Thickening The Jazz Soufflé 

A new faculty member represents changing times for VCU's jazz studies program.

It's difficult to replace a longtime faculty member like Howard Curtis. His extraordinary passion, inventiveness and involvement made him so important to the local scene that it was easy to forget he had an international reputation as well. He won a world competition for a tenure-track position in Austria that was too significant to turn down.

But Martucci brings some strong compensation. As a drummer, he is a great listener, reacting to other players with a melodic sense of timbre and dynamics, complementing and pushing other players' lines with soft cymbal plashes or precise explosions. He's an exceptional player in that you can listen to only his part and feel you've missed nothing.

Martucci may be best remembered by Richmond audiences for his membership in Glenn Wilson's Jazzmaniacs, a '90s fixture in Bogart's Back Room. He also leads his own quartet and plays regular gigs with such musicians as Mose Allison, Joe Lovano and the "super group" with Marc Copland, Drew Gress and John Abercrombie that will play at VCU March 27.

The concert will be expensive for the program, Garcia says, but it will allow students to see the kind of company Martucci keeps as well as mark the beginning of a new and more expansive era. (Other scheduled concerts include pianist John Eaton, Feb. 12, Garcia's faculty recital, Feb. 19, Trio De Paz, March 6 and Rex Richardson, March 7.)

Performances are just the start. "For the first time in 25 years, we have changed the curriculum," Garcia says: "More jazz theory, credit for woodwind doubles, learning about the music business, and double the amount of jazz lessons."

Martucci appreciates the spirit. "I am so impressed with the level of commitment and enthusiasm," he says. "Tony [Garcia] is really into having this school and program be successful."

The drummer will commute from his home in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. "It's not all that far," he says, "only an hour and forty minutes unless there is a toxic chemical spill or a jackknifed truck full of chickens." It's a bit shorter than the drive to his other teaching gig at William and Mary, which Martucci describes as a great school, but not a conservatory like VCU. "[At William and Mary] I'm enhancing lives," he says, "but I have no illusions about creating professional musicians."

Martucci's goal is to help students find their own voices. "Everyone has something inside them that no one else has," he says. "It's common to idealize great musicians, to try to sound like them, but it can't be done, not even if you copped all of their stuff." Imitation is always hollow, he says: "I encourage students to make a connection with real aspects of their own lives."

"Music is, in every single way, analogous to language," Martucci says. "And playing is a conversation that can go anywhere. The scales and rudiments are just tools; the bigger your vocabulary, the better your grammar, and the more interesting things you can say."

The essential ingredients of self-expression come from experience. "The drums are just incidental," Martucci says. "The people who've inspired me most are not drummers or even musicians: my mother, Roberto Clemente and John F. Kennedy. The music teacher that had the greatest influence on me was Ed Manganelli, but it was not so much what he taught, but what I learned about him as a man."

Martucci's is an attitude that should blend well with Garcia's holistic musical vision. "There is really no difference between jazz and classical," he says. Garcia sees a similar convergence on the "classical" side of the music department, citing new professors such as percussionist Kris Keeton and French horn specialist Patrick Smith.

Money is a perennial challenge. "The flow will increase this semester — hats off to Mr. Singleton," Garcia says. "There is twice as much scholarship funding, and jazz students can now get $500 grants for music-related projects." But making ends meet still requires as much creativity as the program's early days when jazz program founder Doug Richards founded a "pep band" to play at basketball games to tap sports-related scholarships.

Through all the changes, Garcia says the single most important factor is the teacher. "Doug [Richards] used to say that if you had the right person at the front of the room, you could call a class 'Jazz Soufflé' and every seat would be filled." S



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