Why This Matters: The Charlotte jazz scene is growing thanks to talented musicians and groups that are entertaining local audiences and teaching the next generation to appreciate America’s art form.
By Bernie Petit
When Ziad Rabie first got a call about starting a jazz series at the Becthler Museum of Modern Art, he thought it was a prank.
They were “asking if I could play Coltrane and Miles and Monk,” Rabie said. In other words, the Bechtler wanted Rabie to play the jazz style he knows and loves.
That was in 2010, shortly before the first-ever Jazz at the Bechtler concert series performance drew a crowd of 20 to 30 people. A few concerts later, it brought in 400 people. Today it still continues to sell-out each month.
“We really realized we had sparked something,” Rabie said. “There was a crowd of people that wanted to hear jazz music, traditional or whatever, in a setting that was respectful of the music.
“Our success lit a fuse for people to be able to do similar things and see there was a jazz audience that was there but latent.”
A Demanding Audience
That audience is no longer hidden. Instead, they’re heading uptown for Jazz Arts Initiative’s The Jazz Room @ The Stage Door series, which highlights the wealth of talent found in the Charlotte region. They’re also going to Morehead Tavern in Dilworth on Tuesday nights, where local jazz icon Bill Hanna convenes his Jazz Jam Session.
And, in the coming weeks, they’ll gather at special events like:
- A public performance by the UNC Charlotte Jazz Ensemble and Jazz Combos (March 20);
- The first-ever We’ve Got The Jazz Festival (March 25),
- The OnQ Performing Arts production of “Miles & Coltrane: Blue(.)” (March 21-April 1);
- The second Charlotte Jazz Festival featuring Jazz at Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis (April 17-23); and
- Dapper Street Productions’ “Lady Ella – Tribute to Ella Fitzgerald” (April 22).
“There is a major appreciation for jazz in Charlotte,” said vocalist Nicci Canada, a relative newcomer to local jazz circles. “There is a strong audience for jazz here and I would say people like Lonnie Davis have proven that.”
Davis and her husband Ocie established Jazz Arts Initiative in 2009 with the goal of building a local audience for jazz through education, performance and musician support. She said newcomers to the city have bolstered the Charlotte jazz audience.
“Charlotte is a growing city, a city that’s very progressive and is now home to a lot of folks that didn’t grow up here that are used to and accustomed to strong jazz scenes,” Davis said. “I think that because of those types of folks that love this music and are moving into the city with an expectation, in a sense they’re demanding we offer this.”
The Next Generation
The sustained interest in jazz that Charlotte-Mecklenburg has experienced over the past decade or so is supported by the increase in jazz education opportunities, Rabie said.
Community School of the Arts and Northwest School of the Arts have been instrumental in developing young jazz musicians, he said. So too have A Sign of the Times and Jazz Arts Initiative, both of which bring students together to explore jazz styles, standard repertoire, jazz improvisation and history.
Jazz education is especially important, Davis said, “because without it, you’re not creating that next generation of musicians that will be able to carry the torch for or represent Charlotte.”
Golden Age for Charlotte Jazz Scene
“The talent here is just amazing,” Canada said. “Kudos to Dawn Anthony – she can go – and Tenya Coleman. Those are people I consider jazz singers. Ziad Rabie, he’s bad on that saxophone.”
Added Davis: “You don’t have to go to New York or Charleston or some faraway place to get high-quality music. These musicians are here and it’s important for us to support our local artists in order for us to continue to grow our local talent.”
It’s a great time for jazz in the Queen City, said Rabie, a Charlotte native who’s regularly performed here for more than two decades.
“I would say the jazz scene in Charlotte is as good as it’s ever been,” he said. “I’m optimistic about where it’s headed in the future because of the great young players that are here.”