Musical trends come and go, but swing jazz has never truly faded into the background. Whether its big bands led by Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and Count Basie, crooners like Frank Sinatra, era-capturing soundtracks, or the revivalists disguised as rock bands of the 90s, the sound remains alive and distinct.
We call it swing, and its a stylized version of what all music has had throughout the centuries: groove and rhythm. When theyre performed right, theyre infectious, says Grammy-winning composer and trumpeter Terence Blanchard, who has scored many of Spike Lees films.
Those rhythms have a pulse and a vibration to them. They have a certain energy thats undeniable. Theres no separation between swing and R&B and world music (for instance). There are technical differences and where beats are placed, but in terms of the infectious nature, I look at them as all being the same.
Blanchard will kick off the new Swing Jazz Series at McGlohon Theatre Saturday with the John Brown Big Band. Brown, director of the jazz program at Duke University, conceived the series with the Jazz Initiative. The series pairs Browns band with a series of artists including Blanchard, Nnenna Freelon in December, and Tia Fuller and Jon Faddis next year.
Ive always had an eye on Charlotte. Back in the mid -90s, when I was playing with the orchestra there, I got to know the city a bit. (The bands) also come down for private engagements. I felt like there was more percolating and an audience that wants something like the series is going to bring, says Brown, a Fayetteville native who found like minds in promoter Tammy Greene (nicknamed the Jazz Diva) and flutist and band leader Lonnie Davis. We have the same vision for programming jazz.
Greene brings a number of jazz artists to the Southeast, as do a handful of local jazz festivals. Theres also the Jazz at the Bechtler series and touring avant-garde artists at small venues and galleries, but events are sporadic. In that way, Charlotte is different from the Triangle area, whose universities host jazz concerts frequently.
Theres a lot percolating here among the major universities, says Brown.
The six of us are constantly programming jazz and bringing music to our universities, and that mobilizes the community of jazz lovers.
There are also two jazz stations. Brown is encouraged by the audience every time he goes on the air.
That same kind of audience may be sitting (in Charlotte) waiting for someone to reach out to them, he says. While most of the other jazz that comes to Charlotte is contemporary, Browns 17-piece band fuses classic big band with fresh, modern arrangements.
Sometimes we turn a waltz into a Latin tune, or well take a typical ballad and speed it up. When we do Lulus Back in Town, its definitely Lulu, but its got a treatment that brings a lot of freshness. Its not the same old Lulu, Brown says.
Whether its Blanchards or Browns arrangements, there wont be much time to prepare.
Thats one of the things I stress to my students. When you reach a certain level, its not about having a bunch of tries. Its like being in the boxing ring. ... When you spar you dont know whos coming at you, Blanchard says. Every band has its own character and mode of operating.
Chemistry is immediate.
A couple years ago, we were doing this tour in Europe of Spike Lees music. We all like to think of ourselves as very evolved beings. But we got to Istanbul and the orchestra we were performing with was mostly women. Nobody said anything, but you could tell that the way the orchestra sounded when they started that everyone was surprised, says Blanchard, who was floored by how good they were. You can tell within the first few seconds.