In the dozen or so years that I’ve called Charlotte home, the city’s relationship with the music I love has been at best, tenuous. Big name artists will come to town occasionally for a night, on their way to somewhere else. There have been several clubs that have used the word “jazz” in their name but how much actual jazz was performed in them was often limited. I think that those involved liked the idea of being a “jazz club” and the aura of coolness that went with the moniker but most of the time what you got when you walked through the doors was rehashed instrumental funk and loud, second-rate R&B groups.
Meanwhile most of us lovers of traditional jazz were left to either wait for the headliners to pass through or support these local so-called jazz clubs, hoping to be thrown an occaisonal bone for our patience. All the while wishing to have a room of our own, where we could hear the jazz of Miles, Diz, Monk and Newk.
Thanks to Lonnie Davis and the great people of the Jazz Arts Initiative (JAI) of Charlotte, our patience has been rewarded.
Last month the JAI premiered “THE JAZZ ROOM”, which for now is occurring on the 3rd Tuesday of every month at the Stage Door Theater; a black box space in the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center in Charlotte’s Uptown business district. Through the magic of stagecraft, the space is transformed into an elegant jazz club, complete with candlelit tables in the front of the room and general admission seating toward the rear. The concerts begin at 6 pm, allowing those who are getting off from work in the area to come in after a hard day, have a drink and hear some great jazz played by some of the finest musicians that this region has to offer. Tickets for each event are currently a very reasonable $10.
The series got off to a great start in April with pianist Chad Lawson paying an outstanding tribute to the music of Bill Evans before a sold out and very enthusiastic audience. The series continues on May 21 with trumpeter Mark Rapp leading a quintet, playing the music of Miles Davis. This performance is already nearly sold out. The next two dates have also been announced with trombonist Tyrone Jefferson in a tribute to Slide Hampton on June 18 and saxophonist Tim Gordon honoring Dexter Gordon (no relation) on July 16th.
Would we like for THE JAZZ ROOM to be open more than once a month? Of course; but let’s face it, you’ve got to crawl before you walk or run. Any kind of jazz series, contemporary or traditional, is tough sell in this economy so building an audience incrementally is a wise business model. Right now it seems as if Ms. Davis and the JAI may be onto something which will work in the long run and we Charlotteans who love jazz are very, very grateful. Kudos to Lonnie, Ocie, Glyn and all of those in the leadership of the JAI.
By the way the onstage MC at THE JAZZ ROOM is a grizzled veteran jazz radio DJ/magazine columnist/blogger named Curtis Davenport. Please try to forgive his corny jokes; he writes his own material.