Checking out the Jazz Jam

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Many Charlotteans have heard of Bill Hannah. He’s been regularly playing jazz in Charlotte since the '60s and has taught scores of music students in various Charlotte middle schools. Whenever I tell folks that I play with Bill, they usually know who I’m talking about. Indeed, he still plays almost every night of the week in venues such as Big Ben’s English Pub, the Cajun Queen and the Double Door Inn.

I’ve learned a lot about jazz as an art form and jazz in Charlotte while playing with Bill. I’m always impressed with Bill’s ability to get into a tune and his ability to banter with the audience. He’s unflappable because, like a seasoned comedian, he’s heard just about everything that someone in the audience is going to say (personally, I’m still surprised about how kooky some jazz listener’s can be). He’s also musically unflappable because he’s played just about every jazz tune in the book.

Of course, Bill is an “old dog” and is going to run the show the way that he wants. He’s likely to call and start playing a song that you don’t know and you’ll have to be quick on your feet — and ears — if you’re not going to royally screw it up.

But, after playing with Bill for a few years, I’ve realized that I’m a bit unflappable myself. I don’t know every song in the jazz Real Book but the chances are good that I’ve played it with Bill.

That’s one of the most impressive things about Mr. Hannah. He’ll let anyone play jazz — even if they just plain stink. His jazz improv classes at CPCC are open to anyone and his jazz jam on Thursday nights at the Double Door is open as well. He’ll let students and complete strangers blow.

On the one hand, that openness can be a bit frustrating. After all, no one really likes to hear a musician butcher a good tune. But, on a more optimistic note, Bill’s openness is admirable since it gives the young musician a chance to get up there and take a shot at it. I’m certainly glad that Bill gave me that opportunity...

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