On Sunday, August 10, 2003, the Los Angeles Music Academy (LAMA) hosted the fourth annual An Evening for the Station, which netted $75,000 for Union Station Foundation, one of the largest private agencies serving the poor and homeless in the West San Gabriel Valley and Greater Los Angeles. Adam Arkin served as the Master of Ceremonies for an incredible lineup that included the jazz fusion group the Yellowjackets, actor and pianist Jeff Goldblum, actor and percussionist Hector Elizondo, vocalists Kevyn Lettau and the Perri Sisters, Brazilian guitarist and composer Dori Caymmi, bassist Jerry Watts, Jr. and drummer Michael Shapiro.
Michael Shapiro is the producer of Sunday’s concert, the Education Director at LAMA, a percussion instructor and the figure largely responsible for bringing all of the talent together. “I learned about Union Station several years ago because the agency is located one block east of LAMA,” said Shapiro. “Gerry Puhara, a close friend of mine, is a member of Union Station’s Board of Directors and has spoken so highly of the agency and its remarkable ability to help those in need. I remember an afternoon about five years ago when I watched the Union Station van drive by full of folks. I realized then that as a musician, I had something important to offer. And so did my colleagues at the Los Angeles Music Academy. And my wonderfully charming and talented friends in Hollywood. I recruited Gerry to serve as the Chair of the event. She jumped on board, enlisted the support of her friends and as the saying goes, the rest is history. What seemed at first an unlikely partnership has become a match made in heaven.”
An Evening for the Station sold nearly all of the tickets by word-of-mouth alone. Almost half of the guests sponsored the event, ensuring their early reservations and helping to raise more money for Union Station. With a seating capacity of 175, the performance hall at LAMA provides the musicians the rare opportunity of creating music in a relaxed and familiar setting. The courtyard, usually a break-time hangout for the students from the music school, was transformed into an intimate setting for the reception and silent auction.
From gospel to jazz to a dynamic duet, the audience was taken on a musical journey spanning the many genres of the performers. “As musicians, our talent is what we have to offer,” said Russell Ferrante, keyboardist extraordinaire for the Yellowjackets. “I am just grateful that we were able to solicit sponsors, sell tickets, entertain the audience with our music and donate the proceeds to Union Station. The personal fulfillment that we all get out of doing this annual benefit goes far beyond the reward of getting paid to play a show.”
Even for those who regularly attend Hollywood-type affairs, the line-up of talent in such a small venue was worth getting star-struck over for many of the guests. And the relaxed environment that brought all of the performers out to mingle following the concert was a treat for everyone. In fact, it is the intimate nature of the event and the incredible music that flows from the stage that keeps the guests – and the musicians – coming back year after year. At one point Adam Arkin shared the stage with Hector Elizondo and Jeff Goldblum. Although they are all well known for their acting talent, the three surprised the audience as multi-faceted performers and accomplished musicians as well. Internationally acclaimed vocalist Kevyn Lettau was joined by the powerhouse sister-act, the Perri Sisters, with Michael Shapiro and Jerry Watts providing the accompaniment that had the audience clapping and singing along. The Yellowjackets including Russell Ferrante (keyboards), Jimmy Haslip (bass), Bob Mintzer (saxophone) and Marcus Baylor (drums) performed an unforgettable set of jazz-fusion, for which they are known throughout the world. During intermission Haslip commented, “We just got back from playing at the San Jose Jazz Festival last night. We are tired from being on the road, but there is nothing more rejuvenating than coming home and playing at a benefit show for Union Station filled with an audience of friends.”
“Who would have guessed 30 years ago when Union Station was a small drop-in center serving coffee and donuts that a benefit concert to support our efforts would draw a line-up of some of the most talented musicians in the world and three of Hollywood’s best-loved actors,” said Union Station’s Executive Director Marvin Gross before the concert finale. “We are so fortunate to have such an outstanding level of commitment from these fabulous musicians and actors. And the event committee, Co-Chaired by Gerry Puhara (Russell Ferrante’s wife) and Jennifer Essen has worked tirelessly for months preparing for this day. We are so grateful!
What is unique about the group of musicians who performed on Sunday is that they remain involved with Union Station throughout the year. LAMA is one of Union Station’s volunteer “Adopt-A-Meal” groups, which sponsor, prepare and serve dinner once a month to their shelter residents. Two years ago, Jimmy Haslip produced a compilation CD titled Junction. The CD is sold on The Yellowjackets website and 100% of the proceeds are donated to Union Station. And despite the busy acting schedules of Arkin, Elizondo and Goldblum, all three have been involved with the event since its inception.
Back at Union Station on Monday morning, it’s business as usual as case managers work with their clients to help them find affordable housing, enroll in classes at the local community college or make sure they regularly attend their career development and job training classes. “I have a great respect for the work Union Station does,” said Ferrante. “The folks they serve are no different than you or I – they just happen to be down on their luck. I know I speak for all of the performers when I say that we are personally rewarded to be a part of this event. If the money raised from this concert helps to save even a single life, then all of the hard work that is put into the event pays off.”
Union Station Foundation, now celebrating its 30th Anniversary year, is a model organization dedicated to meeting the needs of the poor and homeless in the San Gabriel Valley and Greater Los Angeles. Union Station assists its clients to transform their lives by becoming productive, stable and self-supporting citizens. Every year, over 125,000 meals are served and 21,000 nights of shelter are provided to men, women and children. Union Station also provides extensive supportive services to help its clients and future generations permanently escape the cycle of homelessness. For additional information, please visit the agency’s website at www.unionstationhs.org or call 626.449.4596.
The Los Angeles Music Academy is dedicated to providing an excellent, unique and personalized music-performance education, enabling graduate musicians to perform at the top level in a wide variety of professional, competitive and challenging musical environments. For further information about their curriculum and classes, please visit their website at www.lamusicacademy.com or call 626.568.8850.