Leah Landry, Contributing Writer
Taylor Barnett fell in love with music long before taking his talents to the VCU stage after hearing “Good Vibrations” by The Beach Boys as a kid, he said.
“I remember sitting on the ground in front of the little CD player,” Barnett said. “I just wanted to crawl into the world of the song.”
After years of teaching, touring the country and arranging his own music, Barnett became the new director of jazz studies in August, with the most recent concert on Nov. 3.
In addition to being the director, Barnett is an assistant professor of music at VCUarts and a member of No BS! Brass, according to the VCUarts website.
Barnett began playing the trumpet in middle school. He said he was inspired to become a professional musician after watching the 1990 movie “Mo’ Better Blues” when he was a high school freshman.
“I’ve always had a slightly obsessive mind about things,” Barnett said. “Once I kind of zoned in on that, it was like things happened along the way that gave me the fuel to start.”
Barnett’s promotion follows Antonio García’s 21 year run as the director. One of the valuable lessons he learned from García was maintaining a positive energy with the students and faculty, Barnett said.
“Even when things were going bad, like during the pandemic, he was able to maintain that optimism,” Barnett said. “I think that really helped to kind of see the ways in which he did that and to know that it’s not without a cost.”
The role of director involves several tasks, according to Barnett. He teaches jazz arranging and other upper level jazz classes, assists with the adjunct faculty and recruits players for the faculty ensemble.
“The job is interesting because there’s an infinite amount of things that I can just do,” Barnett said. “I can just pour 24 hours a day into it.”
One of the classes that Barnett teaches is Jazz Orchestra I. The class began rehearsing for the Nov. 3 orchestra concert the second week of the semester, according to Barnett.
The group performed seven arrangements last Thursday. The concert included 17 musicians, along with faculty guest performers Rex Richardson and Trey Pollard.
The concert included arrangements from a diverse lineup of musicians such as Duke Ellington, Toshiko Akiyoshi and a piece from García.
Three of the songs were world premieres. The first two performances were entitled “How Deep is the Ocean” by guitarist Thomas Windley and “King Macabre” by Brian Jones. The final piece was written by Barnett, entitled “Remember the Future.”
Violin player and sophomore music performance student Tyler Miranda came out to support the orchestra Thursday night. Although classic music is his favorite, Miranda said he enjoys jazz for the freedom it allows.
“Classical music is so structured that you have to follow X, Y and Z,” Miranda said. “I really like how jazz incorporates a baseline foundation, but then you can basically do what you want with it.”
Miranda has seen the orchestra perform a few times in the past. He said he is excited to see what else the group has in store.
“It is the coolest thing to see what they can do and how talented these musicians are,” Miranda said.
Trombone player and senior music performance student Patrick Gadams said the class taught him valuable lessons such as the history of jazz, and how to keep an orchestra together. Gadams will take these lessons with him as he continues with his musical journey, he said.
“I’ve taken jazz classes but it’s not my primary focus,” Gadams said. “Even just hearing good players play, you’re able to internalize what this language of jazz is and how you’re able to really feel it and let it come out.”
Gadams said the highlight of the class was improvisation. Barnett gave the orchestra the freedom to improvise in both the audition and the performance.
“In that moment you’re really free to express yourself through your music,” Gadams said. “It’s definitely something you’ve got to practice a lot to be able to do.”