by Eric Mullis
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 Bens, 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.
Ive 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. Theyre 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 its good, but because it speaks to their history.
The difficulty is that younger crowds dont have this history and consequently dont 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 its going to be difficult to get them to appreciate jazz for what it is. Its an easy temptation to speculate about why younger crowds tend not to appreciate jazz its often instrumental music, it doesnt appeal to popular themes, it is often played as background music is cafes, etc. but Id rather bring your attention to something Ive noticed about jazz in Charlotte.
Theres 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 youve got a sec., check out some modern jazz groups: