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  • Writer's picturePenny Neef

Jazz in a Physically Distant World

Updated: Dec 5, 2020

Words by Penny Neef. Images courtesy of the Virginia Arts Festival.

The Virginia Arts Festival’s Fall Arts Celebration Concerts are sold out. Tickets were very limited. There are COVID restrictions and COVID precautions, but the swift sale of tickets for this concert series in the Courtyard behind the VAF headquarters on Bank Street also demonstrates some things – 

  1. VAF has a loyal fan base who love and appreciate what they do for our community.

  2. People are starved for live music.

  3. We should celebrate (with precautions) the tiny baby steps towards normalcy.

  4. We (maybe just me?) need to realize that life as we used to know it may never return. (Ed. note- I don’t think it’s just you, Penny!)

  5. Human beings are capable of great creativity, flexibility and beauty when backed into a Covid corner.

  6. Music and the arts are something we can’t live without.

I spoke with John Toomey last week. Toomey is the lead in the John Toomey Quartet, playing this Saturday, October 3 in the Outdoor Courtyard at 440 Bank Street behind the Clay & Jay Barr Education Center of the VAF.

Toomey also curates, directs and performs at the VAF’s Attucks Jazz Club, upstairs in the historic Attucks Theatre and is a Professor of Music at ODU.

Toomey is unfazed about performing outdoors. “If the weather is cooperative and there is a good sound system, it will be great.” He should know. He’s performed outdoors at the Newport Jazz Festival with Maynard Ferguson and other big outdoor jazz festivals around the world.

Toomey prefers the intimacy of a “small” venue, like the upstairs room at the Attucks Theatre. That room holds 130 people. The Outdoor Courtyard will be limited to about 50 people, who will be spread out in socially distant groups. 

A view of the stage for the Fall Music Celebration, You can see the audience seated in a socially distant manner in the mid-ground.

On a side note, and my own personal rant: I prefer the term physically distant. We are social beings. Circumstances dictate a minimum of 6 feet between us, but we can still be social. Attending a live concert together is a social event, even if the audience is limited and we’re sitting far apart. We’re sharing the experience. That experience on Saturday will be jazz.

Toomey will be on piano. His great friends and fellow musicians Jimmy Masters on bass, Brian Caputo on drums, and Eddie Williams on sax make up the John Toomey Quartet. Toomey says there will be some standards and some “unique pieces”.

These men are seasoned musicians and have played together many times. They don’t need much rehearsal. “The nature of jazz is improvisation. We can improvise while we’re 6 feet apart.”

Keep an eye on the VAF’s website. They are working hard to keep the arts alive, in a physically distant and safe way, in Hampton Roads. 

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