A Rich Jazz Jam at Poor Richard’s

Tim Scott, Jr.

Tim Scott, Jr.

“While we don’t want to come here and play a bunch of instrumental R&B, we also don’t want to be trapped in the traditions…”Tim Scott, Jr.

When I conceived the idea of writing this post, it was supposed to be about the start of something big. As it turns out, we end up writing about a brief, shining moment.

On April 8th a group of young Charlotte based musicians had arranged to come together a Poor Richard’s Book Shoppe a local bookstore, for what was to be an every Monday night Jazz Jam Session. They were led by Tim Scott, Jr. a fine young drummer (no relation to the SC Senator, to my knowledge)  and his group “Fat Snacks”. They wanted to recreate the spirit of the old jams of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, which birthed some of jazz’s greatest stars and innovations. To do something like this in a place like Charlotte which is not (yet) known for its jazz scene was, to me, very exciting indeed.

It took me a while to find Poor Richard’s but once I did, I got chills from what I saw. The jam had already started and on the stage was a quintet of musicians, all from my estimation in their early to mid twenties and very talented. They were exploring the boundaries of jazz and what it meant to them. It was clear that they all had some knowledge of jazz traditions but they were not chained to conventions that were over half a century old. These young cats were all born in the late 20th century and came of age in the 21st. Their common language is not Tin Pan Alley, Jump Blues or even Motown but it is the hip-hop, R&B and rock artists of today.

Though many of my generation and older scoff at younger players for just this reason, I for one find it very exciting. It gives me hope for growth in the music I love and a sense that maybe jazz has a chance to get out of the museums and into the consciousness of some millennials.

There was an enthusiastic crowd of about two dozen people of all races, ages, sexes and sizes, jammed into the intimate Poor Richard’s space. People grabbed chairs, sofas and floor wherever they could and the mood was very relaxed.

The ten or so musicians who dropped into and off of the makeshift stage were generally excellent. Scott, Jr. took on the defacto role of leader, making announcements and introductions but also driving the band from behind his drum kit with shouts of encouragement and most importantly, a steady, driving beat. Jonny Fung on guitar has absorbed the lessons of the jazz and rock guitar greats into a cohesive sound that is fascinating. Tim Singh on bass is already a pro’s pro at his young age, commanding the rhythm and soloing with ease. Henry Cummings (you’ll see him in a green t-shirt in the videos) plays some cool melodies on his alto sax.

There was one musician who caught my attention above all others; Marcus Jones on alto sax. Looking relaxed in his backward baseball cap as he waited his turn, he was as unassuming as could be. But when he began to blow it was with the fire, precision and unrelenting creativity of a Cannonball Adderley. I had never heard Mr. Jones’ name before that night. I will not forget it from now on. Check out the accompanying video clips, for evidence of what I’m saying. Watch out for Marcus Jones, I expect that we will hear a lot from him outside of the Charlotte area.

It seemed as if the jam was an idea whose time had come. Attendance was good the first few sessions and word of mouth had created a bit of buzz behind it. But unfortunately fate intervened in an unkind way.  Poor Richard’s was unexpectedly forced to vacate its location on May 17. The Monday Night Jazz Jam had its final performance on Monday, May 13, a scant five weeks after it had begun.  We are left with the hope that either the bookstore will find another home that will welcome the music or that some venue in the area will champion the idea of a jazz jam and start the ball rolling again. Until then, we have a lot of hope and a few lasting memories. In spite of it all, jazz is alive in Charlotte, NC.

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