North Carolina has a strange relationship with jazz: It spawned many top-notch musicians, most of whom honed their craft and found fame elsewhere.
Those born in-state include Thelonious Monk (Rocky Mount), John Coltrane (Hamlet), Nina Simone (Tryon), Max Roach (Newland), Maceo Parker (Kinston) and Billy Taylor (Greenville). All have been inducted into the N.C. Music Hall of Fame in Kannapolis.
Here’s the catch: Though pioneered in the South and descended from blues and folk music, jazz and its many hybrids needed an urban setting to thrive in its heyday – places like New Orleans, New York, Chicago and Kansas City.
You can nowadays catch live jazz in smaller clubs from Wilmington (Benny Hill Music) to Raleigh (Irregardless) to Asheville (Tressa’s Downtown Jazz & Blues). And for a large, multiday session, head to Wilmington next weekend for the N.C. Jazz Festival.
The Feb. 4-6 gathering, at the Hilton Wilmington Riverside’s ballroom, is one of the largest annual jazz events in the Southeast. Guest artists this year include Canadian-born trumpeter/vocalist Bria Skonberg (trumpeter/vocalist), Australian multi-instrumentalist Adrian Cunningham, Florida native Dion Tucker (trombone), New York-based bass player Nicki Parrott and Italian pianist Rossano Sorrtiello.
The 14 headliners also include Herman Burney, who learned double bass growing up in Winston-Salem, and Charleston-based drummer Quentin Baxter.
Their styles range from big band to gypsy jazz and swing; many have played with international headliners; all are highly regarded by jazz lovers. At the festival’s website, click “Musical Bios” to learn about them; at the end of each, you’ll find a link to the artist’s website.
The event begins Thursday evening with a 3 1/2-hour “Styles of Jazz” sampler concert featuring Galen & Friends (gypsy jazz), Professor Cunningham’s Old School Tribute (big band), pianist Hod O’Brien (be-bop) and vocalist Stephanie Nakasian doing a “Tribute to Ladies of Jazz.” A jam follows.
The following two nights feature all-star presentations of seven sets of six or seven players with different leaders. Friday and Saturday performances are essentially 4 1/2-hour concerts that begin at 7:30 p.m.
Sunday brings a musical brunch for those with patron-level (multiday) passes.
The festival began in 1980 as a way to teach jazz as well as play it. (Free workshops and master-led classes are also a component).
Among the fans is best-selling author Clyde Edgerton (”Walking Across Egypt,” etc.) who lives in Wilmington. Though he’s a musician in another genre (he plays bluegrass with the Rank Strangers), Edgerton is also an accomplished painter – and one of his oil paintings will be featured in the festival’s benefit raffle.
It’s based on an old photo of Ma Rainey and her Georgia Jazz Band, whose influence on music in the 1920s was such that she was decades later inducted into both the blues and rock ’n’ roll halls of fame.
John Bordsen: 704-358-5251
Want to go?
The N.C. Jazz Festival is Feb. 4-6 at the Hilton Wilmington Riverside. Thursday tickets are $15-$40; $15-$60 Saturday. Patron passes are $200 and $225. Schedule/details: www.ncjazzfestival.com.
Wilmington is 3 1/2 hours east of Charlotte via U.S. 74.