"I wanted to do what I could to raise awareness," Hallahan says. "And VCU has a great Steinway grand piano."
The three concerts, scheduled between September and January, feature musician's musician Bill Mays, swinging bop virtuoso Hod O'Brien and finally Hallahan himself in a closing concert that will open with the jazz piano contest winner. All will start at 4 on Sunday afternoons and be followed immediately by workshops open to the public.
Bill Mays, who opens the series on Sept. 12, is a consummate studio musician whose flexibility and assured touch enhanced sessions and performances with everyone from Frank Sinatra to Frank Zappa, as well as myriad film and TV scores. Mays moved from L.A. to New York a decade ago to focus on live jazz. "It was more of an artistic move than a financial one," he admits. "I wanted to play something more creative than background music."
Mays has appeared, albeit somewhat stealthily, in the area before. Most recently he was house pianist for last year's International Society of the Bass conferences at the University of Richmond. His week of performances with leading players from both the jazz and classical realms was an impressive display of cross-genre virtuosity.
For the VCU concert he will be accompanied by his excellent trio of Martin Wind on bass and Matt Wilson on drums. It's a band of equals. "They're both composers and bandleaders on their own," Mays says. "They bring an interactive-ness to the music, and a willingness to take chances."
Mays explorations flow recognizably from their melodic sources, producing music that is both accessible and intellectually engaging. "He's a great artist, but not yet a household name," says Bob Hallahan. "He really deserves wider recognition."
The same can be said of Charlottesville-based Hod O'Brien and of Hallahan himself. One of the charms of this series is its focus on a familiar instrument, players who should be more familiar and young talents just starting to make their names. Peter McElhinney
VCU's Piano Jazz Concert Series starts Sept. 12 with Bill Mays. 4 p.m. $5-$25. W.E. Singleton Center for the Performing Arts, 922 Park Ave. Call 828-6776. Tickets to the three-concert series cost $25-$55.
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