Have you ever had one of those generational or cultural encounters that left you just shaking your head? So, I was out one day pumping gas in my neighborhood — which also happens to be in the hood —listening to one of my favorite jazz crooners, Little Jimmy Scott. A car comes up, bumping some indiscernible ratchet noise and a young black woman gets out of the car. She smiles, and I smile back. Then Jimmy lets fly one of his signature notes, which catches the attention of my young friend at the pump. I offer that it is one of my favorite jazz singers, and she scrunches up her nose in response.
All the while, her speakers have been spewing a diuretic stream of cuss words, misogynist themes and culturally debasing lyrics. It made me wonder: Why are so many young folks so removed from their own cultural roots.? Clearly, this young lady was intrigued by the purity she heard in Scott's voice but was put off by the genre, a genre that is steeped in her culture's historical contribution.
This is not a new phenomenon. I remember years ago playing some jazz in class and having a young black student ask, "What is that slave music?" And showing a documentary of jazz greats, in which Ray Charles gives an interview, when a young lady yells from the back of the class, "Isn't that the guy from the Pepsi commercials?"
How can you have a generation of British artists like Adele, Amy Winehouse and Joss Stone who hold historically black musicians in awe but here across the pond our own youth are clueless to their own musical history?
Some might argue that jazz is becoming a forgotten art form in a contemporary musical culture of radio stations playing the same 20 songs in heavy rotation every hour until you find yourself frothing at the mouth, fighting the urge to drive your car into a median yelling the latest Taylor Swift lyrics.
Well, two local budding musicians and jazz lovers Narcel Reedus and Iris Boyd have taken it upon themselves to create a space where folks can both learn and love jazz music.
Boyd is a flutist and lover of music. When asked about what inspired her to want to bring Jazz at Packard Place to life, she shares, "I think Stevie Wonder said, 'Music is the key of life' or I heard it somewhere. Jazz, traditional jazz, is an art form and you can interpret it how you please. Music brings people together no matter the culture. There are so many unknown artists in Charlotte, and we are exposing that talent at Jazz at Packard Place."
Reedus plays trumpet and offers his story. "I was named after my Uncle Narcel ... he and my Aunt Fannie created a small universe in their Chicago basement during the '70s. There was music, jazz, liquor and grown folks drinking, dancing and laughing. I just remember jazz being everywhere. I played trumpet in middle school and high school. Thirty years later I picked the horn back up, played a few gigs and created an opportunity to promote live jazz in Charlotte."
I decided to check out the Packard Place jazz night myself. The night I attended, a young cat named Marcus Jones and his group were playing. Imagine Maxwell, circa big hair. This dude was incredible as he played several instruments and even sang as they did both classic and contemporary covers. An artist who actually plays instruments — what a concept!
I was in the lobby during one of Jones' sets when I noticed a group of women looking similar to my young gas pump buddy, walking on the sidewalk of Church Street. The young urban divas entered and inquired about the cool sounds they heard. They were visibly disappointed when they found out that the event was not free and regretfully exited. But the takeaway was that they had literally been enticed into the space by the sounds of jazz.
The second set featured the Calvin Edwards Trio. Calvin is a big man with an even bigger voice, personality and stage presence. His performances are part music and part storytelling; he really knows how to work the audience. Calvin, in a traditional griot style, shared history, music and stories.
Maybe the key to educating young folks about their cultural history is simple exposure. It could be a chance encounter at the gas pump. Or if there are some folks you want to assist in some much needed cultural appropriation, share an evening of jazz.
In the spirit of cultural exchange, though, you may have to endure an evening listening to my young gas pump diva's playlist. I'm just saying.