State of the Art

The history of jazz in a single night

The Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Concert Friday night at Halton Theater has been billed as “jazz beginning to end, from its origins to the classics to new compositions commissioned for the orchestra.” Such a concert should ideally take two hours a night for a week, like a live version of Ken Burns’ documentary series “Jazz,” but we’ll have to make do with one session in the Charlotte Concerts season.

Though the SJMO won’t bring us any pyramids as a backdrop, here’s a taste of what they do:

You’ll note that the orchestra is multi-racial (like jazz itself) and lets different soloists shine while still maintaining a swinging ensemble. I’d be surprised but pleased if the 18-piece ensemble goes farther back than Louis Armstrong in Friday’s concert, and I hope it’ll go as far forward as folks living today: Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and anyone more avant-garde than they (and thus beyond my knowledge, as I have fairly conservative tastes in jazz).

The Carolinas have produced giants in the field, including four pillars of the bop era. Pianist Thelonious Monk comes from Rocky Mount, saxophonist John Coltrane from Hamlet, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie from Cheraw, S.C., and drummer Max Roach from Newland. (Not that all of them stayed long.) I imagine some or all of these four will get an airing Friday night.

Jazz has a way of daunting the uninitiated, but almost everyone can find a comfortable spot somewhere inside this huge tent. The music can be mainly melodic, rhythmic or harmonic, short or long, singable or danceable or just tappable enough to set your toes in motion. If you don’t like jazz – yet – you haven’t heard enough of it. Friday at 8 p.m. would be a good time to start learning.