Charlotte Jazz Festival 2019

Charlotte Jazz Festival 2019
Mark Sullivan By

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Charlotte Jazz Festival
Charlotte, North Carolina
April 29 -May 4, 2019

Longtime Charlotte, North Carolina jazz fans have fond memories of JazzCharlotte, a free outdoor weekend jazz festival that ran for eight years from 1986 to 1993. A spinoff from the popular SpringFest, it was a Fall festival that included stages presenting jazz, blues and gospel. Among the wide range of performers: flutist Herbie Mann, touch guitarist Stanley Jordan, blues performer Taj Mahal, pianist Dave Brubeck, The Modern Jazz Quartet, saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera, pianist Les McCann and saxophonist Eddie Harris, South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela, New Orleans legend Dr. John, pianist Ahmad Jamal, the Count Basie Orchestra (led by saxophonist Frank Foster), pianist Ramsey Lewis, jazz guitar legends Herb Ellis and Barney Kessel, Ethiopian singer Aster Aweke, saxophonist Lou Donaldson, and pianist Don Pullen.

That festival managed to survive the pullout of a major sponsor and a change of venue. But 1994 saw a move to the nearby Carowinds amusement park grounds and an admission charge, a blow from which the festival never recovered. When the idea was resurrected in 2015 by Blumenthal Performing Arts they grew the festival gradually, incorporating a mix of free and paid admission concerts. The whole idea was suggested by trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, who has been involved as a performer all along. It's a model similar to the one followed by the Montréal International Jazz Festival, although on a smaller scale.

Monday, April 29

Calvin Edwards Trio

Charlotte guitarist Calvin Edwards kicked off the festival's Lunch Hour Jazz Performances series, free outdoor shows from local and regional acts at the Jazz Pavilion at Levine Center for the Arts downtown, with his organ trio (although the festival labelled the first paid concert as the kickoff concert). The Pavilion is an outdoor stage with a tent surrounding the stage and a tent roof providing the audience protection from sun and rain— although it was not sufficient for the torrential thunderstorm on Saturday (more on that later). This is a classic soul jazz trio, but with a modern touch: think George Benson (or possibly Norman Brown), rather than Jimmy Smith. Edwards has the Benson bit of scatting with his guitar down, and his wireless connection to his guitar amp gave him the freedom to walk freely around the stage and into the audience.

Like Benson in his early days, he sings only part of the time. He sang "The Nearness of You" in traditional standard style, although they went up-tempo for the guitar solo. "Over The Rainbow" (from the movie The Wizard of Oz) continued the standards. But the funk tune "It's A Shame" (from The Spinners) brought things back into more contemporary stylistic territory, with significant contributions from organist Samuel Obie and drummer Fred Dunlap. The set concluded with a vocal version of Brook Benton's "Rainy Night In Georgia," a song that connected with everyone in the audience, jazz fans or not.

Tuesday, April 30


Airstream is a fusion jazz band based in Charlotte that has been active since 2006. Currently made up of guitarist/composer Andre Ferreri, keyboardist/composer Mark Stallings, electric bassist Dave Vergato, and drummer Alfred Sergel IV, their music recalls models like Weather Report and Pat Metheny. But it's a kinder, gentler version of fusion: core soloist Ferreri is currently playing a semi-hollow guitar with no electronic effects, so the sound is somewhat closer to mainstream jazz than the classic models. Stallings contributed a tune with a lovely unaccompanied piano introduction, as well as a lyrical fretless bass solo from Vergato.

"Intercontinental" featured an 11/8 riff, and a drum solo by Sergel in call-and-response with the band. Ferreri joked that the audience didn't know about the time signature, but neither did the band. Maybe they'd play it better next time! They played the title tune from their most recent album Relatively Speaking (Laser Records, 2018), as well as "First Impressions." Another original, "Velvet Flowers" featured a bridge with a hard Latin groove and a grooving solo from bassist Vergato. The band played one cover for contrast: Horace Silver's funky "The Jody Grind" (the title tune of Silver's 1966 Blue Note Records album).

Wednesday, May 1

Ariel Pocock Quartet


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