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A decade of visionaries

October 10 years ago, JazzArts Charlotte became official by electing its very first Board of Directors. These individuals, from the first Board to the current one, are the building blocks of the organization.

Barbara Edwards and Frank Parker remember the beginning very clearly. Ashlin Parker (their son and trumpet player at this past month’s JAZZ ROOM), had started playing in the Queens Collective with this amazing drummer named Ocie Davis. At Ashlin’s urging, they invited Ocie and his wife Lonnie over for dinner to meet this musician they kept hearing about.

That night and for many after, they sat around the dining table thinking and talking and dreaming.

“In the 1960s, there was a lot of jazz in this area. But it had diminished, and Charlotte was mainly limited to jazz sessions at the Double Door and some gigs at Cajun Queen. We envisioned bringing performance opportunities, and therefore musicians back to the area. Along with that, developing students and depth of teaching for a future path.” Says Frank. “We came to the conclusion that the only way to make that happen was to create a dedicated organization.”

Frank and Barbara, on that first Board, point to Lonnie’s ideas, determination and optimism. They say their role in those first years was to “do logistics, call people, write, and beg” laughs Frank. The legwork wasn’t sexy but it had to be done.

One of the first big challenges that rooted the organization was a 3-week summer jazz workshop. Held in a black box theater, there were 20 students ages 13 to 30. From the very beginning, JazzArts Charlotte focused on quality education, ensuring exceptional jazz instruction and topical expert clinicians. Some of those first students, including El Shafer and Tim Scott, have become nationally recognized and recently performed in the JAZZ ROOM.

Fast forward to today’s board, led by Chair Kevin Patterson. His introduction to JazzArts Charlotte was by accident six years ago. He was helping Friendship Missionary Baptist Church with a mass choir opera written by Winton Marsalis. “After the event was over, I was trying to shut the church down. But there were a dozen kids circled around Wynton Marsalis and he wouldn’t stop talking to them.” says Kevin, laughing at how irritated he was at first. “I watched, with increasing admiration, the greatest jazz player alive focus on each individual student, asking about their instruments, their practice time and their music. He showed them a true love of music and jazz. I became entranced as this jazz super star enlightened the lives of high school students who in many cases would never get a chance to talk to someone like that. it was magical.“

“Later, I attended a reception where I discovered the JazzArts Youth Ensemble playing, I then went to the JAZZ ROOM, and I was hooked.”

Kevin describes the growth and impact across these past six years through the quality of the students. Recent graduates like Ariel Mejia and Veronica Leahy are at the top of their game. “I remember them as tiny tots when they began, just learning. To see them at schools like Juilliard and Berklee and Harvard is a true testament to what JazzArts Charlotte can support. ”

“In my mind, it has made a difference in this community, defining diamonds in the rough, smoothing them out and creating gems that are literally playing around the world.”

Kevin remembers listening to JazzArts Ensemble former student Sean Mason two different times. First, when he had just graduated and was playing at the Piano Summit. They had four pianos, and he dazzled as much as the professionals. Recently, Sean came back as a professional himself to the JAZZ ROOM to play Ahmad Jamal and Kevin was blown away. “He was really good then. Recently, he was breathtaking.”

The important part of JazzArts Charlotte, however, isn’t necessarily to create the next Sean and Ariel. But to create youth that can go out into this world and be successful at whatever they are doing. “I believe the teaching of music helps foster the success of a young person. It combines the camaraderie with kids of like minds, the discipline, the freedom to explore their own talents and voice, and the exposure to seasoned professionals.” says Kevin.

This Board Chair’s vision for JazzArts Charlotte is as grand as the first one at the kitchen table. “I dream of making the JazzArts Academy open and free to all students willing and interested in learning about jazz. I envision taking jazz outside of the JAZZ ROOM into the Mecklenburg communities on a regular basis. I want Charlotte to be a mecca on the East Coast for the art form of jazz.”

The table has gotten bigger, and the vision continues to be grand. But the path is the same. Led by a committed and dedicated group of Board members who are passionate about the potential for this great American art form called jazz.

This article is in recognition and thanks to the Board members throughout these ten years who are one critical reason JazzArts Charlotte has reached hundreds of students, and thousands of patrons, becoming one of the top emerging arts organizations in the region.

“The achievements of a group are the result of the efforts of each individual.”

Thank you to ALL the JazzArts Board Members across this momentous decade of jazz in Charlotte.

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