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Take the ‘A’ Train

Springfield resident balances law, jazz music.

Throughout his law career, Stan Hamrick always felt a musical calling. A bass player, he heeded that calling several years ago and began taking music lessons, working on a Master’s at the University of Maryland’s jazz studies program. He is a member of the Potomac Jazz Project, a local jazz quartet that is releasing a CD soon. Recently, Hamrick sat down and answered some questions about himself and about juggling careers in music and law.

How long have you lived in the area and what brought you here? I moved to the Virginia area in 1991. The bar review company I was working for in Boston asked me to move and manage their D.C. office. I was in Boston for four or five years before that. I’m originally from Charlottesville.

Family: I’m married to Patricia Najera. She is from Mexico; she works at the Pan-American Health Organization, which is an arm of the United Nations. In fact, this week she’s in Puerto Rico helping them with some health-related geographic project. My daughter by my first marriage is 16, her name is Blair and she lives about five miles from here. She’s very active at South County High School.

Education: I went to law school at William & Mary in Williamsburg, and graduated in 1982. I went to University of Virginia undergrad, history major, 1979.

Activities/interests/hobbies: My main hobbies are juggling my business and my music, trying to walk my dog occasionally for diversion and exercise, and playing taxicab driver to my daughter until she gets her driver’s license.

Describe The Study Group. The bar review business, which is what I’m in, puts together and delivers study courses tp people taking the bar exams, to become lawyers. From 1985-1995, I did that for another company based in Boston. They sold out in 1995, and I started the Study Group which I started mainly because I thought that most of the bar reviews that existed at that time did not do a good job of catering to students who had families or were working and couldn’t go to regular study classes. So we began with the concept of delivering audiotape lectures and books and schedules to students so they could do them at their own time and pace. The demand was good; we’ve grown so now that we don’t deliver on audiocassette anymore, we deliver on CDs and iPods.

How did you get into music? It’s always been there. I played in orchestra and jazz band in high school, orchestra and jazz band in college, in fact the college choice was between going to James Madison and majoring in music or going to UVA and majoring in history. At that point I went to UVA to be safe but it’s always been there. I think when I started turning 40 or 45 I said, "You know, if I don’t start listening to this little bug I’ve got and doing something about it, I’ll be 70 or 80 years old and really regret it." I started playing again a little bit about eight or 10 years ago, and about two or three years ago I got more serious about it. Fortunately, business was good enough that I could back off — I’ve got other people to do a lot of the day-to-day management for me now — and so I’ve started taking music lessons, starting my own band and ultimately re-enrolling in the University of Maryland jazz studies program.

Favorite place to hang out in the community: Huntsman Square Shopping Center. They have a Starbucks, that’s where I get my business mail, there’s a bank, a Giant. It’s a nice Starbucks, with outside tables and everything. Either that or my deck, throwing a tennis ball for my dog.

How did the Potomac Jazz Project get started? It got started when I got tired of playing in my basement. I decided I had the time and energy and experience at that point, having played around a little bit, to start something I thought would also fill a need in the area. The more I got to know the music in the D.C. area, the more I realized there was a market for a good jazz group for clubs, corporate functions and weddings. There are several good jazz groups here, but they tend to be either club-only or tend to be variety bands for weddings. I thought, "Let’s just focus on jazz."

Community concerns: I wish people would slow down on the roads. I just read yesterday that we’re like the fifth worst in the country for road rage. I’m biased, because I don’t have to face the traffic like a lot of people because I do work out of the home, but when I go out at rush hour I think, "More people should work at home."

Memorable experience playing with the band: We did a wedding a couple weeks ago at the Strathmore Music Center up in Maryland. It was a small wedding, probably about 60-70 people at the wedding, but by the time the last set came it was so much fun and they were dancing. For a jazz band, we were really rocking out, playing more jazz-rock songs like "Chameleon" … we try to bring fun to it; as one of my teachers at University of Maryland says, "If it’s not fun, why are we doing it?"

Musical influences: Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis. Those are probably three of the biggest … really classic, straight-ahead jazz from the ‘50s and ‘60s.

When you were younger, what did you want to be when you "grew up?" Most of the time I wanted to be a musician.

What’s on your car radio? Sirius satellite radio channel 72, the classic jazz station.

How does music resonate with you? To me, it is a way out of the black-and-white of every day, and a way to explore and be artistic — for someone who can’t dance or draw. That’s what I like about jazz. In jazz music, there is the framework of the song, but within the framework there’s a lot of freedom and communication between the musicians about what to actually do with it this time. You can hear us play one song one night and the same song a week later, and you know it’s the same song, but it will be different.

Personal goals: I’d like to win a WAMMIE. That would be nice. And play at Blues Alley.

— Lea Mae Rice