A “Royal Jam” in The Queen City

In New York, Chicago, Philly or San Francisco, this night would have probably passed without notice. But in Charlotte, NC, where jazz jams occur on a basis closer to quarterly than nightly, this was an event of note…Ocie Davis, the veteran drummer, who makes his home base in Charlotte, was in town for a few days in early June, so he put out the word that there would be a  jam session, featuring his group, “The Queen’s Collective”  at 10 pm on Wednesday, June 6, at The Evening Muse, a funky little bar in the NoDa section of town, with a decidedly bohemian atmosphere.

These NoDa jams used to be regular weekly occurrences, but with Mr. Davis on the road quite a bit lately, they had pretty much died out…So when the word of this mid-week gathering went out via Facebook, Charlotte’s small but faithful jazz community was abuzz. I knew that my butt would be draggin’ when I got to work on Thursday morning, but hell, it was going to be worth it!

Eleazar Shafer (trumpet) and Zach Wheeler (sax) at the Queen’s Collective Jam on 6/6/12

I arrived a little before 10 and found a spot at the back of the club. The weekly Open Mic night was still going on and it would continue well past its scheduled conclusion time. By 10:30 those of us who had come to hear jazz were quietly getting a bit restless waiting for the game gaggle of college aged kids to relinquish the stage.  When they finally did, at around 10:40, Ocie and crew went quickly to work getting things set up for the session. He was joined by Queen’s Collective veterans, guitarist Troy Conn, Tim Singh on bass and percussionist Robert Beasley.  Conn is a UNC-Charlotte grad with fleet fingers, a gorgeous full tone and a touch of a CTI era GB influence. Mr. Singh is a young bassist who shows a world of promise.  Mr. Beasley is a veteran percussionist, versed in many styles. He is also without a doubt the coolest cat in the band, who with his shaved head and dark shades, resembles Roy Haynes’ younger Doppelganger.

Percussionist Robert Beasley at the Evening Muse on 6/6/12.

The collective kicked things off with a gritty untitled blues that featured Mr. Conn’s dirty guitar work. This was followed by a cool take on Joe Henderson’s “Recordame”. Conn and Singh set the table with their strong solos, followed by Davis and Beasley feeding off of each other in lockstep and showing the kids how it’s done.

Next was Trane’s “Impressions”; a ballsy move for any group that features a guitarist as we all have the sound of Wes Montgomery’s classic version from Smokin’ at the Half Note etched in our memories.  But as you’ll see in this clip, young Troy Conn is up to the task.

With the crowd now warmed up Ocie called for “Cissy Strut” – a staple for any percussionist with Bayou roots. Things then got even better when Mr. Davis summoned to the stand Eleazar Shafer, a 26 year-old Charlotte native who is now based in NYC, with a lot of Hubbard in his horn and in his attitude.  You’ve got to like a cat who takes the stage wearing a t-shirt that reads “I Am Awesome”; you’ve got to love him when he can back it up. Suffices to say, we love “Shafe”.

Davis then decided to take a break and relinquished the drum chair to Jacob Cavell. Another promising youngster, Zach Wheeler grabbed his alto sax and they then dove into one of my favorite Coltrane tunes, “Equinox”, with fine results.

There was much still to come as more musicians arrived, fully ready to go on all night long. Unfortunately however, I wasn’t, as I knew that I had to get out of there if I was to stand any chance of  being even semi-coherent at work later that day. So regretfully,  I had to cut out a little before 1 – missing in the process some great music and some fine new talent but feeling hopeful for the future of jazz in The Queen City.

It was fun y’all. Let’s do it again real soon!

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