On a Sunday night in January 2018, Jason Arce (BM ’07) was in Los Angeles for the last night of the National Association of Music Merchants annual conference. Across the country in New York City, the 60th Grammy Awards were just getting started.
Nearly three years had passed since Arce, a saxophonist, had recorded with Cece Winans for her album Let Them Fall in Love, which was up for Best Gospel Album. After so much time, Arce wasn’t prepared for the phone call from one of the album’s arranger, letting him know they had won.
“I thought I was getting pranked for a second,” he says. “I never thought I would actually have one. But it was very real.”
Surprise or not, the award was a fitting high note after a decade of constant hustling, from recording sessions and private corporate performances to jazz, pop, funk and classical gigs.
“It keeps it interesting because it’s rare that I do the same gig for more than a week or two at a time,” he says.
Arce says his first gig in New York happened shortly after he graduated from VCUarts and enrolled in graduate school at New York University. One day, Weezer called the school looking for a few horn players for a gig that night. Arce was in the right place at the right time.
Since then, he’s worked with artists like Adele and Joe Jonas. He landed the spot on Winans’ album when his friend Philip Lassiter, who arranged all of the horns and strings on the album, called him into the session.
Arce is currently prepping to go on tour with producer and songwriter Devonté Hynes, who performs under the name Blood Orange. The first leg wraps at The National in Richmond; then, after a short break, they’ll head to California for Coachella and spend the month of May opening for Florence and the Machine.
In the meantime, Arce is also writing his own music in hopes of releasing an album.
“It’s not easy,” he says about juggling gigs, tours, and his own work. “Your brain is everywhere but your own stuff, because you’re just trying to balance everything. You’ve got to wear a lot of hats up here.”
Arce isn’t the first VCUarts alumnus to receive a Grammy Award. He joins Michael Congdon (BM ’05), and Dustin Faltz (BM ’07), who produced Chris Brown’s “Deuces,” which is featured on the album F.A.M.E. “Deuces” was nominated for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration in 2011, and F.A.M.E. won Best R&B Album. Reggie Pace also won a Grammy for performing on a 2011 release by Bon Iver that won the Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album.