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Preview: The Hot Swinging Triangle North Carolina 2019-20 Jazz Season by Larry Reni Thomas
(Published: August 21, 2019)

The busy, expanding, thoroughly-satisfying jazz scene in what is called the "Triangle" area of the Piedmont section of North Carolina (Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill) just keeps getting better and better. Who needs the New York. Philadelphia, Baltimore, D.C. or any other East coast jazz scenes when everybody seems to be coming this way? The area can boast of several venues that present live jazz including, C. Grace's, Irregardless Café, and Brasa's, in Raleigh; The Carolina Theatre (www.carolinatheatre.org), Motorco Music Hall, Blue Note Grill, Sharp Nine Gallery, Pinhook, the Hayti Heritage Center, The NorthStar Church of the Arts, Arcana and The Fruit in Durham; and Weaver Street, The Station, The Second Wind, and The Arts Center in Chapel Hill/Carrboro. The scene is also enhanced by the music presented by the three main universities in the area: Duke University in Durham (Duke Performances, (www.dukeperformances.duke.edu), North Carolina State University (NC State LIVE (www.live.arts.ncsu.edu) and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) (Carolina Performing Arts, www.carolinaperformingarts.org).

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 North Carolina Jazz Listening Group, and The Triangle Jazz Society, which has been around since 2005, The CoCo Jazz Arts Community and The Durham Jazz Renaissance Foundation. The area is also fortunate enough to have a 24-hour jazz radio station, NCCU' s WNCU-FM, Durham (which has been on the air since 1995). Other radio stations, such as WCOM-FM, Chapel Hill-Carrboro's community station, Duke University's WXDU-FM, and UNC-CH's WXYC-FM, also program jazz music. WXYC-FM and WNCU-FM both hold live jazz concerts on special occasions.

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. The community will smile and be highly pleased with the upcoming, splendid, variety-packed 2019-20 jazz music season.

The fall jazz season gets started when The Ninth Annual John Coltrane Jazz and Blues Festival (www.coltranejazzfset.com), takes place, Labor Day weekend, (August 31 and September 1, 2019) in his hometown of High Point, North Carolina, about an hour and half east of the Triangle area of the state. This year's Coltrane festival lineup includes vocalist Nnenna Freelon with reedman Benny Golson, organist Joey DeFrancesco with reedman Pharaoh Sanders, Boney James. Also, in the month of September, pianist Ernest Turner and his trio, are scheduled to perform, September 9, 2019, at The Fruit in Durham, North Carolina. The next Monday, September 16, 2019, reedman Brian Horton and his quartet, along with special guest the dynamic vocalist Mavis Swan Poole, are scheduled to be at The Fruit. These Fruit engagements are part of a Monday night series that the Fruit's management calls "Local Jazz," which will showcase the area's jazz musicians. It will last through most of the fall. For more information go to: www.durhamfruit.com. On September 19, 2019, Duke Performances presents the trumpeter/composer Ambrose Akinamusire and his group at The Rubenstein Arts Center, Van Der Heyden Studio Theater, on the Duke University campus. The innovative violinist Regina Carter and her group are scheduled to appear September 28, 2019, at North Carolina State University's Stewart Theater. The engagement is being billed as a tribute to the first lady of song, Ella Fitzgerald. Contact: www.live.arts.ncsu.edu.

The month of October 2019, will feature an October 2nd performance by vocalist Alicia Olatuja at Moser Auditorium, in Hill Hall, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's campus. On October 20, Bad Plus is scheduled to perform at Baldwin Auditorium on Duke University's east campus. The Fruit's Monday local jazz series continues on October 21, with a concert featuring the Shaquim Muldrow Quartet. On October 28, 2019, the very-talented bubbly, personality-plus, vocalist/cellist, Shana Tucker and reedman Brian Horton are scheduled to be at The Fruit with a special program honoring John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman.

The November 2019 line-up includes a November 3rd matinee concert by vocal sensation Jazzmeia Horn in Wilmington, North Carolina in Kenan Auditorium on the campus of The University of North Carolina at Wilmington. It will take a fast three-hour trip down Interstate 40 east, but, it will be well worth it. She is what jazz lovers call "the real deal." This concert is being co-sponsored by The Cape Fear Jazz Society. For more information go to: https://uncw.edu/arts/presents/2019-2020/jazzmeia.html. On November 4, 2019, The Fruit will feature more local jazz with The Christian Tamburr Quartet featuring vocalist Kate McGarry, The Ariel Pocock Quartet on November 11th and fine vocalist Autumn Rainey and her quartet on November 18, 2019.

The spring season of live jazz in the Triangle of 2020 begins on January 24, 2020, with the appearance of the pianist Marcus Roberts and his group at Stewart Theater on the campus of North Carolina State University. On February 14, 2020, saxophonist Joshua Redman and his quartet: Ron Miles (trumpet), Scott Colley (bass), and Dave King (drums) are scheduled to appear at Baldwin Auditorium, Duke University. The next night, February 15, 2020, Shana Tucker will perform at Titmus Theater on the campus of North Carolina State University. On February 22, 2020, The Maria Schneider Orchestra will be at Memorial Hall, on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH). The next month, on March 27, 2020, saxophone sensation Chile-native Melissa Aldana and her group are scheduled to be in concert at Memorial Hall, at UNC-CH. Duke Performances(https://dukeperformances.duke.edu/) will present two concerts to round out the spring season with an April 9, 2020 engagement at The Motorco Music Hall, in downtown Durham, North Carolina featuring Trinidad-native trumpeter Etienne Charles and his group, and a May 1, 2020 performance with guitarist Mary Halvorson and her group at The Rubenstein Arts Center, Von Der Heyden Studio Theater, Duke University.

Whew! What a fine, fruitful, uplifting jazz season 2019-20 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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