Memorial concert honors professor’s life, legacy through music

By Nicole O’Neill

Lively jazz music filled Dekelboum Concert Hall at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on Sunday for Chris Vadala’s memorial concert. 

A memorial concert was held in honor of Vadala, jazz musician and professor at the University of Maryland School of Music. Vadala was a professor and jazz studies director at this university for 25 years before he died from cancer in January.

“I like jazz, but I didn’t think how much until today,” Sheilah Belkin, a fan of Vadala’s, said. “I’ll tell you I’m trying not to cry.” 

The concert hall was full of Vadala’s colleagues, friends, fans and former students who came to celebrate his life and legacy in the jazz world. 

 “You can see by the amount of people here, the amount of people who came back to play, the kind of person he was and the meaning he had to the community and all the lives he touched,” senior music education major Keegan Couse said. Vadala taught Couse, who plays the saxophone in the university jazz ensemble.

Tim Powell, artistic director and interim jazz studies director, helped organize the event for his long time colleague and friend. Powell knew Vadala for 25 years, and said it was a group effort within the School of Music to put the concert together. 

Each song in the program had a special purpose. Some songs were favorites of Vadala, according to Powell, while others were songs he performed when he toured, songs Vadala arranged himself and songs arranged by close friends.

Allen Vizutti, a jazz musician and friend of Vadala’s for over 50 years, made a special guest appearance. He played the trumpet and created a few of the arrangements in the program. Vizutti and Vadala often performed together and had a passion for jazz education.

A variety of other performers gathered to play at the concert: jazz professors, the jazz ensemble, the Chris Vadala All-Star Alumni Band and a final performance by the alumni jazz band. Each group performed a unique set of songs, many of which were energetic and upbeat. 

The concert ended with a rousing standing ovation and loud cheers. Some audience members stayed behind after the performance and discussed their favorite memories of Vadala.

“He was one of the most supportive teachers I ever had,” Vadala’s former student Alix Gilbert said. “He always looked out for me and made an effort to make me feel included.” 

The concert also promoted a merit-based scholarship to future students studying jazz in the School of Music: the “Chris Vadala Endowed Scholarship for Jazz.” The school is working with Vadala’s wife, Kathy, to establish the scholarship. Once funds in the account for the scholarship reach the minimum amount, the fund will be endowed. Donations to the endowment can be made by check, online, or by contacting David Robinson-Slemp. 

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