that the “sound” associated with some of those cities was actually influenced by early Virginia jazz artists. Case in point, in the 1920s and 1930s, many New Orleans musicians, including Pops Foster, Henry “Red” Allen and Jelly Roll Morton, were actually playing and recording in the band of Wilton Crawley, a clarinetist from Smithfield, Virginia.

Which young Virginia jazz artists should we keep an eye on?

Here are only a few … some are recording and touring; some are still students but show great promise, like pianists Justin Kaulfin and Ayinde Williams, both from Virginia Commonwealth University, drummers Billy Williams, Jr. and Corey Fonville,  brass players Victor Haskins and Mary Lawrence, guitarist Morgan Burrs, saxophonists Trey Sorrells and Dexter Moses and multi-instrumentalist Brandon Lane.

Want to know more about Virginia-born jazz greats? Click here to read our feature on the full history of jazz in Virginia: meet the artists, read profiles and watch performance videos and interviews.

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