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UTA faculty, students, alumni featured on new Patti LaBelle album

Legendary entertainer Patti LaBelle’s new album is a perfect mix of holiday cheer and UTA Maverick spirit.

More than a dozen faculty members, students and alumni from The University of Texas at Arlington are featured on “Patti LaBelle and Friends – Home for the Holidays,” which will be released Nov. 24.

Jamar Jones, a lecturer of music industry studies at UTA and an alumnus, produced the 14-song album and appears as a pianist on one of the tracks. An acclaimed jazz musician, composer and arranger, Jones has produced a previous album for LaBelle. “Bel Homage,” released in March 2017, was the Grammy-winning artist’s first record in almost a decade.

When LaBelle approached Jones about “Home for the Holidays,” he immediately knew he would involve UTA’s faculty and students.

“Patti and I wanted to create an album full of great moments and I brought in the right people to help us achieve that,” Jones explained.

Nine members of UTA’s RISE a capella co-ed student group are featured on “Christmas Time is Here.”

Dan Cavanagh, director of UTA’s music industry studies program and an associate professor of music, arranged “My Favorite Things,” “Let it Snow,” “The Christmas Song,” “Mary, Did You Know?” and “Brazilian Sleigh Bells.” Jones is featured on “My Favorite Things” and “Brazilian Sleigh Bells.”

Jamar Jones, a lecturer of music industry studies at UTA and an alumnus, produced “Patti LaBelle and Friends – Home for the Holidays," which features more than a dozen students, faculty and alumni.

Cavanagh leads the American Jazz Composers Orchestra, a performance group based in Arlington with a large number of UTA faculty and alumni as members.

The songs arranged by Cavanagh also feature Tim Ishii, professor of music; Mike Morrison, adjunct professor of saxophone; and Chris Milyo, a master’s student in jazz studies, on saxophone. Joaquim Toftgard, adjunct professor of trombone and UTA alumnus Mark Thomas are on trombone and UTA alumnus Ken Edwards is on trumpet.

“Our students, alumni and faculty being showcased in this way absolutely shows the power of academia and our ability to cultivate a pipeline of talent,” Cavanagh said.  “What a great way to show the world what you get when you come to UTA.”

Cavanagh and Jones said this opportunity elevates the already strong music industry studies program in UTA’s College of Liberal Arts. Several students who were not directly involved in the production were invited to observe the recording sessions.

“For students to see the professional pace and environment gives them real insight into the industry,” Cavanagh said. “It is quite different than me lecturing about it in an academic setting.”

Members of RISE a cappella recorded their vocals on the UTA campus. The horns were recorded at a church in Irving.

“Clearly the talents and expertise of our faculty, staff, alumni and students is remarkable. Even a legend like Patti LaBelle has noticed,” College of Liberal Arts Dean Elisabeth Cawthon said. “This is a phenomenal example of UTA’s Strategic Plan 2020 Bold Solutions|Global Impact at work in the College of Liberal Arts. The plan challenges us to transform the student experience by partnering with industry to ensure our students are equipped with skills and experiences that make them career and workforce ready.”

Senior Caleb Moore, founder of RISE a capella and a music media major, said Jones takes every opportunity to use his personal and professional experiences as teaching tools.

“That he is so actively involved in the entertainment industry helps us,” Moore said. “He is a wealth of knowledge. He is inspired and it is refreshing to be around someone who knows the industry so well – and it’s a difficult industry.”

“Everyone in RISE is obsessed with Patti LaBelle, so we could not believe we had this chance,” Moore added. “It sure is nice to have someone like Jamar Jones on your side.”

Aside from his work with LaBelle, Jones also has lent his talents as producer, arranger, composer and musician to stars such as Jamie Foxx, Rihanna, Eminem and Boys II Men. Jones performed at the White House in 2016 at former President Barack Obama’s final concert, which was broadcast on the BET Network.

On “Patti LaBelle and Friends – Home for the Holidays,” Jones also brought in former American Idol winner Ruben Studdard, R&B singer Vivian Green and gospel singer and actress Tamela Mann to collaborate with LaBelle.

“I do not ever take these moments for granted,” Jones said. “I think of myself as a bridge builder because I like to connect people. I am grateful I had a chance to connect my colleagues and students at UTA with this special Patti LaBelle project.”