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Ayinde Williams and Drew Anderson Photo by Bevin Anderson
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A Richmond Youth Jazz Guild practice Photo by Bevin Anderson
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Ashby Anderson, founder and director of the Richmond Youth Jazz Guild Photo by Bevin Anderson
Ashby Anderson, director of the Richmond Youth Jazz Guild headquartered in Shockoe Bottom, has a lot to be proud of. Four of his star students have received full scholarships to attend a summer program at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
A Richmond native and Virginia Union University graduate, Anderson founded the Richmond Youth Jazz Guild in 2008. Its mission is to pass on jazz appreciation to a younger generation and provide music training and mentorship to children and teens from under-served communities. The group practices several times each week and is a member of the Berklee City Music Network.
Anderson has a strong track record of placing students in summer programs at the prestigious Berkelee College of Music, often on full scholarships. He says that one of the group's charter members received a full scholarship to pursue an undergraduate degree at the college and now plays jazz in Valencia, Spain.
At the time of our initial interview, Anderson talked about two of the students who had received scholarships: his son, Drew Anderson, and Ayinde Williams, both 15 and rising juniors at Open High School. Since then, he's learned that two additional students, 16-year-olds Morgan Burrs and Brandon Bowser, will be attending the Berklee College session. They'll be in the music program for five weeks, beginning July 6. While there, Drew and Ayinde will also participate in a high-level ensemble known as The Jazz Workshop, where they will record and study with Grammy-winning jazz artist Terri Lyne Carrington .
Before taking off for Boston, though, the young musicians will be playing in Richmond the next two Saturdays (June 22 and 29) with the jazz guild's Blue Note Ensemble. The free performances will take place from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the corner of 19th and East Main streets.
Anderson says that while Drew and Ayinde are equal in talent and age, they're two very different musicians.
"Ayinde is very quiet, and Drew is more loquacious," Anderson says. "[Ayinde] loves to learn as many new songs and melodies as he can get his hands on. Drew will sit down with a tune for a longer period of time. What makes them both successful is the constant work, time and honesty they put into their work."
Ayinde, who arrives at practice wearing a smart black suit, comes across like a slow, mellow jazz tune. He softly describes his endeavors as though they're ordinary. His foot jiggles instinctively up and down, evocative of how it controls the pedals on his piano. says that when he's not listening to jazz, he turns on classic soul artists like Earth, Wind, and Fire.
"You really have to listen," Ayinde says, offering advice to other young musicians. "That's very important so you don't come up with a false sense of what [the song] actually is. Look at, note for note, what the greats are playing."
Drew forms his sentences like a feverish jazz recording, verbally laying a diverse, intriguing foundation and waiting until the end to show his listener how the components interconnect. As he pontificates at length on the finer points of jazz and classical music, his trumpet never leaves his hand. He says he is amazed that "simple dots on a lined sheet of paper can turn into art."
"Some people get big-headed and ‘butcher' music," Drew says. "Then, you just have sound that doesn't have spirit. Each time you play a note, you hear how old it is. The horn itself is spiritual as well — it was blowing down the walls in Jericho."
The two students say that the Richmond Youth Jazz Guild has afforded them dream opportunities such as studying with and performing for jazz greats, including Wynton Marsalis, Trombone Shorty and Benny Green, and attending competitive summer programs like those at Berklee.
"We've [performed in] Charlottesville, Newport News and at CenterStage [in Richmond]," Ayinde says. "If I were just in the high school jazz band, I would have only been able to play at my school."
Ayinde neglects to mention one of the group's most exciting performances to date: this past February, the teens performed as part of the jazz guild's Blue Note Ensemble for former President Bill Clinton, a noted jazz enthusiast himself, at the Richmond Forum.
"A lot of practice went into [the performance at the Richmond Forum]," Ayinde says. "It was nice to play in front of so many high-class people."
But with any luck, Drew and Ayinde will perform for many more "high-class" crowds before they even graduate from high school.
"I aspire to be a performer and a producer and to help other artists as well," said Drew, who calls jazz a "superior" genre. "Wynton [Marsalis] told me one time, ‘First off, I already know you're going to get publicity, but are you going to be someone famous who doesn't [regularly perform]?'"
Ayinde, though, says he would not mind forgoing notoriety to follow in Ashby Anderson's footsteps.
"I want to go into music education; schools need music," he says. "I don't want to just be a performer, because not everyone makes it big time."
Drew, who notes that the Richmond Youth Jazz Guild is among the only outlets in Richmond that introduces young people to jazz music, also has sifted through the city's history to find a deeper jazz connection.
"People in New Orleans say that jazz started there in the 1850s," he says. "I recently found out that one of the slave ships in Richmond supplied African slaves to New Orleans. So, Richmond does have a connection to Louisiana jazz."
To find out more about the Richmond Youth Jazz Guild, visit richmondyouthjazzguild.musecreativeworkspace.com . Prices for instruction vary depending on the number of classes a student takes, and scholarships are available.
Registration for Anderson's intensive summer jazz camps is still open. Two-week sessions, $450 per session, run from July 8 until Aug. 1, and children ages 10 to 17 with experience in brass, woodwind, percussion, piano, bass, or guitar instruments are encouraged to apply .