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For VCU Jazz Students, Playing Gigs at Local Venues is its Own Type of Education

On a Friday night this past September, the Collin Hopkins Quartet had to improvise to perform a gig at Emilio’s, a Spanish restaurant on Broad Street in Richmond that features live music.

VCU JazzThe group’s bassist, Alex Kehayas, discovered his upright bass and other crucial equipment had inadvertently been locked in a friend’s car … along with the keys.

The musicians called AAA, but had little choice other than to work with what they had available. AAA wouldn’t be there in time to let them retrieve their equipment.

“I had to run home and get my electric bass,” Kehayas said. “I got very lucky that I had a backup instrument.”

Jake Adams, the group’s guitarist, also needed a makeshift solution. His amp was locked in the car’s backseat. Adams spotted a keyboard amplifier inside the restaurant and played while reading his sheet music off his smartphone, propped up on his knee.

“We could have sounded so much better,” Adams lamented after the show.

But the audience couldn’t have disagreed more. The quartet’s set lasted two hours, fueling an enthusiastic, supportive — and in some cases dancing — crowd. Hopkins, a percussionist, hit a five-minute drum solo about an hour in, drawing a lively response.

“I try to make my drums sing,” Hopkins said. “I feel like if I do that, [the crowd] knows what I’m saying.”

The four musicians — Adams, Hopkins, Kehayas and trumpet player Jack Beckner — are students in Virginia Commonwealth University’s nationally acclaimed Jazz Studies program. Aside from being the No. 1 public arts school in the country, VCUarts offers students a unique opportunity to leverage their education into a creative career. Richmond is one of the most artistic cities in the country. Events such as First Fridays and Riverrock provide a perennial opportunity for exposure and artistry. And countless venues welcome VCU jazz students to gig (play music) for a live audience.

Read the full VCU News article.