On Saturday, October 9, the LA Music Academy (LAMA) hosted the Fifth Annual An Evening for the Station, which netted $85,000 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. Actor Hector Elizondo served as the Master of Ceremonies (and sang and played congas) for an incredible lineup that included superstar singer Al Jarreau; the popular jazz group Yellowjackets; actor/pianist Jeff Goldblum; vocalists Kevyn Lettau, Jean Baylor, and The Perri Sisters; and acoustic/electric bassist Dean Taba.
In the world of charity fundraising, if 50% of every dollar raised goes directly to the charity the event is considered a success. Amazingly, An Evening for the Station turns over an incredible 88% of every dollar directly to support Union Station’s programs and services.
The musical theme for this year’s event was “Jazz Standards – And Not So Standard Jazz.” Russell Ferrante, Co-Producer of Saturday’s concert said, “Al Jarreau was a perfect choice for this event because he’s just released his own CD of jazz standards. He has this ability to reach out and connect with audiences – his spirit of generosity and giving touches everyone. One of the most poignant moments was when he spoke about the importance of helping those in need. His connection to the homeless and people on the margins comes from his early experiences as a social worker in Milwaukee and San Francisco. In performance, Al was wholly engaged and inspiring to everyone onstage. He was our musical mentor.”
Along with Ferrante, Michael Shapiro, the Education Director and Percussion Instructor at LAMA, helped line up the talent for the show. “I learned about Union Station several years ago because the agency is located one block west 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 six 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 LA 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 many of the tickets by word-of-mouth. More than 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 students from the music school was transformed into a colorful fairy-tale setting for the reception and silent auction.
From the Perri sisters’ gospel-oriented sound to instrumental jazz by Yellowjackets, from offbeat jazz by actors Goldblum and Elizondo to dynamic vocal duets between Jarreau, Lettau, and Baylor, the audience was taken on a musical journey spanning the generations and genres of the performers.
“I’m constantly amazed at the power of music to move and uplift people and bring them together,” said Ferrante. Many of the musicians have known each other for more than 20 years, and performing at this event brings the bond between us even closer. The Yellowjackets recorded with the Perri sisters in 1984; I recorded with Jarreau in the mid-80s, and Jimmy Haslip was in Al’s touring band in the early to mid-80s. Al mentored Kevyn Lettau early in her career, too.”
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.
Following the concert, Yellowjackets bassist Jimmy Haslip commented, “It was a joyous occasion for a wonderful cause…it was a treat to join in and support this incredible organization, to salute their hard work and passion for the community. It was truly inspiring and heartfelt.”
“Who would have guessed 32 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 some 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 worked tirelessly for months preparing for this day. We are so grateful!”
What is unique about the group of musicians who performed on Saturday 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. Four 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 Elizondo and Goldblum, despite their busy acting schedules, have been involved with the event since its inception.
“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 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 their clients to transform their lives by becoming productive, stable, and self-supporting citizens. Every year, over 144,000 meals are served and 25,000 nights of shelter are provided to men, women, and families. 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 626.240.4557.
The LA 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.