The events of August 11 and 12, 2017 in Charlottesville left an entire University community with broken hearts, and a UVA Arts community inspired to do what art and artists do best in troubling times. Last April, John D’earth and his UVA Jazz Ensemble took the stage at Old Cabell Hall for an evening of music that showcased what jazz has done, perhaps better than any other American art form, since its earliest days. Over the course of an unforgettable evening that highlighted vocal jazz, D’earth and his celebrated student band were joined by Stephanie Nakasian, an internationally-recognized jazz vocalist and longtime lecturer in jazz vocals at UVA. Nakasian then welcomed a group of student singers she had coached in a residency leading up to the concert, including Nadine Michel, Joy Collins, and Jazz Ensemble trombonist Grant Frazier. She also led a newly-formed jazz vocal choir, formed by a coalition of student singers, headed by another of Nakasian’s protégés, Colleen Callahan. The audience swung, swayed, and stomped to a program packed with classics like “Fly Me to The Moon,” by Bart Howard, Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing," and “It’s You Or No One," by Sammy Kahn, along with original compositions by band members.
The Virginia Women’s Chorus came on stage to sing D’earth’s arrangement of “Willowland," a song written by his late wife, the jazz vocalist Dawn Thompson, and the band performed a new vocal composition, “River on the Rocks," and a rousing rendition of “Sensitive Like Ladies," from D’earth’s jazz opera, Sacred Profanity. “Jazz is the music of black America, and as such, exemplifies the struggle for freedom of any kind. The Jazz4Justice connection, which raises money for legal aid to ensure access to the courts for all citizens, is a natural ally to this music, which expresses our democratic ideals of free expression in community.” This connection, D’earth said, will be a lasting one. “This was one of our most exciting concerts ever. We are going to do Jazz4Justice with vocalists every spring from now on.”