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Jazz Invasion

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The upcoming Charlotte Jazz Festival celebrates the classic American art form with an array of concerts, club performances, a youth competition, food, fellowship and the Wynton Marsalis-led Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.

And two high-profile former residents jump-started the process.

“Seeds for the festival were sewn four years ago,” according to Blumenthal Performing Arts’ Tom Gabbard: That’s when Anthony Foxx, then Charlotte mayor, and then-Arts & Science Council president Scott Provancher met Marsalis, artistic and managing director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, during a Charlotte Chamber visit to New York.

Marsalis, in a phone interview earlier this month, recalled that visit.

“I observed that most of the jazz festivals I’d played in over the last 30 years had devolved from 50-60 percent jazz in the early ’80s to maybe 10 percent jazz now.

“Many of the festivals around Europe realized once they get their market, they don’t really need jazz. They can keep the name, but it doesn’t really matter what style of music is being played. We talked about the effect of integrity itself. (Foxx and Provancher) thought Charlotte would be a great place to bring a real jazz festival.”

What’s crucial to that? Marsalis ticked off the needs: time for development and patient leadership; a wide range of programming; education and community outreach for young musicians and jazz fans alike; a youth competition; casual jam sessions; and collaboration with local musicians.

“Diversity of generations is important. Younger musicians bring a certain type of energy and freshness. Jam sessions are a way for the community to participate in something that is less formal. Young artist competition allows people to hear what their peers are doing and gain a higher level of involvement from teachers. It’s also important for us to play with local musicians like the Ocie Davis Quartet and John Ellis Jazz Quartet.”

A special Loonis McGlohon Young Artist Jazz Competition takes place April 23 for eighth through 12th grade students. Top finishers will receive scholarships funded by the Leon Levine Foundation.

“Education is such an important aspect of community building power behind jazz,” said Lonnie Davis, CEO and co-founder of the Jazz Arts Initiative, an area nonprofit. Davis, creator of Charlotte’s Jazz Room monthly performance series, is serving as local program director for the festival.

“I’ve seen the appetite in Charlotte for jazz grow,” she said. “The festival adds to that energy and excitement.”

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