Professor Doug Richards Retires After 39 Years at VCU

Professor Doug Richards

After nearly 40 incredible years, professor Doug Richards is retiring from VCU.

Richards joined the VCU faculty in 1979, and founded its Jazz Studies program in 1980. He is regarded as one of the finest jazz composers in the world, as well as a legendary educator and band leader. Richards is the recipient of VCU’s 1997 Outstanding Teaching Award and numerous grants from VCU toward the creation of musical works.

The Classicalite referred to Richards as “one of the most respected composers/arrangers you’ve never heard of” in their review of his 2016 album, “It’s All in the GAME.”

During his time at VCU, Richards has had an incredible impact on the lives of students and faculty alike.

“Doug Richards is the greatest educator I have ever known. He wields passion, honesty, and knowledge like no other. I am a better musician and better person for having had the privilege of learning from this living legend,” stated Pete Anderson, one of Richard’s former students.

Richard’s former students have performed and recorded with many of the world’s leading jazz organizations including the Count Basie Orchestra, the Ray Charles Orchestra, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra and the Village Vanguard Orchestra, as well as with groups led by such major figures as Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis, Horace Silver, Betty Carter, Abbey Lincoln, Cyrus Chestnut, Bill Evans, Chick Corea, Dave Holland, James Carter, the Brecker Brothers and many others.

Doug Richards directing one of VCU’s bands in 1999

Richards was hired by VCU in 1979 to teach music theory and lead the Department of Music’s two big bands, which were called “stage bands,” as well as VCU’s pep band. Not only did Richards lead the bands but he also wrote and arranged their music. In Richard’s first year at VCU, the caliber of the bands’ performances increased immensely. An interest to learn Richard’s knowledge of music composition and arrangement developed within the VCU Music student body, and that year Richards developed and taught the first “Jazz Arranging” course at VCU.  

“I think there was something like 45 to 50 students signed up, and by the second or third week of the semester I think we had gotten it down to about 6,” said Richards with a boisterous laugh, “they realized they were going to have to do some serious work.”

As student interest for a jazz studies program continued to grow, Richards gathered Richmond’s best local jazz musicians and after only one year at VCU, he developed VCU’s Jazz Studies program.

“We cobbled this program together essentially around what we were able to do,” said Richards. “We didn’t start off with this [jazz studies program] as an idea in mind…we were more concerned about creating an environment that had integrity and bore allegiance to the essence of the music.”

The VCU Music Jazz Studies program simply flourished from it’s start in 1980 and continues to do so today. VCU’s student jazz orchestras have been recognized for winning top honors in four appearances at the Notre Dame Intercollegiate Jazz Festival, appearing at the Smithsonian Institution and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage festivals, and producing eight acclaimed recordings.

Richards left the jazz studies program in 2000 and continued to coach various ensembles and teach a variety of VCU Music courses, including Jazz Arranging and Topics in Music: Bartok & Stravinsky.

“For me, these last 39 years [at VCU] have been one giant love-fest with beautiful music…how lucky we’ve all been to share in this wonderful art form that continually nourishes our souls,” said Richards.