The man behind Jazz at the Bechtler
More from the series
Charlotte Arts Guide 2019-20
Here’s all of our stories on the new arts season. We’ll introduce you to the diverse group of people making vital contributions to the arts. You’ll find them in museums, on stage, in studios and even outdoors. And you’ll get our calendar listings for theater, dance, music, museums, literary events and visual arts.
Charlotte’s modern art museum will celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2020. And the celebration kicks off — not with an exhibition of the painters you might expect (Max Ernst, Paul Klee) but with music from some of the jazz greats.
The concert the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art is planning for the Knight Theater on Jan. 3 — 10 years and a day since the official opening — is actually a fitting tribute to a museum that’s become much more than its name implies.
The Bechtler is also a jazz club, an art house cinema and – by virtue of the 17-foot-tall “Firebird” statue that sits out front — one of the most Instagrammed spots in the city.
The Bechtler has given Charlotte a stunning collection of modern paintings and sculpture by modern art’s brightest luminaries — Joan Miro, Le Corbusier, Picasso, Jasper Johns. But the visual arts museum has become something of a performing arts venue, too.
Jazz at the Bechtler has been happening the first Friday of every month since May 2010, just four months after the museum opened.
“The first one was held outside,” recalled Ziad Rabie, who’s best known by just his first name and is the Jazz at Bechtler’s artistic director and saxophonist for the Ziad Jazz Quartet, the Bechtler’s “house band.” Bandmates include Noel Freidline on keyboards, Ron Brendle on bass and Rick Dior (or Al Sergel) on drums.
“Thirty people showed up,” he said. “The second one was also outside, and we had 60 people. It was too hot to hold the third one outside. We moved it indoors, and 400 people showed up.”
Capacity crowds have been coming ever since.
Ziad’s partner, Jennifer Shea, was instrumental in developing the concept. Bechtler officials credit Shea for coming up with the idea and introducing Ziad to Bechtler executive vice president Christopher Lawing. Although a lawyer by trade, Shea is at every show, operating the camera that shows the action on stage on a big screen. It’s a benefit to those of us who didn’t line up in time to get a good seat and find ourselves on the back row.
Ziad and Daniel Ferrulli, the museum’s director of programming and public engagement credit Lawing for making the series so successful.
“I’d just make a playlist for each show, if it were up to me,” Ziad said. “But Christopher came up with the idea of organizing each concert around a theme. Holiday Jazz happens every December; Jazz for Lovers is always the February theme. Latin Jazz has become a perennial favorite.”
Singer/actress Maria Howell, a Gastonia native who draws her hometown crowd as well as fans who remember her breakout performance in the movie, “The Color Purple,” owns the July 4th weekend.
Other big names lined up for the current season include composer and trombone player Chris Brubeck (Dave’s son), scheduled for Oct. 4, and trumpeter and flugelhorn player Eddie Henderson, who used to play with Herbie Hancock, and will headline the April 3, 2020, show.
The anniversary concert lineup was still being finalized at press time, but Ferrulli promises “fan favorites” will be part of the Jan. 3 celebration.
A hot ticket
Starting a jazz affinity group – and offering premium seating at performances – was Lawing’s idea. Each seat goes for $250 a year, which is a bargain for 12 concerts, Ferrulli said.
Here’s the catch: Seating is limited and there’s a waiting list so long that Ferrulli would rather not discuss it.
“When you hear the wait time, it’s a little bit daunting,” he said. “But it’s definitely accessible.”
“How many people are members of the affinity group?” I asked.
“Two-hundred twenty-four,” he said. “And they all get the opportunity to renew every year.”
“So, someone has to die to make room for a new person to join?”
“Well, I don’t want to put it that way,” Ferrulli said. “Sometimes, people move.”
In the local arts world, these tickets are like Super Bowl tickets.
Beyond the jazz series, the Bechtler’s programming typically draws crowds.
Modernism + Film averages 100 moviegoers every month. Bechtler by Night allows visitors free admission on the third Friday of each month from 5 to 9 p.m. There’s live entertainment, a cash bar and art-making activities.
Music and Museum is a classical music series held four times a year in the intimate fourth-floor gallery space. Tanja Bechtler, granddaughter of Hans and Bessie Bechtler, whose remarkable art collection is the foundation of the museum, leads the string ensemble.
The Bechtler’s successful programming is “informed by the community,” Ferrulli said. “We’re listening and giving people what they want.”
It’s not just in service to the community, though. It’s also in service to the art. “People who’ve never been here for an exhibition will come for music or a movie, and say, ‘This place is so cool. We’re going to join,’ ” Ferrulli said.
Not only has the series converted some jazz lovers into museum members, it’s turned some people who didn’t think they liked jazz into die-hard fans, Ziad said.
“A lot of people think of jazz as serious, intellectual music,” Ziad said. “And it is. It’s difficult to play and takes a lifetime of practice. But it’s also emotional to play and a joy to play, and I think audiences feel that joy and share in the fun.”
The Friday jazz series has proven so popular that a second, later show was added. There’s one at 6 p.m. and another at 8:15. Both generally sell out.
But on Jan. 3 — thanks to the larger space the Knight provides — more people will be able to experience the music from one of the coolest jazz clubs in town. One that just happens to usually be held inside a museum lobby.
Obvious Cool/Hidden Cool
We asked artists and arts administrators interviewed for the Fall Arts preview to talk about their favorite piece of Obvious Cool art in Charlotte and their favorite Hidden Cool art.
Obvious Cool art: Aside from the Firebird out front? Arnaldo Pomodoro’s Il Grande Disco, Daniel Ferrulli said. “The Grand Disc at Trade and Tryon is a world-class sculpture and quite stunning up close. Scale again at play here, the large bronze disc is meant to represent a growing city. I also enjoy the sense of tension I get standing beside it — that if I lean on it too hard, it will just roll away.”
Hidden Cool art:
“Cascade (by Jean Tinguely) is a 40-foot-tall kinetic sculpture featuring objects from an iron banister to a Ferrari racecar hood, all suspended over a water feature in the lobby of the Carillon office building on Trade Street,” Ferrulli said. “It’s just far enough off the beaten path to be easily missed by locals and visitors alike ....The scale of it and all its moving parts really land on you as you walk into the lobby.”
What: The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art celebrates its 10th anniversary with a jazz concert on Jan. 3.
Where: Knight Theater, 430 S. Tryon St.
Tickets: Prices will be posted on the Bechtler’s website in the coming weeks.
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