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Preview: The Triangle North Carolina 2012-13 Jazz Season


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By Larry Reni Thomas

The busy, expanding, thoroughly-satisfying jazz scene in what is called the “Triangle” area of the Piedmont section of North Carolina just keeps getting better and better. Who needs the New York or the D.C. jazz scene when everybody seems to be coming this way? The area can boast of several venues that present jazz like The Prime Smokehouse, Irregardless Café, Brasa’s and Sullivan’s in Raleigh; The Beyu, The Carolina Theatre, CoCo’s Jazz and Arts Center, Casbah, Motorco Music Hall and Whiskey’s in Durham; and the West End Bar, Piola’s, Weaver Street and The Franklin Hotel in Chapel Hill. The scene is also enhanced by the music presented by the three main universities in the area: Duke University in Durham (Duke Performances), North Carolina State University (Center Stage) and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) (Carolina Performing Arts).

In addition, other area colleges and universities present live jazz and have outstanding jazz studies program and jazz ensembles. North Carolina Central University (NCCU) in Durham has nationally-acclaimed, award-winning jazz ensembles, under the direction of saxophonist, Dr. Ira Wiggins. They have performed at The White House twice and at The Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. Durham resident saxophonist Branford Marsalis was recently an artist-in-residence at NCCU, and vocalist Nnnena Freelon, who also lives in Durham, has been featured at several of NCCU jazz events.

A good sign that the Triangle jazz scene is growing is the very pleasant emergence of organizations dedicated to jazz: The Durham Jazz Renaissance Foundation, The Art of Cool Project in Raleigh, The North Carolina Jazz Listening Group, Time and Tide Productions and The Triangle Jazz Society, which has been around since 2005. The area is also fortunate enough to have two 24-hour jazz radio stations, NCCU’ s WNCU-FM, Durham, and Shaw University’s WSHA-FM, Raleigh, and WFSS-FM, in nearby Fayetteville, at Fayetteville State University. Other radio stations, such as WCOM-FM, Chapel Hill-Carrboro’s community station, Duke University’s WXDU-FM, and UNC-CH’s WXYC-FM, program jazz music. WXYC-FM recently sponsored a well-attended engagement featuring The Matthew Shipp Trio. WNCU-FM held a jazz series in downtown Durham this summer and WSHA-FM holds frequent live jazz events.

This robust, contagious wonderful jazz activity makes for a jazz scene that is just as hip as any scene in the nation, or the world for that matter. Where else, can you hear radio stations playing the music day and night, experience live jazz in the clubs, colleges and the universities, and have an abundance of jazz studies programs in almost all of the area’s institutions of higher learning, including high schools? Jazz heaven maybe. This Triangle jazz community is enjoying jazz heaven very well. It also knows its jazz music and all will smile and be highly pleased with the upcoming, splendid, variety-packed 2012-13 jazz music season.

The fall jazz season gets started with two relatively new jazz festivals, both scheduled for September 15, both in rural, suburban towns. The Second Annual Apex Jazz Festival will feature Seth Walker, Ironing Board Sam and Big Ron Hunter. Also on tap that day is The Third Annual Hillsborough Jazz Festival, which will be celebrating native North Carolinian Thelonious Monk. The lineup includes Diana Tuffin, James Saxmo Gates, Alamance Jazz Band, Lenny Marcus and The Little Big Easy, Freeport and M4B. Both of these events are outdoors and family-friendly.

The much-talked group, Bad Plus, comes to the area, September 21-22, at Motorco Music Hall, Durham. The next day, September 23, Fanfare Ciocaria is scheduled to perform in Durham at Duke University’s Sarah Duke Gardens. On October 12 and 13, Blue Note Recording trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and his quintet, will be at The Casbah in Durham. This should be a nice gig because there has been a lot talk about him, especially since he is a Thelonious Monk Competition winner. This should be one of the most-anticipated shows of the season. All three are superb Duke Performances productions and are a most fitting, hip way to bring in early fall.

November jazz dates are impressive, internationally-flavored, more diversified and challenging. Duke Performances presents Bela Feck plus The Marcus Roberts Trio, November 8, at The Carolina Theatre, Durham. On November 12, the Brazilian singer Gilbert Gil will be at Memorial Hall, on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Cuban master pianist Chucho Valdes will be there on November 27. Both the Gil and Valdes concert should be rhythm-filled, and pleasing to the ear and are produced by Carolina Performing Arts.

The Christmas holiday season jazz concerts include: Carolina Performing Arts’s “Jazz For The Holidays”—The North Carolina Jazz Repertory Orchestra with guest John Pizzarelli, at Memorial Hall, UNC-CH, on December 7, and on December 21, at the Carolina Theatre, Durham, vocalist Nnenna Freelon and The John Brown band, will perform an annual Christmas show. Also, another December treat should be the appearance of John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble at Duke University’s Reynolds Theater, on December 8.

The spring season of jazz programing in the Triangle should start the new year of 2013 off with a righteous bang. The dancer and jazz lover Savion Glover is scheduled to be at Duke University’s Page Auditorium, January 23, in a solo performance. The Fred Hersch Trio comes to town, January 25 and 26, at The Casbah. Also, on that same night, the 26th, The Monterey Jazz On Tour concert, featuring DeDe Bridgewater and Christian McBride, is scheduled to be at the Carolina Theatre, Durham. On February 2, the veteran vocalist, Jane Monheit, will be at the same historic theater in downtown Durham.

February jazz dates in the Triangle will feature Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz From Lincoln Center Orchestra, February 10, UNC-CH’s Memorial Hall. This is becoming an annual event and was especially touching last year when Wynton’s brother, Durham resident, Branford Marsalis showed up with his horn. What a memorable night, especially when they hugged each other after the concert. On February 22, the Dafnis Priesto Sextet, is scheduled to perform in the same venue. Marc Broussard and The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, will be at the Carolina Theatre, Durham, on February 28. Tarbaby, a group which consist of Orrin Evans, Nasheet Waits, Eric Revis and Oliver Lake, will be at Casbah, Durham, March 1 and 2.

Much-in-demand, Chicago-based vocalist, Kurt Elling, will be at UNC-CH’s Memorial Hall, on March 20. This should be a sell-out or close to it. Elling is a busy performer and should be superb. This could be called the “jazz event of the year.” We shall see. Two days later, March 23, The Afro-Cuban All Stars are scheduled to perform at Page Auditorium on Duke University’s campus. The much talked about pianist Vijay Iyer will appear at UNC-CH’s Memorial Hall, on March 26.

On April 1 and 2, North Carolina State University’s Center Stage will present, Ninety Miles, with Stefon Harris, Nicholas Payton and David Sanchez, on campus, at The Timus Theater. Rounding out the month of April will be pianist Brad Mehldau and Chris Thile on April 11, at the Carolina Theatre; Gretchen Parloto Quintet, Motorco Music Hall, Durham, April 12 and 13; trumpeter Hugh Masekela, scheduled appearance at the Carolina Theatre, Durham, April 13; and jazz masters pianist Kenny Barron and bassist Dave Holland, at Reynolds Theater, Duke University. On May 17, the veteran, tasty guitarists Stanley Jordan and Kevin Eubanks, are scheduled to perform at the historic Carolina Theatre, Durham.

Whew! What a fine, fruitful, uplifting jazz season 2012-13 looks to be in the Triangle area of North Carolina and one that will get better and better as time goes by. We’ve gone full circle. Jazz musicians used to leave the state. Now there coming back to the place where Trane, Monk Max, Nina and Percy were born. The music is alive and well in North Carolina and the proof is in the pudding. Viva the Carolina jazz connection!

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