NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – The Jazz at Lincoln Center and Virginia Arts Festival HBCU Jazz Residency kicked off Thursday.

For Vincent Gardener, it was bittersweet to be home. He fell in love with music here in Hampton Roads.

“It was in Hampton through the all-city jazz band that I really started to get my own connection to it,” Gardener said. “Once I started playing it. Once I started to get into jazz music, it was like, what have you been waiting for.”

Now, Gardener is one of the 15 players in the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra led by Wynton Marsalis, a nine-time Grammy-award winner.

Gardener and other band members help students around the country master their craft.

“We really hope that the student will understand how important this music is and how difficult it is and, because of its difficulty, how worth it is to put the time into it to become good at it,” said band member Sherman Irby.

The Artistic Director of the Virginia Arts Festival said it’s an opportunity he feels could change some students’ lives.

“To have the great jazz ensemble of the country to work with these young musicians is really an opportunity of the lifetime,” Rob Cross said. “It opens a whole new world for them.” 

The residency shines a spotlight on the talent at HBCUs, with two of our very own, Hampton University and Norfolk State University, in attendance.

“Jazz music was created by African Americans,” Gardener said. “It has those origins. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have as much of a stronghold within African American colleges and universities, HBCUs. This is an effort on both parts. HBCUs see the need to help strengthen their jazz programs and Jazz at Lincoln Center part to reach out and offer any responses they need.”

Friday morning, students got feedback working intimately with a Jazz at Lincoln Center band member. Students then asked away. They got a chance to question Wynton Marsalis about his career.

Gardener hopes this event will open opportunities for jazz musicians in Hampton Roads.

“It’s great to see this happening here,” Gardener said, “and to me, there was never enough investment in jazz music in this area, and it’s great that this seems to be a starting point.”

Saturday morning, 7 HBCU Jazz bands were adjudicated by Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra band members including Marsalis.

Central State University in Wilberforce was the first jazz ensemble to take the stage.

“It’s a learning experience, it sets things in to perspective. We’re young aspiring musicians all of our degrees are in music. So hopefully one day, we’ll be there,” said Kamille Austin a Junior from Ohio.

This is the first year for the HBCU Jazz Residency, Cross said the VA Arts Festival hopes to bring it back every other year.

Austin hopes more mentorship and networking opportunities like this are available in the future.

“I want to come back and learn more, as much as I can!”

Norfolk State University and Bennett College were selected to open for the Jazz at Lincoln Center is performing Saturday at 7:30p.m. at Chrysler Hall.

Tickets are available at VAFEST.ORG.