This article is copyright 2014 by Antonio J. García and Neil Gonsalves. It was originally published in much smaller form in JAZZed, Vol. 9, No. 5, August/September 2014 (Part I), with Part II slated for Vol. 9, No 6, November/December 2014. This online edition is a complete, 21,000-word version with detail beyond that of the print article—including links to many institutions and resources related to the project. Some text variations may occur between the print version and that below. All international rights remain reserved; it is not for further reproduction without written consent.

International Exchange Rites: A Guide to Global Growth
by Antonio J. García & Neil Gonsalves

(All photos credit Antonio García)
The 12 core students of the grant on their final day in Durban together: Sebastian Goldswain (guitar/UKZN),
C.J. Wolfe (drums/VCU), Lungelo Ngcobo (piano/UKZN), Sakhile Simani (trumpet/UKZN), Sphelelo Mazibuko (drums/UKZN),
Chris Ryan (guitar/VCU), Victor Haskins (trumpet/VCU), Ildo Nandja (bass/UKZN),
Linda Sikhakhane (tenor sax/UKZN), Trey Sorrells (alto sax/VCU), Brendan Schnabel (tenor sax/VCU), and Justin Esposito (bass/VCU).


Embarking on a global educational exchange can be a daunting logistical challenge; but the knowledge, perspectives, and friendships gained are priceless. Here we will share with you how our project came to be, what some of its invaluable benefits are, and what elements to consider when exploring the potential for your own international exchange projects.


Opportunity Knocks

            Funding is critical; so explore all avenues available to your students, program, institution, and region. There are a variety of databases online to assist with external possibilities. In this instance Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), where Antonio García serves as Director of Jazz Studies, announced in October 2010 a call for proposals towards a grant of up to $50,000 to support certain kinds of activities that would enhance the relationship between it and its dozen international sister-universities with whom it already had formal ties. The list showed one institution that Tony already knew had a strong jazz program: the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), where Neil Gonsalves serves as the Director of the Centre for Jazz and Popular Music.

            In any fundraising effort, co-sponsors lend credence as well as financial support. In fact, many large fundraising causes do not publicly announce their quest until first completing “the silent phase,” during which 30-60% of the needed funds might quietly have been raised, also building a list of contributors who can be touted when the campaign goes public.

            The same can be true in academia. Knowing that only a half-dozen grants at most would be funded by VCU, Tony’s first contact that same day in October was to his Music Department Chair, Dr. Darryl Harper, to express interest in applying. Receiving encouragement, within two weeks Tony then reached out to then-UKZN Centre Director Mageshen Naidoo to confirm that UKZN would be interested in partnering in an application towards a project that would not require UKZN funding. Hearing interest there as well, his third step returned to his own VCU Music Chair for a most critical stage: seeking a level of matching funding from the VCU School of the Arts. Would VCUarts offer any matching funding if the university at large indeed approved up to $50,000 in funding?

            The post of VCUarts Dean happened to be at an interim stage, but Tony was willing to wait a complete year for a reply. In the meantime, he met with others in the office to brief them on the proposal, receiving strong interest in return. The year’s wait paid off: in September 2011 the newly installed Dean Joe Seipel pledged to match the VCU grant up to $50,000; so on that very day Tony reached out again to UKZN’s Mageshen Naidoo, who responded with delight but also with the news that he was leaving, turning the Centre’s reins over to Prof. Neil Gonsalves. Within a day Neil and Tony were in touch.

So now both knew they could write a proposal spending up to $100,000 in total funding—and that when they’d eventually submit the proposal, VCU would see that its own potential funding would be matched dollar for dollar by VCUarts. In addition, Neil intended to pursue some local co-funding as well. “The silent phase” of fundraising was over: the plan had a major backer, 50% funding in hand, and was ready to “go public.”

Consider a “silent phase”: planning towards obtaining co-funding and valued backers.



            With budget now in mind, Neil and Tony could focus on what they wanted to accomplish and how. A few e-mails led to their first Skype videocall, upon which they quickly realized how well-paired as strangers they were to this cause. Common goals emerged. In part this was because of a back-story, which many successful grant applications seem to have, as people “write to their passion.” In Tony’s case, he had first learned in the 1980s of UKZN’s program, founded by Darius Brubeck, who also saw jazz as a natural means to show people of different colors and cultures working together during the apartheid era in South Africa. García then twice hosted saxophonist Zim Ngqawana, one of UND’s most accomplished jazz alumni. “I’d commissioned him to compose music for my students, and he showed them the cultural dance that inspired the odd-meter nature of the tune. Then, about ten years ago, I visited Pretoria to participate in a South African Jazz Educators Conference, where I met UKZN’s Prof. Jeff Robinson, plus got to perform with a number of wonderful musicians, such as drummer Lulu Gontsana, bassist Mike Campbell, and pianists Melvin Peters and Avzal Ismail. I went on a safari and—from a musician’s standpoint—found the sounds transformative and revelatory. So I had acquired intimate experiences that suggested to me the kinds of experiences I then wanted my VCU students to have in South Africa.

“At the same time, I had been struck by how young a country South Africa was, how new freedom rang there; and I knew that there were parallels of prejudice and social justice to explore between South Africa and the United States. I am fond of saying that all music comes from people, and all people come from a culture; so unless you know something about the people and their culture, you don’t really know much about their music.”

Neil was in simultaneous step. “Apartheid had its origins in ‘The Durban System’ of earlier segregation and racism in our own city. Richmond, Virginia had been the capital of The Confederacy during its civil war, with slavery in contention; and the civil rights movements of the 1960s on in the U.S. had great parallel to South Africa’s own. Jazz and folk music and musicians had been instruments calling for positive change on both continents; so our pending exchange would hold the potential for great study of the oppression and brotherhood that arose during these times of crisis—and how it affected the musicians of the day.”

            Titled “VCU and the University of KwaZulu-Natal: A Jazz Bridge to Greater Understanding,” the grant’s proposed activities came into distinct form. VCU representatives would make two trips to UKZN, plus two by UKZN to VCU, each team including one faculty member and six university students. The plans also commissioned four new musical works for jazz combo—two for each team—to be recorded in live concerts and released on a joint CD. The installation of new software for both teams would provide ISDN-line audio quality operating over the Internet, allowing the teams to perform for and coach each other’s teams while still at home a hemisphere apart.

Faculty would also study how UKZN’s non-degree Diploma might serve as a potential model for VCU Music’s non-traditional student; UKZN might benefit from exposure to paths VCU had already walked in advocating for jazz education and jazz educators. Joint post-exchange articles, such as this one, would be submitted for publication.

            But at its core, the grant would facilitate research into the parallels in racial/cultural divides in their respective cities, Richmond and Durban. By bringing scholars and students of African-based music to VCU’s campus to meet with the student teams and scholars, bringing African icons into contact with the student teams while at UKZN, visiting museum representatives in both cities, examining curricula that would prepare students for a global future, and delivering concerts and recordings that would highlight the African influence on jazz in the minds of Durban’s and Richmond’s cultural majorities and minorities, this grant was constructed to bring communities together.

            Write to your passion!



            Cost and logistics ruled out any notion of a semester-long visit. However, the two universities’ calendars presented a unique opportunity: their holidays were largely in opposing weeks. It seemed plausible that all four trips could be accomplished without a student or teacher from either school missing a single class day! This alleviated academic and budgetary concerns. Thus VCU would initiate the travel, heading to UKZN for a week in July/August 2012, then UKZN’s trip to VCU for a week in late September. Composing, rehearsals, and cross-global Internet rehearsals would follow for several months. VCU would wing back to Durban in early March 2013, and UKZN would complete the cycle by flying to Richmond for a week at the end of March.

            Study the institutions’ academic calendars carefully for opportunities to maximize the grant’s impact while minimizing strain on individuals and resources.



Given that the grant’s potential approval would not be announced until mid-June 2012, Tony would have to select and inform the core VCU students as May 2012 classes ended so that they could consider the invitation and, if accepting, apply for passports they might not already possess. Neil would have a bit more time to select his team. And because this grant activity truly represented two universities and their arts schools, music departments, jazz programs, and even countries, it was essential that Neil and Tony select students for the exchange that would be not only wonderful musicians but great ambassadors for all. Thus the VCU Africa Combo was formed: Trey Sorrells (alto sax), Brendan Schnabel (tenor sax), Victor Haskins (trumpet), Chris Ryan (guitar), Justin Esposito (bass), and C.J. Wolfe (drums). Similarly, the UKZN Jazz Legacy Ensemble arose: Linda Sikhakhane (tenor sax), Sakhile Simani (trumpet), Sebastian Goldswain (guitar), Lungelo Ngcobo (piano), Ildo Nandja (bass), and Sphelelo Mazibuko (drums). The students ranged from sophomore to senior years, and throughout the year they proved to be the profoundly correct choices for these jazz ambassadorships.

            Do everything you can to get the right people at the core of your exchange: the spontaneous aftermath will meet or exceed whatever you might have imagined possible.


Get it in Writing

VCU’s Global Education Office, led by Dr. R. McKenna Brown, had offered these potential “International Partnerships Major Initiatives Awards” (IPMI) and provided excellent guidelines for its applications. As one might expect, there were VCU goals and benchmarks to be attained if an application were to be successful.

Neil foresaw the potential to seek UKZN co-funding towards certain local activities for the musical teams, as well as potential support from The Southern African Music Organisation, Limited (SAMRO) towards one of the commissioned works, thereby demonstrating further within the VCU grant proposal that its UKZN partners were committed beyond their zero-funding obligation.

            As the host of the grant, Tony authored the vast majority of the application: he knew VCU’s parameters. But his constant collaboration with Neil ensured both veracity of facts and tone of speech. It is inevitable that in a global conversation a given word or phrase might without intent carry a somewhat different meaning in one culture than in the other. Neil and Tony considered it to be part of their mutual education to learn when language needed a better bridge of understanding.

            Know the application requirements completely, and respond in words that befit all cultures involved.


Sound It Out

            At some point in your process, you should bounce your draft off other people you trust for feedback. You may receive views that conflict among each other, but that in itself is valuable information. For example, though we viewed a safari or similar excursion as an important cultural and musical experience for the VCU team, one trusted “pre-reviewer” amplified for us one of our pre-existing concerns: perhaps some of the proposal reviewers might find the request offensive, as possibly resonating a white man’s primitive stereotype about the African culture. Other “pre-reviewers” found that portion of the proposal inspiring. We were ultimately careful to present the idea in as exact a light as we could possibly project.

            And though Tony has justifiable confidence in his ability to write words, he discovered a secret weapon named Dr. Sarah Bainter Cunningham, newly appointed VCUarts Executive Director of Research. She provided such insight into how to improve the proposal’s wording: her input led to a much stronger final draft.

            Leave any ego at the door: seek the input you need to improve your application.


UKZN Prof. Neil Gonsalves (left) observes UKZN saxophonist Linda Sikhakhane sightreading a featured solo on "Body and Soul"
with the VCU Jazz Orchestra I while other UKZN student survey from within the band.


Timing is Everything

            It sounds trite, but allow twice as much planning time than you think you need for everything to fall into place. It might ordinarily take up to a year to plan such a grant as this one, but as instigator, Tony was instantly ready to take two years so as to gain matching support. Winding paperwork through academia is typically no speedy process; and with a state institution, unforeseen flow-charts of processes and approvals arise without which there will be no grant. At the end of the grant-writing, Tony and Neil of course needed to share the proposal with each administrator on both continents from whom they sought a letter of support; and each person had his/her own schedule of pressing commitments and travel.

            Because they budgeted considerably more time than was needed to obtain institutional approvals and administrative letters, they were able to submit the grant application ahead of time—and while preserving a degree of sanity in the process.

            It’s just like planning a session in the recording studio: consider the math of exponential time needed to complete the resulting final product. You can always accomplish it in less time but with more stress.


Off to the Races

            Grant-rejection aside, no amount of planning can prepare for both the joy and the stress that comes with grant-approval. Even if the stress misses you, it will land on whatever support team you have in place. So when the happy approval from VCU’s Global Education Office came June 19, 2012, the metric tons of paperwork to make travel happen for Tony and six VCU students to South Africa landed squarely on the desk of VCU Music Administrative Director Linda Johnston. How she actually made all that happen is part of what contributes to her legend! She also handled the logistics for the UKZN team’s visits to Richmond.

            On UKZN’s campus, the Centre’s Programme Administrator, Thuli Zama, and UKZN’s International School And Short Term Programme Coordinator, Roy Dace, worked many hours with Neil to secure local housing, transport, and more. Sometimes any of the three of them would respond so quickly to Tony’s e-mailed requests that he would momentarily forget that they were not on his own campus. Interim UKZN Music Chair Jürgen Bräuninger and VCU Music Chair Darryl Harper provided continual support.

            You will need dedicated colleagues to face and sift through the “red tape” that you could not have imagined. Unless you are willing to go it alone, know your go-to colleagues well before you embark on an international exchange project.


Travel Requirements

            Your host or destination school may have a welcomed, invaluable list of aspects to consider when taking students on such a trip. International travel may require new or renewed passports, visas, proof of immunizations, student finances (though virtually all mandatory student expenses were covered this project), advising one’s debit/credit card-issuers, cultural orientations, vegetarian-meal requests to airlines for applicable travelers, weather/attire plans, baggage limitations, university protocols, a daily itinerary (including rehearsals and locales), consulate contact information, international phone(s) and data-roaming shutdown, electrical adaptors, sharing travel data and emergency contact information with families of the students, and more: a daunting mass of information for faculty and students alike. In-person meetings may be less possible at times but also less useful: you can easily share critical web links via e-mails for action. Ask all involved to retain receipts for any applicable expenses in case reimbursement is possible for more than originally considered.

            Though the VCU grant funds could pay outright for such expenses as airfare and Richmond-based hotel, it could only pay via reimbursement after the fact for some other expenses such as student passports and Durban-based hotel. This resulted in delays and cost-increases in Richmond-to-Durban air reservations while waiting for the last of the students to find personal funding and time to file for their passport applications. And Tony had to incur all the Durban hotel expenses on his personal credit card until later reimbursed by VCU.

            While U.S. citizens currently do not need visas to travel to South Africa, South Africans do need visas for the U.S. Though the turnaround time from online application to delivery is usually less than a week, the U.S. Consul Office in Durban does not accept electronic payments: only credit cards or cash. The latter are the exception to the rule at UKZN; so given the impending flight deadline, Neil improvised by paying the roughly $1000 of fees with his personal credit card. He was then reimbursed in cash by the annual scholarship-fundraising concert that conveniently occurred around the same time. In turn, the scholarship fund was subsequently reimbursed by a self-funding Music Foundation course.

Despite best-laid plans, a certain amount of juggling—financial or otherwise—will be required.


Travel Prep

International travel also begs the following cautions:

·      Keep your favorite snack with you on the road: one of the rules of a touring musician is to never have to rely on anyone else for food and water. Stay fed and happy! On flight days, buy water at the airports after clearing security.

·      If you are bringing any prescription medicines, it’s best you bring the labeled bottle or box-label so that if questioned, there is clear evidence that you have been prescribed the medicine.

·      Advise the students that not only are underage drinking and drug use or alcohol abuse at any age all subject to local laws, also note that THEY are held to the high standard of representing their schools and countries to all with who they come into contact. If they’re of age, they must consume alcohol responsibly.


Tony also announces to his traveling student ensembles that per diem—cash provided by his institution towards meals—is a privilege, not a right, and must be earned. So individuals not at assigned locales and ready to leave at the announced times are assessed a fine, withheld from their per diem, returned to the grant budget.

All that said, no fines were assessed the whole year. The students from both teams conducted themselves as the ambassadors they were. They had been rightly chosen for their personal qualities as well as their musical assets; and they left an overwhelmingly positive impression, musically and otherwise, everywhere they went, charming not only new friends but also complete strangers on both continents and in transit in between.

            As important to Neil and Tony was preparing culturally: they shared with their students Internet links regarding the other’s music and culture. Historical web sites and Internet access to each other’s radio stations were easy finds. The project also prompted Tony to finally make contact with artists who had worked literally across the alley from him for some time: VCU Sculpture and Media Prof. Kendall Buster and her husband, Visiting Prof. Siemon Allen. While Kendall’s artistic contributions would become clearer later in the project, Siemon’s web site archiving South African album covers, often linking to audio, was immediately valuable. He is from Durban and regularly blogs about historical South Africa music at yet another site. (A sidebar to this article provides relevant web links.) They both had plans to visit UKZN within several days of our VCU Jazz team’s first visit there.

            Most importantly, Tony and Neil planted the early seeds of international friendship by providing the twelve core students with each other’s e-addresses a month before the first travel. By the time VCU landed in Durban, they were all Facebook friends and greeted each other like they’d known each other for years!

            You cannot be overprepared for the logistics of students’ international travel.



            An integral part of the collective learning process would be learning and performing newly commissioned works. Neil and Tony agreed on a plan in which each school would contribute two commissions—one by faculty, one by student or young alumnus—totaling four works, each performed by the other musical team. Composers were charged to inject some of their own cultural influences into the pieces, thus bringing the challenge to each performing group to realize the composition that came from a land not their own.

            With CD-creation in longer-term sight, the professors also distributed legal forms to the commissioned individuals, stating in part the targeted delivery date, length, instrumentation, and format of score and parts; pay; assigned a faculty mentor to the student writers; assigned ownership to the composer but granted VCU the right to first performance, first recording, and archival score and part copies; and waived the composer’s rights to receiving compulsory license fees that would otherwise be required in order to release the future CD.

            This last point tremendously uncomplicated the logistics for jointly releasing a CD on two continents: the commissioned composers and other composers involved on the CD waived their rights to collecting license fees (though retained any performance-rights fees). The CD would not be expecting huge sales, anyway; and now there was no need to file paperwork on two continents to allow the joint CD release. The signed forms still came in handy when it was time to press the CD, as the manufacturer required proof that the license fees had been paid or waived.

            During the very first month of the exchange project, the UKZN team had the opportunity to hear some works of VCU composers Antonio García and Victor Haskins in concerts prior to their writing commissioned works. The VCU team shared class sessions with UKZN’s Dr. Sazi Dlamini and student Stephan le Roux to hear their writing styles early on as well. It did not take long to have all involved very excited about receiving the new works in the months ahead.

            It is fair to say that when the commissions did arrive, neither ensemble could rehearse more than a few measures of them before stopping to regroup, despite the fact that each composer had already shared a MIDI demo recording of the intended result. The two countries may have shared notation on the page but not so much the phrasing and the compositional concepts. So the goal of commissioning—bringing musical cultures across the ocean to the other team—had accomplished its first steps: unfamiliarity and curiosity that would lead to research, study, and hard work!

            Learning some musical styles of the other country is an essential element of a true educational exchange among students. With commissions, the composer is alive and available to dialogue with the performers as to how to bring the music to life!


Baggage Bound

            Consider purchasing your airline tickets as soon as is practical. True, sales can occur that can lower the price further; but more often the fares rise. The only one of the four trips for which airfares exceeded the grant estimate was the first, which had to be booked less than a month away from the travel. Fortunately, the other three itineraries came in at or below the estimated budget.

            Using a travel agent is not required; but it may increase the context for your travel decisions, provide you greater protections if travel later goes awry, and of course with the right agent offer you a world of experience behind the advice you receive. That said, agents may not agree with these views found nonetheless invaluable during the travels:

·      Plans for faster travel are not necessarily ideal. You’ve probably heard that airlines are keeping fewer spare planes around these days, and weather and air traffic aren’t any lighter. Consider opting for sufficient layover time to allow for your initial flight to be substantially late yet still make your connecting flight. It may add an hour or more to your travel day; but that beats trying to rebook you and your students, potentially for a half-day or more, onto a spontaneously reconstructed flight plan that may not get everyone or everything onto the same planes.

·      Corollary to the above: if you’re clearing customs after a given flight, add an hour to your usually sought layover time. Delays in customs lines can mean disaster for your schedule.

·      You have to plan in advance with your team which instruments are being borrowed at your destination, which will be stowed in cargo, and which will hopefully remain with travelers as carry-ons. Despite some recent advances in musicians’ rights to carry instruments on domestic flights, compliance remains spotty—and there is no such agreement internationally. Once you’ve determined a plan, weigh and measure any of the larger cases to ensure that they comply with below- and on-board baggage regulations of each airline on which you are travelling.

·      Either you or your travel agent should carefully research how baggage charges may differ by potential airlines to the same destination. There’s nothing wrong with mixing airlines en route so long as additional baggage charges are not incurred. Despite our own best efforts, one team found itself booked on a pair of airlines and, when connecting from one to the other, found that the second airline did not officially recognize any of the baggage fees already paid to the first airline. There, in a foreign country, on a deadline, without good communication back home, the decision was made by the faculty member to personally pay the duplicate fees—approximately US$1000—in dual hopes of resuming the schedule and eventually being reimbursed. Happily, both occurred. But subsequent itineraries were booked more carefully so as to avoid that issue, and no duplicate baggage fees were paid on the other trips.

·      There are many accounts online of musicians who have arrived at a destination only to find their checked instrument damaged, along with a TSA (Transportation Safety Association) slip confirming the item had been inspected. Some of these accounts suggest that the damage had occurred due to improper or incomplete securing of the instrument back within its flight case post-inspection. Some stories have noted that when brought to the attention of the given airline, said airline referred responsibility to the TSA—which in turn referred back to the airline, inciting a circular pattern that rarely seemed to resolve well. Some blog authors have suggested that because of this, a musician finding such damage on arrival might do well to remove and properly dispose of the TSA slip before filing a complaint with the airline. These are interesting postings.

·      Be nice. When things go horribly wrong at the airport, be nice. Be terrifically nice, and advise your student travelers to maintain their composure and avoid dramatic expressions of exasperation as you investigate at the desk. When the airline staffer at the counter (who almost never caused the problem in the first place) finds him/herself working with the nicest bunch of musicians s/he’s ever met, things get done as best possible. Remember those duplicate baggage fees above? The bill would’ve been a lot higher than US$1000 if the staffer hadn’t decided to cut us a break and not charge for every bag. Be nice.


En route to a connecting flight, one student found his guitar flight case had not arrived at baggage claim to be collected, shown at customs, and re-checked for the final leg of air travel. We asked around to various airport staff and received a number of polite but incorrect referrals to its likely location. Ultimately we learned that security had wrongly noted it was a gun case, and we found the guitar safely in the airport rifle-check office! Throughout our trek we had kept the seven-man team together, rolling all its claimed luggage from site to site within the airport; and once we had safely rechecked the bags, our two-hour layover had evaporated into 15 minutes before take-off! But we made the connecting flight.

Plans for faster travel are not necessarily ideal.


Local Accommodations

            In both countries, the teams were fortunate to stay in excellent facilities and with breakfast included. The local faculty member had scouted out the locales, sometimes even with visiting faculty along. Sites such as TripAdvisor can be useful resources, but word of mouth recommendations are often the best.

            Seek a hotel or bed and breakfast close enough to walk to your main activity site. Carpools driven by local faculty and students are great for outreach field trips; but once the visiting team is familiar enough with the few essential blocks involved, they can easily walk to many events.

            For those carpools and non-breakfast meals, e-distribute a list of the planned activities that would best be accompanied by one or more local students. Get the wider student body of your school involved; have them e-mail you the slots with which they can assist.

            Time students spend with each other builds bridges. For some local students, their best chance to “hang” with the visitors might be as meal-partners or carpool-drivers, as well as field trips and other fun activities. Spread out the contacts!


Jams and Down Time

            It may seem obvious, but schedule a jam session for the core students from both teams for shortly after arrival—even if jet-lagged. The musical and personal bonding is essential; the visitors are glad to get their “chops” back on their instruments; and the nearby food and drink available doesn’t hurt. Jazz musicians in particular enjoy getting to know their neighbors through music. And some of the jam sessions were held at student or faculty residences so as to feel less formal than at school.

            It may also be easy to stuff so much into a schedule that participants have no time to relax. Build in some “down time” where nothing is planned. It’s important for the students to have their own “hang-time.” It seemed as if learning the local lingo, the local hand-shakes and greetings, where to find the cheapest and tastiest food, what’s on each other’s computers and iPods, and all manner of other information was shared outside the schedule of formal activities.

And plan an opportunity for shopping and souvenirs—important not only for the traveler and the families back home, but for the local economies! In Richmond, various record stores, retail malls, and music stores were a hit. In Durban Neil and his wife Nareen were kind to drive the VCU team downtown to uShaka Marine World, where admission to the beach and shops are free.

            No one seemed to mind jamming despite a long night and morning of air and ground travel. Overscheduling is a danger: be sure to include down time for all involved.


After a musical exchange: among the students in the back row are VCU Profs. Skip Gailes (Sax, Improvisation class, fourth from left),

Victor Dvoskin (Bass, second from right), and Antonio García (trombone, Director of Jazz Studies, right).


Local Talent

There’s a well-known saying: “You’re an expert 500 miles from home.” So often local artists and resources take a back seat to the draw of those more geographically removed. By definition, an exchange program virtually demands that you overcome that pattern: it becomes time to show your visitors where you live, whom you hear, and what you see on a daily or periodic basis.

Each campus offered classes in which the students could sit in or even perform. UKZN Prof. Demi Fernandez’s and VCU Prof. Doug Richards’ jazz arranging classes, UKZN Prof. George Mari’s and VCU Prof. Antonio García’s jazz band rehearsals, VCU Prof. Skip Gailes’ jazz improvisation class, UKZN Prof. Sazi Dlamini’s indigenous music class, VCU Prof. García’s Music Industry class all afforded opportunities to learn and mix.

Dr. Krzysztof Cios, Chair of VCU’s Department of Computer Science, was kind to provide an overview of VCU’s activities in that area to Neil’s wife, Nareen, who specializes in technology applications at her university. Dr. Shakila Singh, Senior Lecturer in UKZN’s Gender Education Department, was equally generous in meeting with Tony’s wife, Mary, who chairs VCU’s Counselor Education Department. Small groups of music faculty met on each campus to talk about curricular and administrative avenues that might benefit either program. A recurring theme emerged: challenges problematic on one continent were typically found on the other continent as well—reinforcement that not only do people across the world share many common things in their being, they also share the typical plusses and minuses of academic structures.

In most evenings UKZN concerts showcased its remarkable students and young alumni in small-group jazz performances. VCU campus concerts shared included the faculty recital of VCU Music’s Dr. Darryl Harper and a performance by the VCU Symphonic Wind Ensemble. Plus, the city of Richmond has quite an active music scene at night; so VCU students and faculty took their UKZN counterparts out to local clubs such as The Camel, The Commercial Taphouse, Balliceaux, and Bogart’s—often where VCU faculty Tony Martucci (drums), John D’earth (trumpet), or Bryan Hooten (trombone) and/or students or alumni were performing, often with the UKZN visitors also sitting in. Tony often states that “Richmond has more art per square inch than any town its size”; and the visitors were beginning to get that very sense.

UKZN’s Dr. Jeff Robinson proved invaluable in a variety of ways. Not only is he a scholar, pedagogue, and a most articulate conversationalist (which came in handy during the only traffic jam of the project), but he is also a studied birder and is familiar with so many varieties of flora, fauna, and fowl that he made a most excellent tour guide for a day trip by the VCU team to the Tala Game Reserve. As envisioned, the excursion brought each musician to contemplate the essences of sound and rhythm, as well as heightened all the senses; and it was a most memorable day.

UKZN Music had been benefiting from a guest residency by percussionist Efrain Toro, who has performed with Stan Getz, George Benson, Los Lobos, Chicago, Kiss, Placido Domingo, and more. So the teams participated in workshops with him, adding to their rhythmic breadth. Among the many educational moments was his sharing recordings of two tracks that he believes reveal most about the relationship of samba to all music: “Livros” by Caetano Veloso and “Na Biaxa Do Sapateiro” by Caetano Veloso. The former demonstrates the triplet nature of samba and then the triplet against duplet feel. (Veloso was a musical partner of Gilberto Gil, as well as a musician and poet in his own right, and is still active today.) The latter track begins with the standard partido alto pattern in the horns, then is transferred to the guitar in variation as the tune develops.


VCU and UKZN students learn songs from South African legend Madala Kunene (with guitar) and UKZN Prof. Sazi Dlamini (right of guitar).


Ndikho and Nomusa Xaba, holding up a reminiscence of their Richmond friend, Plunky Branch.


Durban Area Community Partners

In addition to the Music faculty and staff of both universities, community partners in education emerged on both continents. One day in Durban began with a visit to the Kwa Muhle Museum for a close look at some of the most painful chapters in South African history, a history that has parallels in U.S. history and certainly in Richmond. This very building had been the site of many injustices inflicted upon Africans by Natal’s white residents, who had required Africans to relocate out of town, register for local employment, and be subjected to numerous indignities in order to receive that registration. Known as “The Durban System,” these processes were later adopted in large part by the nation as it entered into apartheid.

The exhibits were informative and disturbing—perhaps more disturbing because they served as blatant reminders of similar human rights violations thrust upon citizens all over the world. Some of the UKZN students on the tour remarked that they had themselves been relatively unfamiliar with how Durban had been the very origin of what had become nationwide and sustained oppression for decades to follow. Those on the VCU team could share in that sense, as some American students certainly are far less aware of its conflicted history than one might expect. The more one learns about the history and culture of a people, the more enriched a performance of their music may become.

A contrasting moment of brotherhood arrived when Nareen Gonsalves and our guide talked, surmising that their families might be connected in some way. A brief call to his home later, it turned out that indeed, he and Nareen were related!

One morning during VCU’s first visit to Durban planted the seeds for what was to become rich cross-pollinations many months later. Dr. Sazi Dlamini had provided both teams earlier in the week a superb lecture on local artist Madala Kunene’s maskanda style, and he had been inspired by the students’ interest to create an additional experience. He had been scheduled to lead another presentation regarding the style; but instead, he worked hard and came up with funds to bring us Madala himself—along with a double-decker tour bus to bring us on a tour of the neighborhoods that had inspired Madala’s music of social justice and brotherhood.

As discussed earlier in the week, white political leaders had forced native Africans out of their homes near Durban, moving them further out of the city. Madala narrated the drive on mic in his local tongue from the lower deck on, while Sazi sat on the upper deck with us, translated Madala’s words, and pointed us visually in the appropriate directions.

Madala described his childhood neighborhoods as we drove past what was now either open green spaces or newer buildings that had replaced his bulldozed environs. And then he directed us towards the shantytowns that currently exist. Some of Sazi’s other students had joined us on the tour, and one of them revealed to us that he had lived in one of these very shantytowns for years before very recently finding a means through music to move out and into Durban.

When we returned to campus, Madala and Sazi, along with Sazi’s brother and others, led us through learning several traditional songs by ear as we gathered on the grass by the bus. At one point VCU’s bassist, Justin Esposito, attempted to play the one-string bass, which he later said was the hardest musical instrument he’d ever tried to play. But we were impressed that the local musician could even walk a blues bass-line for us on it!

As with the visit to Kwa Muhle, this was an inspirational and moving day. Several of the students told Madala, as they bought his CDs, that they would love to learn some of his tunes and play them with him when they returned in March. And so in August 2012 our guest artist for March in Durban was chosen!

That morning a woman was sitting in the UKZN Centre, waiting to meet Tony García, not having been able to catch him after the previous night’s concert. Nomusa Xaba wanted to present him with a book about her life and a CD by her South African husband, Ndikho Xaba. Her family’s history in Africa and the U.S. had brought her ancestors through Richmond and slavery; so her story was especially pertinent.

To the surprise of both Nomusa and Tony, they discovered they had known each other twenty years previous: she had served as an administrative assistant to the Music Dean while he had begun his initial years teaching at Northwestern University in the early 1990s. They were amazed to run into each other a half a world apart! Neil advised Tony as to how Ndikho was a respected local elder of music, she of spoken-word art, and how they had both been active in the civil rights movements in both South Africa and the U.S. And so in August 2012 a presentation for March 2013 in Durban was also born!

As it turned out, the Xabas had in the U.S. befriended a now-Richmond resident, saxophonist Plunky Branch. So Neil suggested to Tony that it might be a perfect circle if we might explore “the collective wisdom of Plunky, Ndikho, and Nomusa. To some degree, their relationship, which dates back to the ‘70s, pre-dates our Richmond-Durban exchange; and the exile experience which they share will provide an interesting extension to the Kwa Muhle-Tredegar visits.”

And so both teams, on their final shared morning in Durban in March 2013, joined in a dialogue with the Xabas, who told us of their lives spanning the most tumultuous times of the civil rights movement in both South Africa and the U.S. It was a riveting and moving morning; and at one point, in order to salute their friend back in Richmond, they held up a Plunky Branch t-shirt they’d kept for decades and now shared with us.



Plunky Branch (far left with saxophone) with the combined VCU and UKZN ensembles on VCU's stage in Richmond, Virginia.


Richmond Area Community Partners

Only a few weeks later, when the two teams reunited in Richmond for their final week together, the other portion of this transatlantic social-justice dialogue completed the circle. Saxophonist Plunky Branch, who would guest on the final concert, shared his thoughts with a packed room of VCU students and UKZN guests regarding jazz and civil rights. It was an earnest and thought-provoking exchange, as it seems so incomprehensible to current college students that some injustices of the past could even have occurred. Throughout the civil rights movement, artists such as Plunky, the Xabas, and the legendary Max Roach, Abbey Lincoln, Charles Mingus, and so many more articulated a call for justice that permeated their music. Plunky and Tony both have led jazz outreach into Richmond area middle and high schools in recent years on this very subject as a part of Richmond CenterStage’s “Jazz 21: The Voice of Social Change” educational initiative; and with the dialogue shared at VCU and at UKZN, these local and global efforts meshed in harmony.

The teams explored Richmond’s history at two important sites in September 2012. The American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar, where cannons had once been made during the Civil War, now “presents the story of the Civil War from three perspectives: Union, Confederate, and African American.” Christy Coleman, President of the Center, guided the teams through the grounds and exhibits. For an even more local perspective, Stacy Burrs, Chair of the Black History Museum, arranged for the musicians to be shown the BHM in the historic Jackson Ward district of Richmond, where freed African Americans had moved during Reconstruction, creating a thriving center of post-Civil War life for African American life. The perspectives gained from these two visits provided ample parallels to those that had been found at the Kwa Muhle museum in Durban.

Dr. John Edwin Mason from the University of Virginia’s Department of History visited Dr. Darryl Harper’s jazz history class and UKZN guests, sharing insights as to the evolving cultural relationship between the United States and South Africa. Dr. Richard Woodward the Curator of African Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, provided all with an astonishing introduction to the historical links between Zulu Africans and the own Commonwealth of Virginia—a linkage that VCU and UKZN intend to continue to explore.

The teams visited the impressive facilities at In Your Ear Studios, co-founded by VCU alumni Robbin Thompson and Carlos Chafin. Some of the UKZN students studying recording engineering in Durban found this stop particularly inspiring, and all received numerous insights into the music industry. VCU alumni Larri Branch, Roger Carroll, and Lucas Fritz also hosted the visiting musicians on their stages at The Commercial Taphouse, Bogart’s, and The Camel.

As mentioned, the teams examined the studio of VCUarts Profs. Kendall Buster and Siemon Allen, who in 2012 had installed a massive work of Allen’s called “Labels” at the Iziko Slave Lodge Museum in Cape Town, South Africa that featured 5000 photographs of record labels inserted into a suspended clear plastic curtain, configured to converse with part of the museum’s collection of historical artifacts. Buster noted for us that a prominent sculpture in the courtyard of the Kwa Muhle Museum in Durban, “Shadows of the Past,” had been commissioned by the Museum for creation by a VCUarts alumna, South African artist Ledelle Moe. It was a small world again at Kwa Muhle.

Allen has devoted much of the past dozen years or so to the study of South African music albums, both as sound and image. His archive of over 2500 South African audio items includes 650 rare shellac discs. Most of the visual and many of the audio aspects of this collection are archived in a searchable online database. And while the audio is of obvious interest to musicians such as in this exchange project, Allen—not a musician—has recognized that the album covers and their liner notes are visualevidence of social change: they “operate in the construction of national identity.” An album released in South Africa during the period of apartheid might carry a different image or deleted or substituted text when released in Europe, the United Kingdom, the United States, or any other country, depending on the social and political views of the country and/or those in charge of the label.

And so the teams were entranced by seeing firsthand how the civil rights movements in South Africa and across the world influenced not only what record-buyers heard in a given country but what they read. One album, released in the late 1980s, caught everyone’s eye for additional reason. It had been released by UKZN’s former incarnation, the University of Natal (Durban), which is the form by which Tony had first been introduced to that jazz program in the 1990s as editor of the IAJE Journal. On the cover were Zim Ngqawana, Melvin Peters, and Lulu Gontsana. To see them on this cover—especially now that Zim and Lulu have since passed at young ages—was a special moment. Others pictured, including trumpeter Johnny Mekoa, have also gone on to important careers in jazz. To see this album cover in Richmond lent again a small-world feeling to our exchange.

Siemon Allen’s accomplishments received major recognition just a few weeks after the teams’ visit to his studio: he received a Guggenheim Fellowship as a result of the very work the VCU and UKZN students had explored.


On the steps with the The Library of Congress' Larry Appelbaum and the Capitol Building in the background.


D.C. Area Community Partners

One of Richmond’s great assets is its proximity to Washington, D.C. (typically a two-hour drive). While Tony has a number of contacts in the U.S. capital stemming from his national and international work and had projected with Neil in the grant-writing stages an exchange-closing day in Washington, D.C. for the two teams after the final concert in March 2013 in Richmond, his colleague Dr. Sarah Cunningham (VCUarts Executive Director of Research) had the contacts to grow the day into one of exponential depth. She is a recent addition to VCU’s ranks, having served as Director for Arts Education at the National Endowment for the Arts, leading such initiatives as NEAJazz in the Schools. In 2011, she had been named in the top 30 “Most Powerful and Influential Leaders in Nonprofit Arts.” And so her professional expertise created a most exciting and educational day. The VCU core students were unable to attend due to their own obligations; so Cunningham and the UZKN team of seven was joined by VCU Music Chair Darryl Harper, his wife and VCU Craft/Material Studies Chair Sonya Clark—both of whom had been a part of VCU’s trip to Durban weeks earlier—VCU students John Bradberry and Colleen Trempe (who had hosted the UKZN students at times during the September and March Richmond visits), and Tony García.

In the nation’s capital they met with Dr. John Edward Hasse (American Music Curator, National Museum of American History); Ken Kimery, Executive Producer of the Jazz Masterworks Orchestra; Wayne S. Brown (Director of Music and Opera for The National Endowment for the Arts); Michael Orlove, NEA Director of Presenting and Artist Communities; Katja von Schuttenbach, NEA Jazz Program Officer; Pennie Ojeda, NEA Director of International Activities; Ralph Remington, NEA Director of Theater and Musical Theater; and Larry Appelbaum (Senior Music Reference Librarian and Jazz Specialist, Library of Congress), receiving the opportunity to see many historical jazz treasures and dialogue with many of the federal representatives whose constant work preserves and moves forward the legacy of jazz in the U.S. and around the world.

At the National Museum of American History, John Hasse and Ken Kimery showed us historical artifacts of Ray Charles (chess set, glasses), Duke Ellington (medals), Ella Fitzgerald (Grammy), Michael Jackson (glove), Buddy Rich (case), and more. Ken Kimery came in to tell us more about the items. Hasse generously presented a complimentary copy of “The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz” to Neil for UKZN’s Centre for Jazz and Popular Music.

From there we migrated to The National Endowment for the Arts. The NEA’s Wayne Brown asked each UKZN and VCU student to reflect on what the year-long grant has meant to them, as the NEA leaders around the table wanted to hear the input from “grassroots” students here and abroad as to what such exchange programs accomplish. It was a terrific exchange of thoughts, with wonderful support from our hosts, who also most graciously provided us lunch.

At The Library of Congress Larry Appelbaum served as our historical guide. It was Appelbaum who in 2005 had discovered the 1957 Thelonious Monk/John Coltrane Carnegie Hall tapes in the Library and re-mastered them for release. He showed us historical artifacts of Teddy Wilson, Gerry Mulligan, George Gershwin, Charles Mingus, George Russell, and photographer William Gottlieb. One of Larry’s colleagues stopped by to say hello and offer some perspectives. It turned out that for a while he had taught music appreciation at UKZN; so he and Neil knew each other. Small world again!

It’s not often that you can be in the same room as historic jazz manuscripts, but most are available to visitors at the LOC on a regular basis. The teams received an up-close look at Gerry Mulligan’s writing for “Venus de Milo,” as recorded by Miles Davis for the “Birth of the Cool” album of 1957, an unpublished manuscript by pianist Teddy Wilson on “Modern Piano Playing,” Ferde Grofé’s original manuscript orchestrating George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” for Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra, George Russell’s 1953 manuscript deposit for what would become his “Lydian Chromatic Concept,” and Charles Mingus’ manuscript for the movement “Freedom” presented within the 1989 posthumous performance of his unfinished “Epitaph” suite. We also visited the ongoing Gershwin exhibit, where we could examine part of the manuscript for “There’s a Boat Dat’s Leavin’ Soon for New York” from “Porgy and Bess. A number of items are also available for review online by the public, such as the William Gottlieb photographic collection.

            An incredible daytime behind us, it was time for dinner. Tony had picked “Busboys and Poets” for its large seating capacity, wide-ranging menu, and proximity to the evening’s planned locales. He’d known that its title was related to the African American poet Langston Hughes, who’d worked as a busboy in D.C. prior to gaining recognition as a poet. But he had not realized that in his planning he’d inadvertently chosen the ideal final formal dining locale for the yearlong joint project, as the restaurant’s theme is dedicated to civil rights and social justice. The wall near the table was a montage of iconic images from the freedom movements of many countries, including the U.S. and South Africa. And so it was that we gathered in international friendship to share good food, good times, and reflections about our wonderful day thus far.

One of the UKZN students commented that America, and D.C. in particular, was an amazing place, given the focus on jazz by the U.S. government that we’d experienced in recent hours. Tony had to share two perspectives: first, that in his 35 or so years as a jazz musician and 25 or so as a jazz educator, he’d been extraordinarily blessed with incredible experiences but certainly not had a day quite like this one, with its focused attention on us from the core of U.S. administrators most entrusted with preserving and advancing jazz and jazz education in the nation. His second perspective: most of those administrators and most jazz musicians in the U.S. would say that as wonderful as those constant efforts are, it’s not enough: many of us would like to see jazz further recognized and supported by governmental efforts. But it’s breathtaking to see what’s already being done.

After our terrific dinner, the night turned from archive to live, as the students then attended D.C. jazz clubs. First up was a set at Twins Jazz by The Sarah Hughes-Brad Linde Quartet, at which we had kindly been presented front-table seats. Saxophonists Brad Linde and Sarah Hughes with bassist Tom Baldwin and VCU Jazz Prof. Tony Martucci on drums performed a great set of music influenced by the Lee Konitz school of cool. To close the night, Tony had arranged for the students to hear the second set at Bohemian Caverns by drummer Kendrick Scott with John Ellis (woodwinds), Mike Moreno (guitar), Taylor Eigsti (piano), and Joe Sanders (bass). It’s a unique venue, constructed in cave-like manner, with ideal acoustics for jazz. After the set I invited Scott to say hi to our visitors, which he kindly did, especially sharing a moment with one of his admirers, UKZN drummer Sphelelo Mazibuko.

            Re-evaluate your local and regional assets. There is no better way to get to know yourself, your influences, and your resources than to attempt to share the very same with visitors.



Internet rehearsals of the VCU Africa Combo with UKZN Profs. Neil Gonsalves and Sazi Dlamini.


Internet Rehearsals

            Despite all the local and regional assistance, Neil and Tony knew that the newly commissioned works would best spring to fullest life if the performers on one continent could rehearse remotely with the composers on the other continent prior to reuniting for a given concert week. As remarkable as Skype, FaceTime, and similar audio/video applications are, their audio signals are not ideal for the intense amount of digital data that an ensemble of musicians generate in a performance: audio distortion and video freezing may result.

So pre-grant, in October 2011, Tony had begun assembling a quote to include in the grant proposal that would cover the cost of rehearsals over ISDN lines. Richmond’s In Your Ear Studios could perhaps be one local base, the ISDN studio at UKZN the other. But obstacles arose: UKZN’s studio was small, built for radio interviews of one or two people; and the cost of ISDN transmissions internationally to and from IYE would likely exceed $300 per hour.

            Carlos Chafin, IYE’s President, recommended that Tony investigate “Source-Connect” software for such rehearsals. After all, the ensembles weren’t seeking to jam across the ocean on a simultaneous tune; so a bit of latency (delay) in the signal would not be an issue. Instead, the goal was achieving hi-fidelity interactive exchanges of student performance and composer commentary. Source-Connect would require very high bandwidth but could provide quality audio (not video) over a hardwired Internet connection: no phone charges or ongoing access charges. The anticipated sound-delay of four or five seconds in either direction would be fine for the musical sharing we’d intended.

            The software would be needed at both campuses (one formatted for Mac, one for PC) and would cost some $700 each; so Tony built $1400 into the grant budget for same. But to his surprise, he learned after the start of the grant that a one-year trial agreement was available for academic institutions; so for the cost of two $45 iLok USB security “dongles,” Source-Connect could be theirs to use. He began its installation on his VCU computer in July 2012.

            As wonderful as the software is, installation and implementation can be challenging for the layperson to understand and complete. SC technical assistance is available via phone and SkypeChat and was helpful; but it can be difficult to determine whether a given functionality issue is caused by the software, the host computer, or the host’s Internet connection. By November 2012 Tony had it working smoothly from his VCU office; but in January 2013, as the pertinent rehearsal dates approached, it would not connect. The problem was traced to the improved level of firewalls installed in the interim. VCU technicians could create a “window” for his use of the software, but no longer from his office. Fortunately, the available locales included VCU’s primary jazz ensemble rehearsal room, an ideal locale; and by the second week of February 2013—after a year and a half of planning and with just two weeks to spare before the first rehearsal need—Source-Connect was running stably on the VCU side. Neil had encountered virtually identical challenges at UKZN so was benefiting from newfound discoveries at VCU; and by a week before the first Internet rehearsal, his connection was thriving as well from his office.

            On February 21, 2013 the VCU team (including García as engineer) assembled in its jazz band room, with Profs. Neil Gonsalves and Sazi Dlamini in Neil’s office in Durban. UKZN student composer Stephan le Roux had moved to Cape Town, South Africa so would not be available to participate in this session: Neil, his mentor on the commission, would stand in for this VCU rehearsal.

While video would not be essential, Tony knew that there may be opportunities for one side or the other to demonstrate fingerings, stickings, physical cues, or marked parts for the other side’s observation. So once Source-Connect was firmly operating and sound transmitting, he encouraged both locales to attempt to run a simultaneous Skype video connection on the same two computers. To the delight of everyone, both programs ran, with Source-Connect the default audio signal. An even greater surprise was that the latency in both programs’ signals was minimal and virtually identical; so we could see what we were hearing and vice-versa. While Skype did occasionally freeze, rebooting it was easy enough while maintaining SC’s audio.

Because Stephan le Roux was elsewhere, Tony recorded pertinent audio of the session, converted it to mp3, e-mailed it to Stephan, received his input via e-mail, and relayed those comments on to the core VCU students.

Two days later VCU student composer Victor Haskins and García were in the virtual shoes of commenting writers, with Neil coordinating the UKZN student performers as they played through the VCU works. Both of these rehearsals were extremely worthwhile, greatly advancing the perspective of the performers as to the intent of their composers many thousands of miles away. The resulting arrival of teams on the ground who’d had a running start on rehearsals informed by these teleconferences was well worth the time and stress of the many months of troubleshooting the software and local Internet concerns.

            A note about time zones for live international exchanges: they can push your interaction outside of the typical school day. First, even without considering zones, each combo found very few time slots in which they could rehearse weekly; so adding a six- or seven-hour differential, one ensemble could easily be in a familiar hour while the other might co-exist at an extremely early or late hour of the same day.

            Do a study of what software and hardware applications might best assist your project while fulfilling your institution’s technological goals. Allow much more time for installation and testing than you believe will be required. Consider the time-zone differential for any simultaneous rehearsals.


Fund Transfers

            Academic institutions vary as to whether they can advance cash for per diem and/or event expenses and if so, how. Clearly past abuses by a small percentage of individuals have led to what seems like overbearing restrictions regarding reimbursals for what the average layperson would likely consider the most mundanely natural of applicable expenses. How to pay for excess baggage charges? Distributing per diem to students? Rental vehicle, gas, or tolls? Is it required to retain your boarding pass for later submittal to the university that already paid for your ticket? Assume nothing. Odds are that policies are restrictive and must be followed to the letter if you are to receive advanced funds or repayment of expenses.

            In the musical arts, you must draw a clear line between cultural activities and entertainment. A respectable educational and cultural exchange among musicians certainly should include the opportunity to hear quality music performed in the region visited. But at most higher-ed institutions, merely submitting receipts for attending a symphony concert or jazz club will generate a dismissive response, as such activities are viewed by the general public as entertainment. You must explain in your grant proposal why these activities are necessary as cultural and educational enrichment—which most certainly they are for the participants visiting and hosting. Then your funding should be able to flow from an entirely different line than if it were merely entertainment.

            Keep in mind that your institution may not consider reimbursing for expenses for alcohol at any time. If so and if of-age students are on per diem, advise them that per diem will not be used for adult beverages.

            Pay for faculty, regardless of the role, may or may not be possible. In our grant there was means to pay faculty for commissioned works but not, for example, to pay adjuncts to participate in an extra class or jam session: that was strictly volunteer. And in the largest roles, neither Neil or Tony received pay for their thousands of hours of work on the exchange; Neil received no release time at all; Tony received a release from a mere 60 contact hours of teaching during the year. Had the project been underwritten in whole or part externally from the universities, a stipend may have been possible.

            As noted earlier, the $100,000 grant from VCU initially was to pay for all project expenses on both continents, though UKZN then generously provided financial support for a number of activities in Durban. All UZKN-team travel, food, hotel, per diems, and more towards and in the U.S. were covered by VCU’s grant and were payable in fairly traditional fiscal procedures.

            But VCU was also responsible for the recording of the March Durban concert, payment to our Durban concert guest artist, and payment to the UKZN commissioned writers. And it proved difficult if not near impossible for VCU to pay these expenses based on any invoice from individual South African persons or businesses. The obviously preferred path was to have VCU pay UKZN, which in turn could pay the local vendors; so Neil arranged for such invoices to convey to VCU.

            But despite the existence of older and newer Memoranda of Understanding between the universities that had prompted other joint projects prior to this one, apparently no financial Memoranda of Understanding existed, even as we performed our final Durban concert in March 2013. It turned out that the VCU Department of Psychology, which had been active in a successful partnership with UKZN for a year, had been attempting for that entire year to find a way to get duly assigned funds from VCU to UKZN. But the truth of the matter was that UKZN had no legal means by which to accept money from VCU; so Neil had never had quite a difficult time attempting to receive funds for invoices due.

            Because VCU’s fiscal year and its grant funding would expire in June 2013, this matter proved a bit of a race. But the administrations of both universities worked together to resolve the impasse; and on June 27, just three days before the end of VCU’s fiscal year, all received word that the money owed UKZN had been successfully transferred.

The persons on the receiving end of these payment-delays were for the most part very understanding of the situation—mainly because they had been informed beforehand that negotiating the financial bureaucracy would be challenging. Advance disclosures and firm relationships are vital steps if you are to maintain good relations with your local service providers.

            Expect the unexpected when it comes to curating finances within academic institutions, especially when transferring funds from one to another.


Concerts and CD

The concerts and the live recordings thereof comprised an essential cornerstone of the exchange program. Yet talking about the concerts is to a degree, well, like the variously attributed phrase “dancing about architecture.” In all, the teams of students jointly performed four fairly formal concerts during the year, plus numerous jams. In addition, the calendar for UKZN’s final visit to VCU had conveniently overlapped with the scheduled performance of the VCU Jazz Orchestra II; so all seven visitors performed with the band as guest artists on various charts obtained from South African composer Mike Campbell. Unfortunately space did not allow inclusion of any of those tracks on the ultimate CD.

            Neil and Tony had spread the word about the concerts to not only the general public but also to a wide swath of university and governmental representatives. A staff member from the U.S. Embassy in Durban attended the July 2012 and March 2013 Durban concerts; and a jazz enthusiast in Durban contacted friends at the South African Embassy in Washington, D.C. who, though unable to attend the later Richmond concert, expressed their enthusiasm for the project. A large delegation of VCU faculty most involved with its relationship with UKZN attended the March 2013 Durban noontime concert, some of whom then altered their flights so that they could remain to hear the evening concert there a few days later. Following the latter concert, VCU Vice-Provost Catherine Howard e-mailed back to VCU’s President and Provost: “The final concert was before a full house and the crowd yelled for more at the completion of the concert. The energy, passion, joy, and incredible talent was appreciated by all. While the creation and production of amazing music was the tangible outcome, there were so many intangibles at work—building relationships that will last a lifetime, appreciation of significant world cultures and their histories, and an awareness of being a global citizen. The students have bonded such that you can’t really tell who is VCU and who is UKZN. What a wonderful investment from GEO and the School of the Arts!!!!!”

            As a teaching tool, once back in Richmond Tony extracted each separate instrument’s tracks from the March Durban concert, converted them to mp3s, and e-mailed them to the respective musician for self-study prior to the final concert in Richmond. This afforded each team to make the most improvement possible during the two weeks between the concerts.

Some of the VCU Provostial delegation then returned to hear the teams perform at the final concert in Richmond March 28. Dr. Beverly Warren, VCU’s Provost—who two and a half years previous had issued the very announcement that Tony had read regarding the VCU Global Education Office’s creation of the International Partnerships Major Initiatives Award grants—met each of the performers before that closing concert at VCU and provided welcoming remarks as the festive evening began.


UKZN and VCU students perform with South African folk music legend Madala Kunene (left)

under the direction of VCU Jazz Studies Director Antonio García (center) on the UKZN stage in Durban, South Africa.

Photo credit Debbie Mari.


The Final Performances

            On March 6, 2013 in Durban, South Africa the musicians of UKZN and VCU presented the world premieres of four newly commissioned works by students and faculty from both universities—works presented again on March 28 for their U.S. premieres.

The VCU team had met then-student Stephan le Roux when they first visited Durban last summer. VCU student Trey Sorrells, upon hearing Stephan’s writing in UKZN’s Arranging class, immediately commented that he’d like to have some of Stephan’s music played in the U.S. His mentors certainly agreed. Stephan’s new composition, “Leap of Faith,” really “stems out of a personal situational perspective. During the process of writing this I was faced with the decision to move to Cape Town and leave everything I had built up in Pietermaritzburg, hence the title. The African influence is basically just a product of what I experienced during my time at UKZN and the predominant African undertone a lot of the music there presented.” Stephan was mentored by Prof. Neil Gonsalves as he wrote the piece.

            UKZN musicologist Dr. Sazi Dlamini is founder of the well-known Durban band “Skokiana” and big band “Inkwishi.” His diverse stylistic approaches in performance and composition include collaborative works for electronic sound synthesis, musical bows, voice and percussion (Yinkosi Yeziziba [2002]); string quartet, ugubhu bow and percussion (Jiwe [2008]); gong, flute, guitar, musical bows and voices (Destiny [2003]); multimedia improvisation, turntables, wind instruments, movement, percussion and voice (Ekhaya [2010]); and Insurrections [2012]—a international collaborative CD album involving performance poets, electronic composition, singers, and acoustic instrumentalists from India and South Africa. His newly commissioned work, “Makalafukwe,” fuses “jazz-influenced South African musical idioms variously known as marabi, kwela, or mbaqanga with the similarly influenced musical styles of the transatlantic experience—in particular west-African highlife and Afro-Caribbean calypso. The piece celebrates the musical experiences of black South African youth in the 1950s and the 1960s: growing up in rural mission stations and peri-urban black townships, and learning to play music on penny-whistles (flageolets), acoustic guitars, and one-string bass made out of a plywood tea-chest.”

            Of his own piece, “Breathe,” VCU Jazz Trumpet major Victor Haskins explained, “The idea for this tune really came from the desire to write a tune that had a ‘classical’-sounding influence, which the melody most definitely exhibits. The title is drawn from the way the tune makes me feel—as though I am taking in a very deep, relaxing breath—cathartic, in a way.” Victor was mentored by Prof. Antonio García as he wrote the piece.

            García’s new composition, “Reunion: Brothers from Another Mother,” brings elements of South African music, Zulu influences, Hi-Life (or Highlife) and Yoruban West African music, and American Gospel and Funk together in a piece that reflects the joy and friendship immediately apparent among the VCU and UKZN musicians upon their very first meeting in Durban in July 2012—a delight that remains to this day. He was also influenced by his two occasions hosting the late Zim Ngqawana, who had emphasized cultural dance as the root of a work García had commissioned him to compose for students years ago: this piece should dance—and make the audience want to!

The March concerts on both concerts and resulting CD were rounded out by additional student compositions: Chris Ryan penned “A Little Soul Never Hurt Nobody (When Charles Met Ray),” a nod to the influence of Ray Charles and Charles Mingus; and Sakhile Simani presented “Laga the Rider.” A faculty duo performance by Tony and Neil on a Gonsalves composition, “Southern Skies and Lavender Blue,” had been inspired by Neil’s first trip to Virginia. Tony asked student Victor Haskins to create a new arrangement of Plunky Branch’s composition “Nia,” which closed the March concert in Richmond. And to feature Madala Kunene at the closing of the March concert in Durban, Tony transcribed and then orchestrated arrangements of two Kunene pieces, “Mfoka Zibhebhu” and “No Pass, No Special.”

The latter two were based on recordings Tony had received just two weeks prior to the March Durban concert: tracks from Madala’s then-unreleased CD, “1959”—so titled after the year in which his family had been forcibly removed from their Umkumbaan community to make way for what would become known as present-day Cato Manor or “Kitomena.”

García chose “Mfoka Zibhebhu” for several reasons, one of which is that tells an interesting story. After the queen of England, Queen Victoria, had King Cetshwayo arrested, she demanded 60,000 head of cattle be paid to the British army before granting him a hearing. This was to feed the British forces occupying Natal at the time. It was Zibhebhu who took it upon himself to work for the release of the King, moving around and collecting the cattle from the Zulu nation. “Mfoka Zibhebhu” is thus a song challenging Zibhebhu’s son: “Where do you think you will later find the cows you’ll need to pay the lobola (dowry) for your future bride after all the cows collected by your father, Zibhebhu, are given to the British forces?”

The song had been taught to the VCU and UKZN teams by Madala and Sazi in an informal outdoor setting in Durban in August 2012 after that transformative bus tour through Madala’s childhood neighborhood pre-eviction; so it carried additional meaning for the students. And it has characteristics García would describe as straight-eighths folk, swing-eighths folk (often over a straight-eighths bass line), swing, shuffle, Afro-Cuban, and double-time swing.

            “No Pass, No Special” was an obvious choice due to the powerful message conveyed by the tune’s story: “We all belong to the Human race. Let’s focus on our racial similarities, which in any event far outweigh the differences. Let’s just love ourselves by loving each other.”

Yet you’ll only hear the final lines sung in our rendition. We had known that Madala Kunene was not the primary vocalist on the “1959” recording but had mistakenly understood that he would be delighted to sing all the lyrics at our Durban concert. On arrival to our rehearsal in Durban, we learned that was not the case: he had always known that the opening sections of the lyrics were not in his vocal range.

So the chart became an instrumental reflection of the spirit of the lyrics, a reflection with which Madala was most pleased. Aside from Dr. Darryl Harper’s fine clarinet-improvisation musings, García had derived the arrangement from the internal fingerings of Madala’s own guitar-playing. “It made sense, given that we would be imposing 13 musicians on his solo guitar style, to simply amplify elements of his style so that we might resonate as one ensemble.”

These two charts were completed a week before the March Durban concert, rehearsed briefly by the VCU team in the U.S., and e-mailed out to the UKZN team for their review. The students sing in chorus near the end of the pieces. The result of the efforts of all was contemplative and moving, bringing Madala to meditative heights and the Durban audience to collaborate enthusiastically—all captured as the final two tracks on the jointly released CD, “Leap of Faith.”

            Reflected Neil Gonsalves: “The UKZN Jazz Legacy Ensemble is immensely proud to represent the long tradition of jazz and jazz education in South Africa. UKZN was the first tertiary institution on the African continent to offer a formal jazz program way back in 1983 with the arrival of Darius Brubeck in Durban, South Africa. The program took root in fertile soil where African-American culture and jazz in particular had been a constant influence and aspirational force since the 1920s and had provided a beacon of light and freedom in the darkest days of apartheid.

“South African jazz has its own swagger though, which is rooted in the many kinds of urban music that are part and parcel of a migrant culture. Through the gift of this exchange, we can proudly say that local South African music forms and styles such as mbaqanga, maskanda, and marabi have taken their place alongside the blues, standard tunes, and bebop as platforms for musical dialogue between our respective ensembles. We celebrate this dialogue within this CD, which we recognize from our exchange experience as being rooted, at least partially, in our common Southern heritage of migration from serfdom to global citizenry; and we acknowledge the effectiveness of this jazz bridge that we’ve built towards developing greater understanding.”



UKZN and VCU students and faculty gather post-concert in Durban. Music Chair Dr. Darryl Harper is fourth from left, back.
UKZN Prof. Jeff Robinson and UKZN Center for Jazz and Popular Music Director Prof. Neil Gonsalves are far right.
Seated are UKZN Arranging Prof. Demi Fernandez, VCU Jazz Prof. Antonio García, guest soloist Madala Kunene, and UKZN Prof. Sazi Dlamini.

Photo credit Debbie Mari.


Creating History

            As important as the moment is, it’s important to think past that moment. As a dialogue, cultural trip, rehearsal, performance, or even relaxing occasion occurs, it doesn’t continue to exist unless it’s properly documented. And in academia, what isn’t documented basically didn’t exist at all.

            Recordings are a must. Student reflections regarding their experiences are essential. A web page or blog updating the progress of the grant activities is a plus. A Facebook page may be helpful.

            Tony has learned how critically important photographs are to a project such as this. His brother, José, is a professional photographer in their native New Orleans and has shown Tony a lot by example, including José’s three rules:

·      Be there, or you can’t take the picture.

·      Take lots of photos, lots more than you think you’ll need.

·      Then toss the many poor images, and hopefully you will have still captured some terrific moments.


Time and time again throughout this grant year, people have told Tony how powerfully his images have conveyed the meaning of this exchange project—many being individuals who had yet to hear a note of the music performed. It may be difficult for the sciences to demonstrate excitement with a photo, or for the language arts to communicate passion with a photo. But musicians make excellent visual subjects; their fellowship is typically apparent on and off stage; their audiences often rapt in delight. Jazz musicians are often even more emotive in photos than artists of other genres. Catch these moments; capture them for the future; and you may find continued support in many ways for your ongoing goals.

            Utilize every means possible to document your project—recordings, photos, reflective statements and testimonials, media reports, and more.



Hlengiwe Ntombela (UKZN vocal student), Trey Sorrells (VCU alto sax), and Snenhlanhla (UKZN student).


Student Reflections

            An exchange project such as this exists really for one reason: to change lives for the better. The experiences shared are to be positive, memorable, and permanent. And if you’re fortunate, no one will express this better than your own students.


After Trip 1, VCU to UKZN:

*          *          *

Victor Haskins

I was able to hear some amazing music made and meet some extremely beautiful people in South Africa during the VCU-KwaZulu Natal University International Exchange.

            Having the chance to experience firsthand the culture and music scene in Durban, South Africa was quite special. I was blown away by how strong the spirit of jazz was; and by the end of the weeklong residency, both the VCU students and the KwaZulu Natal students were inspired by each other. Being able to see how awesome the level of performance, arranging, and composition in the jazz idiom was really stuck to me and made me feel good that such a wonderful art form which struggles to exist in its birth-country can be going so strong somewhere—anywhere else in the world. From the classes that we sat in on, it was apparent that the faculty at KwaZulu-Natal University had a wide range of knowledge, experience, and diversity to bring to the students—everything from traditional African musical heritage direct from the source all the way to modern arranging techniques.

            Culturally, I was happy to experience such a wide range of things. First, we went on a safari, where it was great to get to see and hear animals living in the wild that one would usually only see in captivity in a zoo. Hearing the distinctive bird-calls (some of the calls reminiscent of laughing human voices) allowed me to make a connection with nature to music and the individualistic nature of playing jazz and “finding one’s voice.” Having a chance to visit a museum in Durban that told the story of apartheid as it had been in that city was humbling and put into perspective exactly how awesome of an accomplishment the University [UKZN] has attained with such a strong program. It has only been a few decades since the end of a time when blacks could not even go the beach as we did after our museum trip (the beach at the Indian Ocean). We had the opportunity also to play traditional African instruments—African flutes, mbiras (African thumb pianos), and other indigenous instruments that acted as precursors to the western acoustic bass and banjo. Finally, we took a bus tour of the townships—the ghettos in Durban that were less than 20 years old—and were able to play some traditional African music with Zulu guitar legend Madala Kunene. All of these experiences were beautiful and led to a clearer picture of another people’s culture and history. This experience, too, has been life-changing and inspiring and acts as a reminder as to how powerful and transcendental music is to the human spirit....


*          *          *

Trey Sorrells

            All of the students and alumni [of UKZN] were amazing players who taught each and every one of us something new. Simply by watching and listening to these students I was able to comprehend what music means to them. It was inspiring and the lesson will never be forgotten....

            The culture was really an amazing thing. Being an African American I was extremely interested to see how it differed from our culture and if I liked it. I loved everything about the African culture; they are friendly and loving people who tried to make us feel as much at home as possible....


*          *          *

Brendan Schnabel

            I think I speak for everyone when I say how impressive and inspiring the musicians were. Every player was talented, hungry, and—most importantly—excited at the opportunity to play music. There was a musical spirit inherent at the University that was refreshing to all of us. I hope that we as ambassadors can bring some of this spirit back with us to Richmond. We are all very privileged to have this opportunity, and I can think of no better way to wrap up my experience at VCU.


*          *          *

C.J. Wolfe

            One of the first things I noticed upon arriving was how different the American culture was in comparison to the culture of South Africa. In South Africa, it appears people were for the most part happy even while doing everyday tasks. For example, in the airport at Atlanta, people who were serving us food were extremely rude and impolite, as if they did not like their job. When we arrived in Johannesburg, the people who were serving our food were quite the opposite. They were smiling, laughing, and singing songs while they were making the food. Even when we visited the shantytowns in Durban, people were still very happy and smiling. In general, most everyone we contacted was very friendly and open....

Having the opportunity to experience the Tala Game Reserve was remarkable. To see animals such as warthog, rhino, ostrich, zebra, hippo, wildebeest, and impala in their natural habitat was incredible. With each new animal we encountered came many different sounds that I have never heard before. For example, the different birds we encountered would have sounds ranging from a baby’s cry to horn sounds to even cackling and laughing. When it became quiet on the reserve and the wind would blow, I could hear the breeze move the bush; and it would sound like an amazing flush of white noises. The white noise was akin to the sound of a rivet sizzling in a ride cymbal or the swish of a brush on a snare drum. Hearing all the various animal calls made me think about how the first humans developed speech based upon the sounds that each animal made.

It was very fun when the KwaZulu-Natal jazz students took us to a restaurant and we were tapping out rhythms using the tables and glasses. It was interesting to speak with them on a rhythmic level. I studied these rhythms, and I called them Afro-Cuban rhythms despite the fact they were really called African rhythms. When I would say “Afro-Cuban rhythms,” the cats questioned me and replied that Cuba has nothing to do with the rhythms that we were playing. The guys were impressed with my knowledge of the African rhythms and cross-rhythms, and it made me feel like I was on the right track. This was one of the most beneficial experiences because we were able to learn the most about each other in a very relaxed environment.

Another great experience was when we were able to go to Dr. Sazi Dlamini’s office. There were numerous indigenous instruments from the Zulu and South African culture. We were able to play the great-grandfathers of all the instruments that we play today. Having the opportunity to hear a lecture on Madala Kunene was very insightful. The next day we were able to both meet and play with him, which exceeded my expectations completely. Sazi lent me huge seed-pods to use as shakers while playing with Madala, then gave me these seed-pods to bring home. It was amazing to see Madala’s bass player playing songs on one string attached to a wooden box—and Sazi’s brother, who played handmade flutes in addition to penny whistles.

            Overall, it is extraordinary to now have friends who I communicate with there. I am able to share ideas on many levels through social-networking sites. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that has just begun. I am looking forward to them coming to the United States and our sharing so much with them as they did with us.

I can’t wait to go back to Durban. This has been a remarkable experience that I will remember for the rest of my life, and I am very fortunate.


*          *          *

Chris Ryan

            One thing that struck me even from the airport Johannesburg was the sense of joy radiating from the people. People were greeting us with smiles everywhere, which felt like a stark contrast to the airports in the states. Another thing that stuck with me was the level of hospitality and generosity bestowed upon us from our hosts. From the time we arrived in Durban we were looked out for by Prof. Neil Gonsalves and his wife, Nareen, as well as our companion students—and in general the students and faculty at UKZN. I feel very grateful for the hospitality we received....

            It is hard to say what the best parts of the trip were; there truly are just so many wonderful memories. For me, our interaction with Prof. Sazi Dlamini was very special. From his class on Maskandi guitar hero Madala Kunene, then Sazi’s leading us in a jam session with indigenous African instruments, and perhaps the high point of the trip: going on a tour of Madala’s homeland with Madala himself!

When we arrived in the shanty village, Sazi addressed the situation of poverty we were surrounded by. He said something to the effect that all though these people are poor, they are a people of hope. That message was so clear: these people had only the slightest of worldly possessions, but they had hope, hope that they could achieve. It made the smiles and sense of joy from the airport come full-circle.


*          *          *

Justin Esposito

            Durban, South Africa is a cultural gem in the world. The different races and eleven different languages spoken definitely took me by surprise because they brought upon the realization that there were so many cultural roots I was completely unfamiliar with and unrelated to. This being my first international trip outside of the country, I didn’t know what I would find out about the world and myself. This trip granted to the VCU Jazz Program has allowed the seven of us to tap into a world so unfamiliar, yet a place that we were able to grow into as musicians and individuals....

I have never been able to cross-compare values, morals, and ambitions on the small and grand scale. This cultural exchange taught me how to communicate to others my views of cultural representation and values that I had obtained in the United States. At the same time, I learned how to not push my values upon others who differ, but to use my characteristics of morality and student-skills to paint a portrait of whom I am developing into through my journeys in higher education.


*          *          *

Sebastian Goldswain

Some personal highlights included the long jam on African and American standards late one afternoon (the VCU guys fitting into the African style very well), as well as showing the VCU team the Howard College Campus midday—where, by showing them around and explaining the different cultures, cuisines, and architecture present, I actually got to look in a fresh new way at the campus I see every day!

As players, the VCU team really impressed me with their impeccable professionalism, as well as the very precise manner in which they approach their jazz. As one of the students summarised: “They are not better or worse than our students. They are just different”: a fantastic summary of the July experience for both teams, and a statement that, if resonated through everyone alive, would make for a better world.


*          *          *

Lungelo Ngcobo

I had a great time with the ensemble. The experience with them was better than I had expected. Their playing and improvisational abilities are very impressive to me. The band members’ characters were also very good. I liked the way in which we all became friends easily within just a few minutes.

The whole week was very interesting, since here at school there are hardly any jam sessions. I would love for more experiences like these. I have a lot to learn from those guys!


*          *          *

Ildo Nandja

It was amazing: our energies started to engage from the very first time we met—and then grew, not only from playing music together but also getting to know each other. I believe the next step in September will just confirm that and take us to another level, which is what we all desire.


*          *          *

Sakhile Simani

First of all I must say thank you to Professor García and his students for allowing me to play with them on their concert. It meant a lot to me to share the music with them. I had a great time with the VCU students: we shared and talked about our dreams, ambitions, and futures in music and life. I felt so honoured to be part of the exchange programme. I wish all the best for them. PEACE.


*          *          *

Linda Sikhakhane

I would like to thank the VCU and UKZN staffs for making this possible. I must say that it has been a great pleasure interacting with the jazz cats. This was a great experience for me because I could learn more about American culture and their taste in jazz; that made me realise my direction for my future in music.


*          *          *

Sphelelo Mazibuko

C.J. Wolfe and I were going through some material that we were checking out for our academic drumming semesters, and we realize that our tutors were using the same or similar material. That for me said that we at UKZN are clearly keeping up with the international scene in information, also getting the sense that we truly are informed and just need to internalize more of the information.

Away from the serious stuff I truly enjoyed the laughter and humour with the guys. In a way it seemed like we have known each other for years, not just meeting each other recently.


*          *          *


  VCU Profs. Siemon Allen and Kendall Buster (third and fourth from left) explore Allen's collection of South African album art as a visual expression of social justice issues.



After Trip 2, UKZN to VCU:

Sebastian Goldswain

One of the highlights was the opportunity to meet Siemon Allen, a South African now residing in the USA with a phenomenally large South African Jazz archive, and to share in his wealth of knowledge of all things Jazz. Our cultural visits to historic places like The Black History Museum in Jackson Ward and the Civil War Museum were also educational highlights, not to mention the many jam sessions with everyone from VCU Jazz students to VCU professors to complete strangers!



*          *          *

Lungelo Ngcobo

I had a great time in Richmond. It was an eye-opener: how the tradition of jazz is rich there, especially in terms of club gigs. There were gigs the whole week, which is very good and contributes a lot in terms of growth. I personally appreciate the per diem support: it really helped, as the food seemed to be a bit expensive compared to home. I also appreciate and acknowledge the hospitality and welcome from the VCU exchange group as well as the other individuals who helped out in with transport and contributed to a good time for us.


*          *          *

Ildo Nandja

The week we had in Richmond was very productive from the first day of our arrival till the last day of our stay there. I really liked the way our schedule was put together: from attending classes, master classes, the visits we had to different historical places, jam sessions—we all felt like we were at home; and all enjoyed our activities.

            The highlight of the visit for me was all the information I got from students and lectures and people around Richmond, information that will improve my musicianship and my personality. I learned a lot. Getting together with the VCU team, especially the students, has doubled our friendship and connection.


*          *          *

Sakhile Simani

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Professor García and his team for hosting us. I really enjoyed myself in Richmond. I learned some other things, such as how to fuse business and music. It was great to meet and play with new people: everyone was so kind, caring, and warm. I’m really honoured to be part of this exchange programme, and I am looking forward to next year’s visits.


*          *          *

Linda Sikhakhane

I would like to thank Prof. García and the VCU team for hosting us in such a warm and exciting way. It was a very blessed and inspirational week in Virginia. First of all, the music students were very good company to us and were willing to share in whichever way. I found a lot of interesting ways of absorbing the jazz language, mostly in classes led by Prof. Skip Gailes, taking basic patterns and building towards a complex way of playing. I also realized that students do attend a lot public performances, and that helps them a lot in terms of their sound.


*          *          *

Sphelelo Mazibuko

I can’t get the right words to express the way the exchange has impacted my life. What a pleasure it has been to meet wonderful people from across the world. The musical experience has been mind-blowing....

My highlight would be meeting and listening to Prof. Tony Martucci performing in The Glenn Wilson Quintet: what an excellent drummer! I realize we were at the reality of the sound of jazz, the pulse pushing forward unlike how we swing in South Africa. The forward-playing motion was amazing. I could realize that this language is big and needs to be explored. Pity I couldn’t get a chance to get a quick lesson from him, but I should say that just listening to him play at The Camel was a complete class.

I am glad we meet wonderful new friends: Colleen, Michelle, John, Nick, Abinnet, and more from VCU. It has been great; their hospitality was humbling. But I would like to give the greatest thanks to Profs. Neil Gonsalves and Tony García for working tirelessly for this trip: great musicians empowering great future musicians. Thanks also to the wonderful VCU administrators: great people; they were so welcoming. Thank you!! I truly cannot wait for the upcoming trip back to Richmond.

It’s all for the Love of Jazz. Showing Some Love!

*          *          *


Chris Ryan

Having our African friends visit was a fun-filled, whirlwind week. It was only too bad it went by so fast.... I am already looking forward to seeing everyone again and anxious to see how things on both continents develop musically. 


*          *          *

C.J. Wolfe

The trips to the museums were fun, places I had not even been to before then. Our nightlife seemed to take a toll on them because they were not used to staying out late, plus we went out every night! In Durban it had been the opposite for us because we would go to our B&B early and not be able to sleep for a while.

The time they spent here was very short, and it was bittersweet when they had to leave. I can’t wait to go back in the spring to see them again.


*          *          *

Victor Haskins

            Having the UKZN students here in Richmond for a week was a wonderful experience. It was great to get to introduce them to a different culture. It was especially awesome to witness the community support for the UKZN ensemble when they played at The Camel to a packed house!

....On most nights they also had the chance to go and hear live music on the Richmond scene, where they actually came and sat in with my band’s weekly gig. Being able to share experiences—especially musical experiences—is one of the few ways to get really close to someone; and their presence was really special at the performance that night.

Those guys brought such a wonderful spirit and vibe wherever they went, and I feel as though that’s exactly the kind of treatment they received from everyone with which they interacted. I think I speak for all us on the VCU team in saying that we will miss sharing meals, music, stories, and hanging out. Our return trip to Durban in March cannot arrive soon enough!


*          *          *

Trey Sorrells

            When we left South Africa in early August it was a sour moment, especially for me. I felt like there was so much more to learn from our friends there. Well, at the end of September they returned; and the learning process rapidly began again, immediately upon shaking their hands. We jammed for a while in Professor Garcia’s house. This was so much fun: every musician knows that communication not with words but with music is the best way to catch up.

Throughout the week we attended gigs played by local and not-so-local artists, both teams enjoying the music. One of my favorite moments was the UKZN hit at The Camel: they played extremely exciting music that was also true to their culture; and everyone in the audience seemed to have really liked it. It was really nice having their team in some of our classes.

Sometimes I would forget that they were visitors. I can’t wait to see them again in March. I’m pretty sure we all are going to have a lot to talk and play about.



*          *          *

Brendan Schnabel

I think Richmond might be one of the greatest choices for first-time visitors to America. It offers the wide variety of activity and culture of a big city yet still has the personality and warmth of a small town. Similarly, Richmond is a line of demarcation of sorts for northern and southern American culture, blending the two in a unique way. This, combined with the important history of the city, makes me believe our guests got so much out of this trip. Both the UKZN team and our own VCU team have a lot to work with, and I’m excited for what next year’s reunions will hold in store for both of our communities.


*          *          *

Justin Esposito

Rekindling our experiences and relationships from our trip to Durban was a timeless venture. Upon the UKZN team’s arrival I was unsure of what their first impressions of Richmond, Virginia would be. With Richmond being the capital of the confederacy and having its own history with civil and human rights, there is common ground shared with South Africa’s history of apartheid. Talking with the UKZN team about their impressions of the apartheid with what they have experienced through older generations shows how far countries like the United States and South Africa have come within the development of human equality.

*          *          *


A view of the Durban coastal skyline.


After Trip 3, VCU to UKZN:

C.J. Wolfe

            Aside from playing music, my favorite parts of the trip were getting to know everyone involved a little better, going to the beach and swimming in the Indian Ocean, and finally the tour of the open-air markets. The herb market was the most eye-opening; I had not seen real traditional African medicine before this time. We were not allowed to take pictures of this medicine for fear that it would rob the magic from these items. At another part of the market I was able to get a fiberglass gourd resonator for my mbira, some clothes, and some carvings of Malachite stone.

            This whole opportunity has been a life-changing experience, and I’m looking forward to the next concert at VCU.



*          *          *

Chris Ryan

            The whole trip felt like a highlight reel; so I would be writing a long time if I were to discuss all of the highlights. But some of my favorite moments would include the Wednesday night concert: performing commissioned works written by South African composers Sazi Dlamini and Stephan le Roux, both the VCU and UKZN ensembles performing music by and with South African music legend Madala Kunene, and an international premiere of one of my own compositions, on which Prof. Neil Gonsalves joined our VCU team.

The many moments of laughter shared amongst friendships new and old seem to stick out in my mind and particularly warmed my heart this trip. Our trip to the markets with Thuli was an experience I will never forget. And on our final day our meeting with Poppa Ndikho and Mama Nomusa Xaba was a beautiful, educational, and inspiring experience.

            From the bottom of my heart, thank you all so much for the friendships, laughter, music, and sharing in the positive energy we all shared. I feel so honored to have shared this experience with all of you on both continents and look forward to our final concert here at home a few weeks away.



*          *          *

Victor Haskins

            Musically, this entire trip (and the months leading up to this trip to Durban) was very enriching. Both teams had to perform works commissioned by the opposite team, and thus different cultures were shared through written music. Really digging into the music composed for our group was a fundamental lesson in really understanding and expressing a different style. Getting the rhythmically unfamiliar pieces together was one challenge, but putting them together with the group and really making the tunes “dance” and have the authentic South African flavor was a whole other challenge. This is because everyone has to feel it the same way; and that way is the South African way—the feeling and dance of another culture.

This is where the greatest lesson was learned, and I am glad we all had that experience. It is not often that one can perform music from a very different culture and get coached by the people who wrote that music on how to perform it more authentically. This will certainly stick with me and act as another influence on my own writing and performance as a total musician.



*          *          *

Trey Sorrells

If I could describe this trip in one word I would use the word “energy.” From the first day the UKZN team gave a high-energy concert that I was a huge fan of. I feel that the first concert inspired us to work really hard on the commissioned works in the rehearsals; and the rehearsals inspired us to spend the rest of the day relaxing at the beach, if you know what I mean.

            The second concert on the trip, which featured the commissioned works that both teams worked really hard on, was probably the most fun and inspiring concert I’ve ever played. From Chris Ryan’s soul chart to Madala Kunene’s soul-touching music, the whole concert was a blast. I honestly couldn’t think of a better way to spend my spring break than traveling and performing with VCU team, truly an unforgettable experience.



*          *          *

Brendan Schnabel

            By the time of our second arrival in Durban, our team had evolved from musical ambassadors to participants in UKZN’s musical scene. We were no longer strangers in a foreign land, but rather friends coming to share in a week of happy music-making. It took a challenging metamorphosis on our end to inherit this role; the works commissioned by our South African brothers tested our preconceived ideas about music, especially about rhythm. It took our physical presence and immersion in the peaceful yet earnest atmosphere of Durban, South Africa to finally capture the musical essence of this wonderful land.


*          *          *

Justin Esposito

Our counterparts on the UKZN team have showed us nothing but openness and kindness towards our music and interactions. Being able to share my musical experiences and hard work with people of a different culture has enabled me to gain an outlook and new perspective on the universal characteristics all people have in common. Working together on jazz compositions from a different culture and musical background has enabled me to translate the life experiences of our talented composers. These African grooves and melodies have opened up my ears to rich and vast cultural movements through the stories told through the commissioned works. Being able to tell my story through this platform of African music has broadened my understanding of music and humanity.


*          *          *

Sphelelo Mazibuko

            It has been surely another wonderful experience unraveling great things about the thing we call music. In the week we had with the VCU ensemble I really experienced the power of music: we might not speak the same tongue, but music speaks beyond the boundaries of language and culture. I realized that when we started playing music written by Prof. García and fellow musician Victor Haskins. It was different music from a different culture-base and was challenging in the sense that we have to come out of the comfort zone of playing the jazz that we are all familiar with—but it was worth every second of every bar of notes we played.

The recording was not like any other recording I’ve done. For me it carried the hearts of beautiful musicians, friends, and colleagues. I can highly recall the wonderful atmosphere when we performed Madala Kunene’s music: it can never be counterfeited; it was the TRUTH.


*          *          *

Sebastian Goldswain

I can safely say that over the course of this most recent exchange visit, the UKZN and VCU teams have become like a close band of brothers. As it is almost six months since our last leg of the exchange, it has been thoroughly exciting to see the VCU guys again—and how they have all immensely developed and grown as musicians!

The task set to us this time around, which was to learn compositions commissioned for us by our respective counterparts, proved to be a most challenging and fruitful one. Personally, I learned a great deal about reading charts in unusual time signatures and feels, particularly Afro-Cuban, as well as following and making sense of charts written specifically with a classical approach. I thoroughly look forward to the next and final leg of the programme in Virginia, which will hopefully prove to be the jewel in the crown of this fantastic exchange programme.


*          *          *

Lungelo Ngcobo

            The previous week was very honourable to me, and with great privilege I treasure it—though it came with a lot of nervous feelings. We knew it came with music we hadn’t played before, and it was an actual recording. I have never done a jazz recording of this caliber on a live platform before. I personally feel I could have played better and understood the music more, and I’m still in the daily process of getting it more into my system. I have also been doing research on music that sounds like this music: it’s hard to find, though.

            We’re hoping to do better in Virginia and to enjoy the tour in Virginia next week even more than last time.


*          *          *

Ildo Nandja

            Everything was very interesting for me this time around in the exchange program, and the result of that is the beautiful performance that both combos had....

            I feel very privileged to be part of this exchange program: first for being the only non-South African and secondly for its importance in my music career. I tried to give my best and to learn the most from this experience and be an example for the future exchanges.

            We are next heading to Richmond, where the weather is currently cold; so let’s take our Durban warmness, and heat Virginia with our performance!


(Note: Ildo is a native of Mozambique.)


*          *          *

Sakhile Simani

            It’s always an honour to associate with American folks. They have lot of experience in life generally and music, too. They always have something encouraging to say, something that you can keep or use in your entire life. I feel blessed when I’m around, play, or chat about music with them.

“Music is not about tricking people; it is about who you are and what comes from your soul.” That was a chat I had with Chris Ryan. I enjoyed playing both new tunes: I learned so much musically.



*          *          *

Linda Sikhakhane

            To me this exchange has been a great pleasure—a bit challenging at points, but very inspirational and educational. Having played the two pieces by Prof. García and Victor Haskins has made me realize the beauty of playing something new and its challenges throughout. This keeps you on your toes because you are trying to figure out the sound and really play the music as written. The music was very detailed and required one to look deeper into things like dynamics and articulation.

            The very interesting part of the commissioned music was that it also needed our own musicians’ taste of things in terms of the clarity of sound: Prof. García mentioned often that he wants us to feel free in playing more of ourselves, rather than being held back by the written music. All in all I just had loads of fun throughout.

            Peace and light.

*          *          *



The VCU Africa Combo, with Prof. Antonio García (trombone).

(photo credit VCU/Tim Chumley)

After Trip 4, UKZN to VCU:

Sphelelo Mazibuko

The reception we received on our second trip to Richmond was exceptionally amazing. I have never felt so much love from people outside of our culture boundaries appreciating our culture and music. Meeting Profs. Siemon Allen and Kendall Buster was wonderful, seeing how the world of arts is linked together: our South African music influencing visual art, and for me the visual art influencing my vision of music. Pictures that tell a story are as melody notes placed together to make up a beautiful picture of a song.

Washington was the climax of the trip: the most amazing day ever. Seeing The Library of Congress and other sites and most importantly seeing one of my favorite drummers and musicians in live show—Kendrick Scott—followed by a great day chilling by the pool with my fellows made the trip feel too short.

The whole exchange program was a success, and I will treasure it. We made history. And that’s all that matters: leaving a legacy with Brothers from Another Mother.

“Show the Love” always!!!


*          *          *

Sebastian Goldswain

Wow! I still can’t get over what an amazing experience this exchange programme has been! For both the VCU as well as UKZN teams this entire exchange programme has been an eye-opening and inspiring experience. Performing our indigenous types of jazz, as well as that of each other’s, on foreign continents for foreign audiences is an absolutely priceless experience; and we are extremely privileged, and of a very select few, to be able to have done so. Not only did I learn a lot about American music and music culture, but the programme also helped to give me a different perspective on my own country’s music, as well as the important role it has played historically throughout the world.


*          *          *

Lungelo Ngcobo

            Whenever the VCU team visits UKZN, I really enjoy the energy they bring to our school. When we have jam sessions, we really enjoy playing and growing. I really appreciate the commissions: the music was new and interesting to me, and I had a lot to learn in terms of articulation and dynamics.

            The last visit to Virginia was totally awesome with the gig, rehearsals, jam, classes, and the trip to D.C. I must really thank VCU for taking us to such high places in D.C. Seeing Kendrick Scott live was no joke for me because I am a huge fan of his music.

            In conclusion I’m very thankful and grateful to be part of the exchange program. I learned a lot.


*          *          *

Ildo Nandja

This time around we felt more at home in Virginia, especially at VCU. Through our visits to galleries and different exhibits in both countries, we had found this connection between the two cultures and countries, which culminated in a beautiful concert. I also noticed that there was more engagement between the two teams as a result of our meeting last year, and the constant keeping in touch with each other in between our trips.

I personally would like this exchange program to continue, as it is a great opportunity not only to explore music but also other fields of interest. We have also noticed that lots of other windows have opened as a result of this exchange program and the performances that were presented by the two groups: another good reason to support for the exchange to continue.



*          *          *

Sakhile Simani

Let me take this opportunity and thank Prof. Tony García and his team for making this project so successful. Blessed the day I met these music students—UKZN and VCU—they are like a family to me. When I’m around them we had to talk about our dreams, ambitions, opportunities, hopes, and how to become a truly successful musician.

We have had such a warm welcome in Richmond, Virginia: I am being turned inside out by inspiration and hope. I experienced lots of things, met new friends, networked with other students, went to Siemon Allen’s library of South African music, talked about our South African musicians, and did a wonderful recording with beautiful music and musicians.

It was a great feeling hearing American folks talking about South African music. I never thought in my life I’d be called a guest student/musician and treated in a professional, disciplined manner in another country. One of the greatest moments in my life was to go to one of the largest libraries in the world: The Library of Congress. I felt so inspired when I looked in the eye and shook hands with one of the great delegates of The National Endowment for the Arts, The Smithsonian, and the Jazz Masterworks Orchestra in Washington, D.C. With both hands I give thanks to our Director, Prof. Neil Gonsalves, for choosing me to be part of this exchange programme. I so wish that the partnership will grow and blossom between the two universities.


*          *          *

Linda Sikhakhane

            I would say it has been a great victory from our start on along to new adventures in jazz music between South Africa and the United States of America. At first I had pictured this as merely two weeks of musical exchange throughout six months, but I’ve just realized that this is a lifetime cultural exchange. I’ve learned so much in a very short period of time; and my life has changed through this successful exchange, musically and culturally.

            The recording part of the exchange was very inspirational because we got to express our feelings through music written by our brothers from another continent who had taken their own time to visualize our sound as individuals and compose within our energy. It was challenging, I must say; but through faith and the help of Prof. García, Victor Haskins, and Prof. Gonsalves not only conducting the rehearsals but also giving us powerful lectures as to how we could merge this, all became possible; and the music was given life.

            This occurred because reading and playing music weren’t the only purposes of the exchange. This involved a lot of spiritualism through sound and cultural experience. All the influences of our forefathers came to action; and the best part of this was sharing all our understandings through the music of this caliber, “JAZZ.”

            The last day of the exchange was in Washington, D.C. It felt like we had been there for a month: one could learn so much in a day—a very inspirational day, I must say, getting to know more about American jazz history and seeing objects that were used by our masters. The Library of Congress really made me feel so special because I feel like I now know history better due to the access I received to visualize certain things. There were very exciting moments. One of them was when Mr. Larry Appelbaum showed us the score of “A Love Supreme” handwritten by John Coltrane. That very same album is my favorite of Coltrane’s music.

            Dr. Wayne Brown had caught me by surprise when he questioned us individually, as young as we are, about who our influences in music are and how the exchange changed our thinking. I was honored, though, to reveal such information to a very powerful man; and that made me realize what this exchange has brought into our hands.

            We say this was the finale; but to me, this is the start of a lifetime exchange.


*          *          *

C.J. Wolfe

This grant has been an amazing opportunity for me. As a drummer, I have always been interested in studying African rhythms and music; and to get to actually go there and hear and see the culture for myself not once but twice was a chance of a lifetime. The VCU team grew as musicians and closer as friends by sharing this experience together and learning the new music that had been commissioned for us to play. This could have been enough, but we got to meet our new friends of the UKZN team and started a friendship that will last a lifetime. I hope that we will get to see those guys again someday, and I really hope that this exchange will continue for other students in the future.

The fact that an album was made of our performances is great because we will be able to listen to this, and it will be much more than just the music for us. The recording is an everlasting monument that will remind us of how special what we accomplished was. It will bring us back to the first day when we all met in the UKZN performing arts center, the VCU team’s safari, the countless rehearsals here in the states and in Durban, and of course the four performances on both continents. I feel so lucky to have had this opportunity and would again like to thank everyone involved.


*          *          *

Chris Ryan

On the final part of our exchange, our South African friends joined us here for a final round of sharing: sharing of music, friendships, laughs, knowledge, and time. We enjoyed a final concert together that contained most of the hits from the last Durban concert, with an added Richmond flavor courtesy of Plunky Branch, who generously offered his own knowledge and music. Plunky’s talk with us in fact included some of my favorite moments from this last week of exchange. Plunky shared his story of music and life that very much was interwoven between the traditions of our two continents.

All in all the experience has left a lasting impression on me that I am sure will last a lifetime: an experience of music, humanity, hospitality, friendship, and so much more. An experience that spans two continents and will last a lifetime. For me, the only proper way for me to end is to again say “thank you.” Thank you all so much for this experience. To our South African counterparts, our South African friends we met in Durban, the VCU team, and our friends who joined us this last trip to South Africa: thank you.


*          *          *

Victor Haskins

The past week was quite wonderful—all because of the UKZN team’s presence here in Richmond. When they come to Richmond, they bring a certain aura with them, a certain “vibe.” Everybody notices this vibe of honesty and sincerity, both in their music and in their personalities, thus creating an interesting effect on how people with whom they come into contact here in Richmond respond. Although it is a completely subjective opinion, I feel like the UKZN team challenges people here in America to think a little harder and give a little more effort towards being on that level of sincerity—but they do this by leading by example because they live this way....

I really hope that people have realized through meeting the South African guys that it is not only a good idea but it is completely necessary to get out of America and travel to some different countries. The cultural perspective and the sensitivity and open-mindedness to how the world actually is (as opposed to what the television tells people) can only be expanded through experiencing different, new, and unfamiliar things in a one-on-one, face-to-face basis. There is so much happening in the rest of the world—much of it comparable to or exceeding the quality of what is happening in America—and so few people here in this country seem to take the opportunity or create the opportunity to seek out their own vision of the world to find out what is really possible and what is really happening outside of one’s hometown/state.

I am so appreciative of all the seminars and guest speakers that bestowed knowledge and culture and history upon us: it really reminded me as to how important it is to know history. To this end, I would say (in contrary to the popular idiom) that “ignorance is NOT bliss.” Ignorance is constrictive, debilitating, and unfortunate; and every effort should be made to rid the world of ignorance, because knowing is half the battle. People need to be hungry, get out in the real world, and learn for themselves instead of allowing their minds to be fed by the media or the imaginations of other uniformed people. One must go to the source of knowledge to truly drink of the purest and most honest information.


*          *          *

Trey Sorrells

When we were in Durban, South Africa, we didn’t really get a chance to just play some standard tunes with each other for a while; but that was the first thing we did when they landed in the U.S. And the first thing I noticed was how much everybody has grown since the beginning of this exchange. I’ve learned a lot from both the VCU and UKZN teams that I will take with me throughout my life. The concert that we played in Richmond was the most fun concert I’ve ever played at VCU: both teams worked really hard on the music, and it showed. I will never forget how much that concert meant to us and how it affected the audience.

I want to thank everyone who made this trip possible, and I wish the best of luck to the UKZN team as they proceed with their lives through music.


*          *          *

Brendan Schnabel

I think we have all learned from this experience that both physical distance and cultural differences cannot blur our universal humanity. I can think of no better way to express this revelation than through the joy of music. This exchange has made me feel more in tune with a heritage we all as people share. I want to thank my VCU buddies, our South African friends, Neil Gonsalves, and Professor García for turning your vision for this exchange into a reality. I am truly grateful to have experienced this with all of you.


*          *          *

Justin Esposito

To me, the most significant global ties are the experiences shared with the individuals who were on the VCU and UKZN teams. Binding our international experience through music has allowed us to influence our own musical communities by drawing on the sense of cultural awareness for the impact of jazz music on musicians of all different races and backgrounds. The global ties established in Africa go farther than academics: the intimate settings produced by this cultural and educational exchange have produced personal relationships that will endure because of our common cultural ties within the genre of jazz.


*          *          *


The VCU Alumni Jazz Quartet (Brendan Schnabel, Victor Haskins, Prof. Antonio García, and Reggie Pace)

performing at The National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., December 2013.

Photo courtesy of The National Cathedral.


Our Continuing Friendships

In May 2013 our year-long project, “A Jazz Bridge to Greater Understanding,” was chosen as the 2013 recipient of the VCU Community Engagement Award for Research, an award saluting VCU’s efforts to engage its community locally, nationally, and internationally through research. Jazz has long been and will long remain a basis for myriad musics derived from jazz roots; crossing all cultures, genders, and nations; absorbing from and spilling over into classical, rock, popular, and more. VCU Jazz’s and the UKZN Centre for Jazz and Popular Music’s goal is to prepare their students for that future. As but one example, The UKZN Jazz Legacy Ensemble lives on, its members currently touring South Africa as a musical unit beyond their own graduations from UKZN’s undergraduate ranks.

            Neil and Tony have repeatedly issued their thanks to the large number of faculty, staff, administrators, community partners, guest artists, composers, and of course the students on both continents, all well deserved. In November 2013 Tony and Dr. Sarah Bainter Cunningham (VCUarts Executive Director of Research) also visited the South African Embassy in Washington, D.C., meeting with Mr. Johnny Moloto (First Minister), Mr. Alu Museisi (First Secretary, Socio-Economic and Development), and Dr. Nomonde Xundu (Health Attaché) to share details, imagine future possibilities, and deepen friendships. In late November Tony met in London with the founder of UKZN’s (then-UND’s) jazz program, pianist Darius Brubeck, to update him personally on the project. Within days Darius would then be touring in South Africa, also meeting with Neil for an update.

            No one could have predicted that shortly thereafter the world would mourn the passing of one of South Africa’s greatest leaders, Nelson Mandela. Because the exchange project had demonstrated such friendship with the people of South Africa, VCU Jazz was then invited to perform at the Nelson Mandela Memorial Service December 11, 2013 at The National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Personnel in the VCU Alumni Jazz Quartet included three VCU Music alumni (two who had been part of the VCU Africa Combo) and Tony, performing for the dignitaries present and also for the world via live online streaming.

            Music is often called upon to fill the void left by personal loss. In the days following Mandela’s passing, Tony received a note from Mamsie Ntshangase, the Chairperson of Ethekwini Jazz Appreciation Society in South Africa, who in March 2013 had enthusiastically conveyed her delight to the South African Embassy in D.C. after hearing the shared performances of the VCU and UKZN combos in Durban: “I personally am finding solace the best way I know how, music. Thank you for that gift that keeps on giving, the UKZN Legacy Band/VCU Africa Combo CD. It is getting played at all the jazz clubs and societies I visit around here. Just this past Saturday, our jazz appreciation society travelled to Mthatha in the Eastern Cape for our monthly jazz listening session, where I played the ‘Leap of Faith’ album to much appreciation by those who were listening.... Your music is going a long way in healing us at this time; we appreciate very much that it has united us for good.”

As of this writing, VCU and UKZN are in Year Two of this immensely successful exchange, including travel, commissioned works, concerts, and cultural activities. As marvelous as the music-making has been, that still cannot compare to the knowledge we have all learned and especially the friendships we have all made. We look forward to more!


For more information regarding the exchange, please visit <>.


Author's Note: As of this online posting, we are now in Year Three of the exchange.



Neil Gonsalves and Antonio García performing at the Centre for Jazz and Popular Music at UKZN in Durban, South Africa.

Photo credit Debbie Mari.


Antonio J. García is an Associate Professor of Music, Director of Jazz Studies, and formerly the Coordinator of Music Business at Virginia Commonwealth University. His book with play-along CD, “Cutting the Changes: Jazz Improvisation via Key Centers” (Kjos Music) offers musicians of all ages standard-tune improv opportunities using only their major scales. He is Associate Jazz Editor of the International Trombone Association Journal, Past Editor of the IAJE Jazz Education Journal, Network Expert (Improvisation Materials) for the Jazz Education Network, Co-Editor and Contributing Author of Teaching Jazz: A Course of Study, IAJE-IL Past-President, and past IAJE International Co-Chair for Curriculum and for Vocal/Instrumental Integration. A trombonist, pianist, and avid scat-singer, he has performed with such artists as Ella Fitzgerald, Dave Brubeck, George Shearing, Mel Tormé, Louie Bellson, and Phil Collins. His music has merited grants from Meet The Composer, The Commission Project, and The Thelonious Monk Institute, with originals published by Kjos, Kendor, Doug Beach, Walrus, UNC Jazz Press, and Three-Two Music. Tony is a board member of The Midwest Clinic, a Conn-Selmer trombone clinician, a former coordinator of the Illinois Coalition for Music Education, has presented instrumental and vocal jazz workshops in the U.S., Canada, Europe, South Africa, Australia, and The Middle East, is a widely published author in a dozen jazz and education periodicals, and is a past nominee for CASE “U.S. Professor of the Year.” He is also the subject of an extensive interview within “Bonanza: Insights and Wisdom from Professional Jazz Trombonists” (Advance Music). Visit his web site at <>.


Neil Gonsalves has a Master’s degree in Jazz Studies from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. His performance credits include various national and international music festivals with numerous South African jazz and Afro-beat luminaries such as Bheki Mseleku, Winston Mankunku, Feya Faku, Robbie Jansen, Busi Mhlongo, Brice Wassy, and Gito Baloi. He has extensive international touring experience, including a four-year stint as part of Johnny Clegg’s band. Gonsalves has two recordings as a leader: “Tonk” (2000) and “North Facing” (2006), the latter recorded in Gothenburg with some of the best young Swedish jazz musicians, representing an interesting blend of modern South African jazz and Nordic cool. He is the Director of the Centre for Jazz and Popular Music at UKZN, where he teaches various subjects in music. Visit his web site at <>.





VCU/UKZN “Jazz Bridge” Project Blog


The project’s joint CD, “Leap of Faith”


Virginia Commonwealth University


VCU Global Education

      Current Partnerships


VCU Division of Community Engagement


VCU School of the Arts


VCU Music


VCU Jazz Studies


Antonio García


Neil Gonsalves


University of KwaZulu-Natal


UKZN Music


UKZN Jazz Studies




VCU Prof. Siemon Allen


Plunky Branch


Black History Museum


The American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar


Virginia Museum of Fine Arts


The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History


Library of Congress’ Performing Arts Encyclopedia


National Endowment for the Arts’ Music


Madala Kunene


Ndikho Xaba


Nomusa Xaba


Southern African Music Organisation, Limited (SAMRO)


Kwa Muhle Museum


Tala Game Reserve


Nelson Mandela National Memorial Service

The preludes from the Nelson Mandela National Memorial Service are now streamed online at <>. The Virginia Commonwealth University Alumni Jazz Quartet performs 12’30”-23’30”. The same is available on “In Thanksgiving for and in Celebration of the Life of Nelson Mandela; December 11, 2013,” released by the National Cathedral DVD series.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Antonio J. García is a Professor of Music and Director of Jazz Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he directs the Jazz Orchestra I; instructs Applied Jazz Trombone, Small Jazz Ensemble, Music Industry, and various jazz courses; founded a B.A. Music Business Emphasis (for which he initially served as Coordinator); and directs the Greater Richmond High School Jazz Band. An alumnus of the Eastman School of Music and of Loyola University of the South, he has received commissions for jazz, symphonic, chamber, film, and solo works—instrumental and vocal—including grants from Meet The Composer, The Commission Project, The Thelonious Monk Institute, and regional arts councils. His music has aired internationally and has been performed by such artists as Sheila Jordan, Arturo Sandoval, Jim Pugh, Denis DiBlasio, James Moody, and Nick Brignola. Composition/arrangement honors include IAJE (jazz band), ASCAP (orchestral), and Billboard Magazine (pop songwriting). His works have been published by Kjos Music, Hal Leonard, Kendor Music, Doug Beach Music, ejazzlines, Walrus, UNC Jazz Press, Three-Two Music Publications, and his own, with five recorded on CDs by Rob Parton’s JazzTech Big Band (Sea Breeze and ROPA JAZZ). His scores for independent films have screened across the U.S. and in Italy, Macedonia, Uganda, Australia, Colombia, India, Germany, Brazil, Hong Kong, Mexico, Israel, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom.

A Bach/Selmer trombone clinician, Mr. García serves as the jazz clinician for The Conn-Selmer Institute. He has freelanced as trombonist, bass trombonist, or pianist with over 70 nationally renowned artists, including Ella Fitzgerald, George Shearing, Mel Tormé, Doc Severinsen, Louie Bellson, Dave Brubeck, and Phil Collins—and has performed at the Montreux, Nice, North Sea, Pori (Finland), New Orleans, and Chicago Jazz Festivals. He has produced recordings or broadcasts of such artists as Wynton Marsalis, Jim Pugh, Dave Taylor, Susannah McCorkle, Sir Roland Hanna, and the JazzTech Big Band and is the bass trombonist on Phil Collins’ CD “A Hot Night in Paris” (Atlantic) and DVD “Phil Collins: Finally...The First Farewell Tour” (Warner Music). An avid scat-singer, he has performed vocally with jazz bands, jazz choirs, and computer-generated sounds. He is also a member of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS). A New Orleans native, he also performed there with such local artists as Pete Fountain, Ronnie Kole, Irma Thomas, and Al Hirt.

Mr. García is a Research Faculty member at The University of KwaZulu-Natal (Durban, South Africa) and the Associate Jazz Editor of the International Trombone Association Journal. He serves as a Network Expert (for Improvisation Materials) for the Jazz Education Network and has served as President’s Advisory Council member and Editorial Advisory Board member. His newest book, Jazz Improvisation: Practical Approaches to Grading (Meredith Music), explores avenues for creating structures that correspond to course objectives. His book Cutting the Changes: Jazz Improvisation via Key Centers (Kjos Music) offers musicians of all ages the opportunity to improvise over standard tunes using just their major scales. He is Co-Editor and Contributing Author of Teaching Jazz: A Course of Study (published by NAfME) and authored a chapter within The Jazzer’s Cookbook (published by Meredith Music). Within the International Association for Jazz Education he served as Editor of the Jazz Education Journal, President of IAJE-IL, International Co-Chair for Curriculum and for Vocal/Instrumental Integration, and Chicago Host Coordinator for the 1997 Conference. He served on the Illinois Coalition for Music Education coordinating committee, worked with the Illinois and Chicago Public Schools to develop standards for multi-cultural music education, and received a curricular grant from the Council for Basic Education. He has also served as Director of IMEA’s All-State Jazz Choir and Combo and of similar ensembles outside of Illinois. He is the recipient of the Illinois Music Educators Association’s 2001 Distinguished Service Award.

Regarding Jazz Improvisation: Practical Approaches to Grading, Darius Brubeck says, "How one grades turns out to be a contentious philosophical problem with a surprisingly wide spectrum of responses. García has produced a lucidly written, probing, analytical, and ultimately practical resource for professional jazz educators, replete with valuable ideas, advice, and copious references." Jamey Aebersold offers, "This book should be mandatory reading for all graduating music ed students." Janis Stockhouse states, "Groundbreaking. The comprehensive amount of material García has gathered from leaders in jazz education is impressive in itself. Plus, the veteran educator then presents his own synthesis of the material into a method of teaching and evaluating jazz improvisation that is fresh, practical, and inspiring!" And Dr. Ron McCurdy suggests, "This method will aid in the quality of teaching and learning of jazz improvisation worldwide."

About Cutting the Changes, saxophonist David Liebman states, “This book is perfect for the beginning to intermediate improviser who may be daunted by the multitude of chord changes found in most standard material. Here is a path through the technical chord-change jungle.” Says vocalist Sunny Wilkinson, “The concept is simple, the explanation detailed, the rewards immediate. It’s very singer-friendly.” Adds jazz-education legend Jamey Aebersold, “Tony’s wealth of jazz knowledge allows you to understand and apply his concepts without having to know a lot of theory and harmony. Cutting the Changes allows music educators to present jazz improvisation to many students who would normally be scared of trying.”

Of his jazz curricular work, Standard of Excellence states: “Antonio García has developed a series of Scope and Sequence of Instruction charts to provide a structure that will ensure academic integrity in jazz education.” Wynton Marsalis emphasizes: “Eight key categories meet the challenge of teaching what is historically an oral and aural tradition. All are important ingredients in the recipe.” The Chicago Tribune has highlighted García’s “splendid solos...virtuosity and musicianship...ingenious scoring...shrewd arrangements...exotic orchestral colors, witty riffs, and gloriously uninhibited splashes of dissonance...translucent textures and elegant voicing” and cited him as “a nationally noted jazz artist/ of the most prominent young music educators in the country.” Down Beat has recognized his “knowing solo work on trombone” and “first-class writing of special interest.” The Jazz Report has written about the “talented trombonist,” and Cadence noted his “hauntingly lovely” composing as well as CD production “recommended without any qualifications whatsoever.” Phil Collins has said simply, “He can be in my band whenever he wants.” García is also the subject of an extensive interview within Bonanza: Insights and Wisdom from Professional Jazz Trombonists (Advance Music), profiled along with such artists as Bill Watrous, Mike Davis, Bill Reichenbach, Wayne Andre, John Fedchock, Conrad Herwig, Steve Turre, Jim Pugh, and Ed Neumeister.

The Secretary of the Board of The Midwest Clinic and an Advisory Board member of the Brubeck Institute, Mr. García has adjudicated festivals and presented clinics in Canada, Europe, Australia, The Middle East, and South Africa, including creativity workshops for Motorola, Inc.’s international management executives. The partnership he created between VCU Jazz and the Centre for Jazz and Popular Music at the University of KwaZulu-Natal merited the 2013 VCU Community Engagement Award for Research. He has served as adjudicator for the International Trombone Association’s Frank Rosolino, Carl Fontana, and Rath Jazz Trombone Scholarship competitions and the Kai Winding Jazz Trombone Ensemble competition and has been asked to serve on Arts Midwest’s “Midwest Jazz Masters” panel and the Virginia Commission for the Arts “Artist Fellowship in Music Composition” panel. He has been repeatedly published in Down Beat; JAZZed; Jazz Improv; Music, Inc.; The International Musician; The Instrumentalist; and the journals of NAfME, IAJE, ITA, American Orff-Schulwerk Association, Percussive Arts Society, Arts Midwest, Illinois Music Educators Association, and Illinois Association of School Boards. Previous to VCU, he served as Associate Professor and Coordinator of Combos at Northwestern University, where he taught jazz and integrated arts, was Jazz Coordinator for the National High School Music Institute, and for four years directed the Vocal Jazz Ensemble. Formerly the Coordinator of Jazz Studies at Northern Illinois University, he was selected by students and faculty there as the recipient of a 1992 “Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching” award and nominated as its candidate for 1992 CASE “U.S. Professor of the Year” (one of 434 nationwide). He was recipient of the VCU School of the Arts’ 2015 Faculty Award of Excellence for his teaching, research, and service. Visit his web site at <>.


| Top |

If you entered this page via a search engine and would like to visit more of this site, please click | Home |.

For further information on School Band and Orchestra, as well as on the resources referenced above, see Selected Links.