University Director of Jazz Performance John D'earth decided to drop out of Harvard on a Sunday in 1972.
In a New York City loft above King Pork Packer's on the corner of 9th Avenue and 13th Street, the saxophonist David Liebman played "Willow Weep for Me" for D'earth in the morning, the brassy tones drowning out the city chatter. Later that afternoon, D'earth heard his longtime friend and percussion professor Robert Jospé and Grammy-winning saxophonist Michael Brecker playing songs off the Coltrane album "Impressions."
"I could not believe what I was hearing," D'earth said.
This was the jazz scene of New York in the 70's — collaborative, evolving and raw. A jam session among friends in a loft could be the breeding ground for nationally-renowned musicians. While he loved studying English literature in college, D'earth — an insatiable listener and trumpet performer — needed to be here.
Now, in 2018, Charlottesville is his post. Continuing his musical career — still technically on a leave of absence from Harvard, he jokes — D'earth is the University's Jazz Ensemble Director. Outside of the University, D'earth seems to be entrenched in every aspect of the Charlottesville jazz scene. He is the co-founder of the Free Bridge Quintet, a co-founder of the Precognitive Conservatory Orchestra, director of the Charlottesville Swing Orchestra and a local favorite to watch perform at Miller's on the Downtown Mall on Thursday nights. During the Concert for Charlottesville, he shared the stage with the Dave Matthews Band and features Dave Matthews on his "Mercury" album.
However, he does not stay here for the applause he receives at the end of every performance.
He agrees to meet with me outside of Old Cabell Hall. Although his concert call time is quickly approaching, he never checks his phone or watch. Performers roll in sound equipment as we talk for an hour. During our conversation, he stops to say hello to four music students and professors he knows walking past. Jazz is truly the "social art" he described to me.
"Charlottesville is a really rich musical community and its got a really great jazz community, jazz appreciation, jazz musicians, jazz studies," D'earth said. "It's a musical place, and I feel as though my biggest interest in life is to make a difference to something. I think there's bad times coming in this country, like very bad times ahead."
But D'earth says that jazz has something to teach all of us about confronting bad times — if we are brave enough to listen.