Tuesday, July 12, 2016
Great music has great nutritional value for your brain and your soul.
Doug Richards found his passion for music as a boy when his father played a Glenn Miller record, which led him to explore a variety of musical genres. Inspired by artists such as Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Johann Sebastian Bach, he realized he wanted to make music.
“Great music has great nutritional value for your brain and your soul,” said Richards, now an orchestrator and professor of music at Virginia Commonwealth University. “I hear music in colors, which translate into timbres. I’m an explorer when it comes to music. It’s like telling a story, all great music is a narrative.”
In March, Richards released the long-overdue album “It’s All in the GAME,” which was recorded in 2001. Featuring renowned jazz artists such as René Marie, Jon Faddis and Joe Kennedy Jr. performing as the Great American Music Ensemble, or GAME, the album is rated in the top 50 jazz albums on the Roots Music Report. A Classicalite review of the album describes Richards as “one of the most respected composers/arrangers you’ve never heard of.”
Building the band
Richards came to VCU in 1979 after writing several compositions for the VCU Jazz Ensemble while teaching at Georgia State University and Georgia Tech.
“They liked what I’d written,” he said. “VCU gave me the opportunity to help create the Jazz Studies Program, which came about because of overwhelming student enthusiasm during my first year.”
GAME came together organically, Richards said. Marie was living in Richmond. Richards had previously worked with Faddis. Kennedy, one of the world’s leading jazz violinists and a close friend of Richards, had just moved back to Richmond after retiring from his faculty position at Virginia Tech.
“By the mid-’80s there were many outstanding jazz musicians in the Richmond area, most of them VCU jazz faculty, students and alumni,” Richards said. “Two of the community’s leading musicians came to me with [the] idea of putting together a professional big band. By the time we had our first rehearsal, we had already secured a one-night-a-week gig at the Richmond Hyatt.”
‘We were offering something quite unique’
In the early 1980s, Martin Williams, one of the world’s prominent jazz critics, visited VCU and heard the Jazz Orchestra. Impressed by the performance, Williams invited the orchestra to perform at the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks on two different occasions. Williams later invited GAME to perform at the Smithsonian and negotiated an annual concert series at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater, which ran for seven consecutive seasons.
“All of us in the band knew that we were offering something quite unique, and it needed to be recorded,” Richards said.
Various investors initially proposed deals to publish the album. But after four years with no signed contracts, Richards decided to redirect his career focus. That changed in 2015 when a friend convinced him to pursue a record deal and restart the project.
Up next for Richards, a well-deserved break.
“Right now, I’m taking a breather,” he said. “Putting this album out was quite an endeavor.”
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