PREVIEW: SUPPORT THE ART OF THE COOL MUSIC FESTIVAL! by LARRY RENI THOMAS

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By Larry Reni Thomas
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By Larry Reni Thomas

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Chapel Hill, North Carolina---I am a very fortunate jazz junkie because my father was a serious Count Basie fan, who also enjoyed listening to Sarah Vaughan, Billy Eckstine, Miles Davis, Stan Kenton, Dave Brubeck and other jazz giants. When he came home from delivering the mail, in Wilmington, North Carolina, he would change clothes, fix himself a drink, relax and listen to records. My brother, sister and I, who were not quite teenagers, hated this “old folks” music. We would rather listen to our music, the “Motown Sound” of the 1960s. That was the music we put on the record player when my parents weren’t home. But, gradually, we found ourselves listening to their music, too. In fact, we kind of enjoyed it.

Later, in 1967, after I went away to college at North Carolina College for Negroes (now called North Carolina Central University) (NCCU), in Durham, North Carolina, I found myself listening to more jazz. I remember my dad said that when he was in school at NCCU in the late 1940s, jazz in Durham was as hot as hip-hop is today. He also told me that he performed in a big band as a vocalist, like his idol “Mr. B” Billy Eckstine. “Jazz has always been in Durham,” he would always tell me. And he was right because I have been in the area since the mid-1960s and have witnessed the comings and the goings, the peaks and the valleys of its popularity here in a place where jazz has always lived and thrived.

I was here in the mid- 1970s when jazz legend, pianist/composer Brother Yusuf Salim came to Durham, North Carolina from Baltimore, Maryland. He helped create and operate The Salaam Cultural, where he and other dedicated jazz musicians held happy, well-attended workshops and concerts. I was also here in the late 1970s, to experience the impact jazz giant pianist/composer Mary Lou Williams had on the scene, when she was the artist-in-residence at Duke University. During the 1980s, when the jazz trumpet master, composer and educator, Dr. Donald Byrd, started the NCCU jazz studies department, I was living in Wilmington, hosting a evening jazz program at WHQR-FM.

When I came back to the area in 1995 to work at WNCU-FM, NCCU’s 24-hour jazz station, the place was primed and ready for a bigger, brighter, bolder future. Years ago, the excuse was that there was no jazz on the radio during the daytime hours, so, the public claimed that they didn’t know what jazz was or how it sounded. Folks can’t say that any more. The music is on the air all day and night at two 24-hour jazz stations, WNCU-FM (90.7) and WSHA-FM (88.9). We also have an active academic scene, with jazz studies departments and bands, at most of the area’s universities and colleges, (NCCU, UNC-Chapel Hill, NC State and Duke). In addition, we have places to go and listen to live jazz performed by international, national and local soulful swinging players.

For years, some Triangle, North Carolina jazz fans have been complaining and saying that they were tired of traveling to Atlanta, Georgia, Newport, Rhode Island, Washington, D.C., Monterey, California, New York City and other places to attend a outdoor jazz festival. They kept saying that they sure wished that this area had a major jazz festival. Why can’t we have a major jazz festivals? Aren’t we big-time enough to have a jazz festival? What does it take to bring such a jazz festival to this area? Those were some of the questions and comments I heard from most jazz fans since I have been on the front line.

Well, now is the time, as Charlie Parker so sweetly said. On April 25-26, 2014. during Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM), the first annual Art of Cool Music Festival is scheduled to happen in downtown Durham. The festival will be presented by The Art of Cool Project, a Durham, North Carolina-based, non-profit arts organization, founded and directed by Dr. Cicely Mitchell and musician/educator Al Strong. The two day festival will include two outdoor stages, six music venues, 30 (thirty) performances, a free festival kick-off party, a exclusive VIP opening party, panel discussions, master classes and art exhibits. The featured performers include Kinston, North Carolina native and resident, former James Brown band member, saxophonist Maceo Parker; The Clayton Brothers, Bilal, The NCCU Big Band, Russell Gunn, Christian Scott, NCCU Vocal Ensemble, Nnenna Freelon and Maya Freelon Asante, and Stanley Baird. The complete artist list is at www.aocfestival.org.

Dr. Mitchell, Mr. Strong and their organization have been working on this project for months. They have done the hard work, completed the surveys, held the meetings and heard the feedback. They are convinced that they have reached out and talked to the right people in the area to make sure that the festival will be an outstanding, all-inclusive, grassroots, educational and most of all, fun affair.

Hence, there is no reason why we here in the area shouldn’t be ready to let the good times roll! Support The Art Of Cool Music Festival! Why? In the end, it will be up to the area’s many jazz fans to make it successful. It will be up to the jazz lovers to make it a major celebration of the best that North Carolina has to offer. Support it because it represents you and that wonderful, earthy, beautiful blessing—The Carolina Jazz Connection!

Some of the partners and sponsors of The Art Of Cool Project Music Festival are: American Tobacco Historic District, PNC Bank, Blue Cross & Blue Shield Insurance, NCCU Jazz Studies, The Freelon Group, Durham Arts Council, WNCU-FM, FOX 50-TV, and The Durham Herald. For more information call (919) 806-6084, or e-mail, info@theartofcoolproject.org.

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Larry Reni Thomas