Charlotte's not exactly known as a "jazz-friendly" city. Not that music fans here hate the genre; it's just difficult to hear it on a regular basis in the Queen City. Well, thanks to a group of promoters organized by Charles Whitfield, vice president of A&R for Hidden Beach Recordings (home of Jill Scott and other notables), jazz will take the spotlight in a major way on June 26 at the first-ever Uptown Jazz Fest. The one-day event — which is being held at the Road Runner Mobile Amphitheatre (formerly the Uptown Amphitheatre) — will showcase music by big-name artists like Norman Brown, Mike Phillips, Alex Bugnon, The Rippingtons, Maysa and more. We recently talked to Whitfield, and he gave us more fest-centric details.
Creative Loafing: How did your work with Hidden Beach lead you to the Uptown Jazz Fest?
Charles Whitfield: I love music. So when I moved here at the end of '08 (I go back and forth between Charlotte and L.A.) ... I wanted to get involved in the live music scene. I wanted to partner with some people who knew what they were doing on the jazz scene. One of the partners in the Uptown Charlotte Jazz Fest is a young lady named Tammy Green who's done a lot of shows here in the Charlotte area already. I knew she had a good base ... people here respected and followed the stuff that she did. So with the Uptown Charlotte Jazz Fest, we wanted take a little bit of what she's done and add a new special touch to it -- and give not only the Charlotte community, but literally people from Atlanta all the way up to D.C. -- a place to come and enjoy jazz ... [and] enjoy the great city of Charlotte.
From a musical standpoint, the artists featured at the festival represent more of a smooth jazz school of sound. Did you do that on purpose -- selecting those people as opposed to maybe some straight-ahead jazz artists?
Selfishly, definitely, those artists cater more toward smooth jazz, and some definitely tilt toward R&B, especially Norman, Mike Phillips, Maysa and Alex ... First and foremost, I'm a consumer myself so these are all artists that I would like to see.
Do you think you face any challenges with getting people to attend this event and really support it?
Well, I definitely think anytime something is new, especially in light of the economy that we're facing now ... it definitely has some challenges. And so that's why, for the first year, we wanted to take baby steps. We weren't trying to be naïve and rush out and say, "Let's do two days ..." What we wanted to do is have a really tight concert [featuring] pretty much all national artists that people know and try it one day and basically see what happens. So, I agree, there are some obstacles, but I think what we're trying to do is really establish something.