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Jazz is… Charlotte

May 2022 — Over this past month, Jazz Appreciation Month 2022, we have asked you – students, musicians, educators, donors, program attendees – what jazz means in your life. We wanted to understand and up lift the value that a strong presence of jazz has on our very own community. You responded with hundreds of incredible descriptors, examples, and personal stories. Below we have gathered examples of your responses that offer a hint at the breadth of what jazz means, using your words.


History tells the story of jazz music’s key role in bringing people together. Even some essential components of jazz music, like call and response, makes it inherently collaborative. The evolution of jazz music encompasses an expansive set of genres, blending together “a mix of cultures that permeates through the generations,” noted Board Member Anil Patel. JazzArts Academy programs try to embody that spirit with scholarships and free programming to ensure that jazz education is accessible.


Through the shared enjoyment of the music, jazz creates bonds. As one JazzArts Ensemble student described, Jazz is “listening and responding…creating a conversation.” That musical conversation creates friendships between individuals whom might never have met. Following the jazz tradition, instructors strive to be mentors, passing knowledge and experience from one generation to the next. Because jazz music is created fresh every time, the in-the-moment emotions are a shared experience, no matter who you are.


Jazz is “the first true American music”, the first music uniquely created here. Our history is told through the music. Many of you reflected the words of famed trumpeter Wynton Marsalis describes jazz music as the “perfect metaphor for democracy” – that listening, improvisation and a flexible framework are essential elements of both jazz and democracy.  One program attendee described jazz as an “…expression of life in America. Jazz talks of the old and the new in a way that all can understand.”


Jazz is “controlled chaos,” quips instructor Lovell Bradford. “Freedom within limits. An escape from the cookie-cutter world,” says one audience member. Jazz is imagination, expression, inspiration.


The kind of music that is created in-the-moment, rather than played off the page, develops deep musical skills, plus skills beyond the music. “It equally requires vulnerability, bravery, and creativity,” shares Lonnie Davis, CEO of Jazz Arts Charlotte, as she considers both musicians and students. Studies prove time after time that studying music like jazz leads to success in language, communication, listening skills, problem solving, math, even history. JazzArts Ensemble alumnus Joshua Hanson clearly connects the skills he learned studying jazz to those he needed to succeed in his chosen degree, Engineering.


When asked to describe jazz, the word most frequently used was soul. “A way to dig deep into the soul and uncover emotions and vibes often inaccessible otherwise.” After that, you gave us a list of descriptors that covers every range of emotion. Jazz is both intimate and expressive. “It can play a whole narrative in our heads as we listen to it. Jazz is the perfect soundtrack to all the things that happen to us in our lives.” Jazz can both help us express life and offer a momentary escape when we need it.

One frequent attendee expresses it particularly well: Jazz is “the melody of the soul sung to the beat of the heart.”


Not to take ourselves too seriously, jazz can be simply an entertaining, awesome, cool experience. “Great for a date!” say more than one couple in the JAZZ ROOM. There’s a reason jazz musicians will show up to jam. Whether you’re playing or listening, jazz is just plain fun.


A few more of the unique ways you chose to describe what this music means to you include: exultant, generations, joy, labyrinth, legacy, moving, meditative, my father, passion, perspective, resilience, sensory, storytelling, together, wholeness.

We were so impressed by the depth of your responses, we decided to put them on a t-shirt, created exclusively for this “JAZZ IS…” project that visually expresses the impact jazz has on our very community. Unique to Charlotte, it is a tangible demonstration and reminder of what jazz means to all of us. We will continue to ask this question. The answers tell a story of Charlotte community, a story of jazz, and are the guide to our mission of Jazz in Charlotte.

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