Playing jazz in Charlotte — a review

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You may know there are several good spots to catch live jazz in Charlotte — Blue, The Cajun Queen, The House of Jazz, The Pewter Rose, Big Ben’s, not to mention the concerts that are often held at our local universities. But what is it like to play jazz in these venues? How is jazz received in Charlotte? Let me take a second to write a review of Charlotte jazz audiences.

I’ve played in most of these venues with different musicians and you might not be surprised when I say that Charlotte jazz listeners are hit-or-miss. There are folks out there who genuinely appreciate jazz standards and they tend to be an older crowd. These are the listeners who were around when Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Art Blakey, Thelonius Monk and Stan Getz were cutting legendary records. They’re the audiences who request tunes like “Take Five” and “Girl from Ipanema” and will tell you about the time they saw so-and-so (who is probably long dead) in concert. These folks dig the music not only because it’s good, but because it speaks to their history.

The difficulty is that younger crowds don’t have this history and consequently don’t feel it like the older crowd feels it. You might be able to pull them in with some technical virtuosity or with some antics (you know, throwing drum sticks around, scat-singing while you solo or hootin’ and hollerin’ as someone else solos) but it’s going to be difficult to get them to appreciate jazz for what it is. It’s an easy temptation to speculate about why younger crowds tend not to appreciate jazz — it’s often instrumental music, it doesn’t appeal to popular themes, it is often played as background music is cafes, etc. — but I’d rather bring your attention to something I’ve noticed about jazz in Charlotte.

There’s little or no modern jazz. In other American cities and in Europe, jazz musicians mix together jazz standards, avant-garde jazz and throw in a bit of world-beat. Other technologically-minded jazz groups use samples and sequencers, mix in a DJ here and there, and incorporate other media in their performances (light shows, films, etc.). It would be hard for a group with this kind of experimental approach to find a home in Charlotte.

Indeed, I wonder if anyone would even know that it was jazz? My point is that jazz is like any art form in that it is continually evolving. Jazz artists are like other artists in that they are continually looking for novel creative avenues that allow them make the art form their own and allow them to express themselves in an authentic voice. One wonders if and when Charlotte listeners will support these kinds of explorations.

If you’ve got a sec., check out some modern jazz groups:

Minimal Orchestra

Emile Parisien Quartet

Jacky Terrasson

Yaron Herman

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