Jazz4Justice and School Partnerships Are a Case Of “Win/Win”

by Ed Weiner, Jim Carroll, Antonio Garcia & Shannon Gunn

Jazz4Justice – you’ve heard the name. What’s it all about?

Jazz4Justice is a 501(c)3 non-profit that creates partnerships between the law community and Universities to convert a regularly scheduled concert into a fundraiser. More than just raising money, Jazz4Justice is a great audience development tool. Additionally, it increases awareness for the need to support Pro Bono and Legal Aid programs. Finally, it educates students on the link between jazz and social justice.

How did it begin?

Jazz4Justice is the brainchild of Past President of the Virginia State Bar, attorney Edward L. Weiner. While attending a Jazz concert by the George Mason University School of Music in 2001, Ed was very impressed by the music, but distressed by the small audience. “I was just getting the jazz program going here… the jazz ensemble was low on fans, but not on spirit,” states Jim Carroll, founder of the Mason Jazz program. Ed saw an opportunity for the Fairfax Bar Association and its charitable arm, the Fairfax Law Foundation, to partner with George Mason University to benefit Mason’s jazz program and Bar Association’s pro bono legal initiatives. The first Annual Jazz4Justice Concert was held in November 2002. Since then more than 40 Annual J4J Concerts raising over $350,000 have been organized across Virginia. Funds are raised through sponsorships from the local legal and business communities, as well as from ticket sales. Proceeds are shared to support music scholarships and access to justice programs within the local community.

Why would I want to do a Jazz4Justice Program?

Aside from the fundraising, Jazz4Justice offers an opportunity for students to learn a priceless lesson. “The students learn firsthand how they can participate in the community and touch others in a substantive way,” states Jim Carroll, now in his 17th year of Jazz4Justice concerts. The jazz ensembles often perform to a packed house, raising funds for pro bono law programs such as alcohol and substance abuse education programs, legal assistance for veterans, domestic violence victims, tenant landlord disputes, and many other community and legal services offered by the local Bar Foundations and Legal Aid services.

“Justice for all is a never-ending quest, and pro bono legal work is a critical part of that journey. While many genres could be a match, jazz is ideal because of its ongoing link to social justice in particular,” states Antonio Garcia, Director of Jazz Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), now in their fourth year of Jazz4Justice concerts.

One of the most touching stories was from a recent Jazz4Justice concert at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. After the concert, two students approached Ed and said, “Mr. Weiner, we really appreciate this opportunity to perform for Jazz4Justice. We’d like to donate to the cause.” They handed him $25 cash. They “got it.”

Fundraising at the University level can have its challenges. Jazz4Justice opens the doors for new sponsors, attracting individuals and companies with a focus on social justice and a love of the music. In addition to new benefactors, the program helps to bridge the gap between the University and the community. It also raises the importance of Jazz Education to school music administrators. In the words of Jim Carroll, “Jazz4Justice brings Justice4Jazz.”

Jazz4Justice has now spread to eight Universities across Virginia, with two more in the works. Each University and local law organization have added their own unique voice to the program, which has helped the program blossom. Kelly Rossum, Associate Professor and Jazz Ensemble Director at Christopher Newport University, suggests “treating Jazz4Justice like a lead sheet with each of us adding our own improvisations.” Jazz4Justice is approaching its fifth year of annual concerts at CNU.

Why do we do this?

Jazz4Justice is truly a unique event. Attorneys, judges, students, and community members gather in a friendly environment where Jazz admirers can congregate and celebrate their love for the music. In addition to fabulous music and sponsorships, many Jazz4Justice concerts have included:

  • Post-concert Jam Session, where the public is encouraged to bring their instruments to join the “pros”
  • Local celebrity Guest Conductor, such as a Mayor or the local favorite meteorologist
  • J4J merchandise for the band

“A goal of our jazz program at large is to educate our students that being an artist is more than simply gathering attractive notes of music. As a performer or composer, you have to find your voice; you have to have something to say. And, if in the minority view, you must be willing to pay the price for what you’ve said.” – Antonio Garcia

Jazz4Justice gives students the opportunity to grow as citizens and artists within their community.

Jazz4Justice Foundation is looking to expand beyond Virginia. Please visit www.jazz4justice.com for more information, or contact Shannon Gunn, Program Manager at sgunn@jazz4justice.com or Ed Weiner, Founder, at (703) 273-9500 for more information.

Edward L. Weiner, Esq.: Edward “Ed” L. Weiner is the founding partner of Weiner, Spivey & Miller, PLC, and a Past President of the Virginia State Bar. He has over 35 years of proven successful performance representing plaintiffs who have been seriously injured, and focuses his practice on personal injury and medical malpractice.

James Carroll (Professor of Jazz Studies | Director of Met Jazz | George Mason University): Professor Jim Carroll has a versatile background ranging from tours with Michael Jackson to Woody Herman and The Thundering Herd. He is passionate about spreading the word of the power of the arts to bring people together, change lives and do good in the world.

Antonio Garcia (Director of Jazz Studies, Virginia Commonwealth University): Antonio García is an instrumental and vocal performer and composer. The Director of Jazz Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, he has performed with Ella Fitzgerald, Dave Brubeck, and Phil Collins. Tony is a Bach/Selmer trombone clinician, Associate Jazz Editor for the International Trombone Association Journal, Board Secretary of The Midwest Clinic, and Advisory Board Member of the Brubeck Institute.

Shannon Gunn: In addition to acting as Program Manager for Jazz4Justice, Shannon also runs DC’s premiere all-women jazz orchestra, “Shannon Gunn and the Bullettes,” including successful performances at the Kennedy Center, Castleton Theatre House, DC Jazz Festival, and more.