Jazz: it’s a true American art form.
Back in 1987, the United States Congress designated jazz as a “national American treasure to which we should devote our attention, support and resources to make certain it is preserved, understood and promulgated.” The Charlottesville Jazz Society strives to do just that through local concerts, educational programs, a partnership WTJU 91.1 FM, and bringing internationally-recognized jazz artists to town.
We interviewed Gary Funston, a board member of the Charlottesville Jazz Society, to learn why he thinks the area is a special place for jazz music, what they have planned for their most ambitious season yet, and the exact moment when you can see the future of jazz.
What does it mean to you to be part of the local arts community?
I moved here 20 years ago from northern Virginia with my family. We had a child just entering school and wanted a less hectic life style, but one with some culture. I immediately fell in to hosting a weekly jazz show on WTJU, which gradually introduced me to the C’ville arts community. Now I can’t imagine living anywhere else, as my life is so intertwined with all the musicians, artists and others that I interact with on a daily basis through my work with the Charlottesville Jazz Society and WTJU.
Pick one Jazz musician or act from Charlottesville or Central Virginia that you feel like our members need to know about.
This puts me on the spot as I don’t want to single out any one musician from the amazing jazz talent pool that we have in this area. I’ll mention the one I saw most recently, saxophonist Charles Owens, who definitely deserves wider recogonition. Though he’s a great musician who plays most often these days in a trio led by bassist Houston Ross, Charles is devoting a lot of time to teaching middle school students who are interested in jazz. He leads an after school program called Jazz in the Middle that is just getting off the ground, but is already producing great results.
What events does the Charlottesville Jazz Society have coming up that you are especially excited about?
We have our most ambitious season of live concerts lined up in our 6+ year history, featuring 8 concerts and many workshops and master classes. All will be great, but I’m especially looking forward to bassist/composer Ben Allison and his quartet in October. I’ve been working for over a year to bring him to town, as I feel he is one of the most important composers and musical minds in jazz right now. Also, don’t miss the Jessica Lurie Ensemble, led by the talented singer/multi-instrumentalist who also co-leads The Tiptons Sax Quartet. And of course we have the George Melvin Education Fund Benefit coming up July 21 at Fellini’s #9. This year there will be live music from 3 pm to 3 am that night. All groups will feature someone playing George’s famous Hammond B3 organ, Miss Lucy.
What’s your background in music?
I played sousaphone in high school and college for a while, but am otherwise just an fanatic music lover.
What would you love to see happen in terms of programming for Charlottesville Jazz Society in the future?
Our educational programs have turned out to be the most personally rewarding things we do. The more we are able to build up our general fund to bring in great touring groups from around the world, the more we can program these artists into schools and community centers. It’s wonderful to be present at the moment when a great musician really connects with a particular student. You can see the future of jazz right in front of you.
Finally, how can people get involved with Charlottesville Jazz Society?
We are a very small group of dedicated volunteers who all have other day jobs. So anyone with a passion for jazz and a couple hours a week to volunteer is very welcome. You can also help by joining as a supporting member. You can get a year’s membership plus two free entrances to any one of our fall concerts for $75. Membership also gives you discounts to most of our other events throughout the year.