Concert fundraises for scholarships, legal services

Todd “Parney” Parnell, chief coordinating officer of the Richmond Flying Squirrels, conducts Jazz Orchestra I during the Jazz4Justice concert. Photo by Alessandro Latour

Gabriela de Camargo Gonçalves, Spectrum Editor

The audience roared in applause as a new instrument smoothly began to play. Heads bopped subconsciously during different songs and a collective disappointed sigh sounded when the conductor announced the last song of the night had arrived.

Sanika Pingulkar, audience member and sophomore biology student, attended her first “Jazz4Justice” concert in support of her boyfriend on Thursday at the Sonia Vlahcevic Concert Hall, located in VCU’s Singleton Center.

“I think it’s really cool, and they’re raising money for getting legal services for a lot of different people,” Pingulkar said. “That’s an important cause, and the legal world has mashed into the music world this way.”

VCUarts Music and Greater Richmond Bar Foundation, or GRBF, came together for its eighth annual partnership for J4J, which is a collaborative effort to raise money through donations and ticket revenue for legal aid and music scholarships.

GRBF is a legal aid organization that connects attorneys to cases where they can volunteer their time, according to GRBF’s Director of Administration and Programs Shane Harper.

Harper said VCU’s J4J concerts have raised “at least” $150,000 for the cause in total since its inception in 2015.

The concert was a fundraiser which after expenses donated the proceeds to GRBF’s pro bono initiatives, as well as Jazz Studies scholarships, according to Antonio García, the director for J4J scholarships and Jazz Orchestra I director. 

García said he and the faculty handpick five students for the scholarships.

“The J4J scholarship is very important to me because it means I can devote more time to my craft and less time to working,” saxophonist and scholarship recipient Nathan Fussell stated in his scholarship remark. “This will definitely help me during my senior year in this program.”

García said J4J has collaborated with many universities across Virginia, but said VCU’s differs in the number of ensembles, because the university has two “big” bands, a vocal group and a combo of students who received scholarships. García said the concert takes a lot of planning because the performers are “never in the same room together.”

When the choir came on, the audience had to guess who was singing which part because of masks the performers were wearing. The beautiful harmonies blended together were nothing short of angelic. 

Another difference unique to VCU’s J4J is the invitation of a guest conductor. García said J4J have had a range of different people — some from the legal community, a politician, a meteorologist and a mayor. This year was no exception as Todd “Parney” Parnell, the vice president and chief operating officer of the Richmond’s minor league baseball team, the Flying Squirrels, guest conducted for J4J.

The Flying Squirrels’ mascot cheered on Parnell’s stage entrance. Parnell wore a St. Patrick’s Day-themed set of pants and shirt with a sparkly rainbow blazer. He used a baseball bat as his conducting baton and danced during the entire number, making the audience laugh throughout. García said there were no prior rehearsals with the Flying Squirrels.

García said the music chosen was oriented specifically towards the idea of social justice or equality, which was not a “stretch” because jazz and social justice have history “hand-in-hand.” 

“Even if the piece itself isn’t necessarily waving a social justice flag, it’s [the music] still highlighting someone who has that voice,” García said.

The concert included music from a plethora of different artists, such as Oliver Nelson, Archie Shepp, Michael Jackson and more. 

“Jazz musicians have often written music in celebration of human rights or in protest of injustice, segregation and racism for a hundred years now,” García said. “There is a library of music that has been expressive from the Jazz musicians literature about life in the world and the United States in any given community.”


CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated a sources name as Sanika Pinpulkar. Her name is Sanika Pingulkar. The article incorrectly stated that the concert featured General Grant’s music. It did not feature an artist by that name. The article incorrectly stated the proceeds of the event were split half to the GRBF and half to Jazz Studies scholarships. The percentage was incorrect. 

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