Antonio Garcia is no stranger to the spotlight — in fact, just a few months ago he wrote, arranged and performed a piece with VCU Jazz alumni at Nelson Mandela’s U.S. memorial service in Washington, D.C. This month, Garcia will lead Jazz Orchestra I when they perform at the Singleton Center on Feb. 13.
Garcia is an associate music professor at VCU and the director of Jazz Studies. He said he does his best to make each concert a mixed show, featuring everything from swing to blues, ballads, bebop, Latin and other contemporary styles.
“My mission is to provide our students a variety of musical styles to study and perform. We’re playing three pieces extracted from larger works by Duke Ellington, Wynton Maralis and Ray Santos,” Garcia said.
The Jazz Orchestra concert will also feature the premiere of a piece written and arranged by a senior jazz piano major, Jon Nielsen, titled “Nicole’s Melody” in honor of his wife, whom he met after moving to Richmond to teach music and attend school.
“She knows I wrote it, but she doesn’t know it’s named after her,” Nielsen said. “I think she’ll be surprised.”
Nielsen had not originally planned on having the piece premiere at Thursday’s concert, but Garcia encouraged him to perform the piece. Nielsen will also play “Nicole’s Melody” at his senior recital on May 3, which is his wife’s birthday.
The orchestra only practices together a handful of times before performing at the Singleton Center. Garcia typically has the students perform a piece they’ve never seen before for the audience at least once a year. He said he does this to prepare them for the realities of working in the music industry post-graduation, where rehearsals are scarce and sight-reading is a must.
“The professional music world typically demands high quality with little rehearsal time, so I like to stimulate game conditions. If a student wants to be a pro, now’s the time to start — not after graduation,” Garcia said.
The time crunch of putting together the concert does not go unnoticed, however. With only nine rehearsals for the 17-person ensemble, and many of the students partaking in other music-related commitments, the process can be stressful.
Garcia said despite this, the students rise to the challenge and are in Jazz Orchestra I because they crave the feeling that jazz brings. In choosing pieces to include for concerts, Garcia takes several components into consideration.
“I reflect on the current band members, their strengths and weaknesses, and how to prompt their greatest growth. I balance new tunes to complement the preceding music in their experience so that they can cover a span of styles during their time in the band,” he said.
Thursday’s concert is one of several VCU jazz events coming up in the next few weeks. On Feb. 16, Garcia will also have his faculty jazz recital for free admission. Performers will include the VCU Jazz Orchestra I, the VCU Greater Richmond High School Jazz Band, the VCU Africa Combo and the VCU Alumni Jazz Quartet.
Tickets for the concert on Feb. 13 are $7 advance and $10 at the door. The concert is free with a VCU student ID.