By Jaelyn Scott
New Journal and Guide
On February 25, the Virginia Arts Festival will be welcoming back the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra, which is led by Wynton Marsalis. However, this year will be different, because this time they will be accompanied by a collaboration with the brand new HBCU jazz residency.
When asked about the inspiration for the residency, Rob Cross, the executive director of the Virginia Arts Festival mentioned that it was a concept that came to him, and he and Marsalis have been working on this idea for a while now. At some point, Marsalis sent Cross some of his projects and one of them was a festival in New York that had a broader arrangement and took place in New York, and he wanted to bring that to Norfolk.
“Because of the richness of the region of this region with HBCU and the importance of that for our community here in Norfolk, I was like, ‘let’s do one specifically aim as historically Black college students and his team loved the idea,” said Cross.
With this residency in place, around 6-8 bands will have the opportunity to be coached by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Wynton Marsalis. Each band or ensemble will be assigned a mentor that will coach the band, and help them along their musical journey. According to the Virginia Arts Festival press release, over the course of the residency, “student ensembles will receive coaching from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra members, participate in a question-and-answer session with Wynton Marsalis, join in an open jam, and have the opportunity to attend the Virginia Arts Festival Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra concert.”
They’ll also be selecting some bands to perform in the concert on February 25.
When asked about the goals of the residency, Cross said that he wanted to make this project valuable for the students. The VAF team wants to be able to give the opportunity to students in order for them to meet others in their field, as well as make it a learning experience in a mentoring environment. Cross said, “You want to meet the kids where they are.” VAF hopes to have this residency every year.
The idea for the HBCU residency came from multiple sources, ranging from diversity to opportunities. When VAF had a line up for the Virginia Arts Festival, Cross mentioned that he wanted to make sure that their programs were an accurate representation of Norfolk.
“Norfolk specifically is, I think, 42 percent Black and with the festival, part of our DNA is to make our programing represent the diversity of the community … throughout the entire festival we want that to reflect the diversity of the community.”
Because of this, he wanted to have the chance for the younger people to see the rich history of Norfolk and show off Norfolk as well as the festival to a larger audience. He also wanted to help create opportunities for those who may not be able to.
Cross spoke about his own experience of having music courses at Norfolk State at a young age, having the opportunity to work with the professors, and he wanted to give those same opportunities back to the community.
“When I was hired for the festival, it was really important to me and our board to give those opportunities back to those students that otherwise wouldn’t have those opportunities”
Come and see this wonderful band live, at Chrysler Hall in Norfolk, Virginia. The concert is on February 25, 2023, and it starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are currently on sale right now, and you can purchase them on the Virginia Arts Festival Website at www.vafest.org