In the final episode of the WFAE Songversations series on August 27, host Joni Deutch spoke to Lonnie Davis and Troy Conn about their recent experiences and expectations for the jazz community.
Troy Conn, jazz guitarist, played several songs chosen to represent his perspective. First, “Pure Imagination”, from 1871, “fits the surreal mood that a lot of us are feeling”. He later played a Thelonious Monk tune, We See, and a jazz standard “Beautiful Love”.
Below are a few excerpts of the conversation. Watch the full discussion on our YouTube channel.
Joni Deutch: What have the last few months been like?
Troy Conn: I’d rather be in the same room. The lack of human connection with the student is the most difficult for me in teaching… We’ve learned a lot of tech really quick to keep things going. That has been good in some ways. Like anything else, you do it and find your groove and make it work. Some students surprisingly love it. We find ways to make it work.
Lonnie Davis: Initially we all thought this will not last and we’ll get back to normal… We launched conversations online,… then livestream music. We could not do any of this work without the amazingly talented musicians here.
We have been trying to be as in tune to what’s going on, not just with CMS and local educators, but on a national scale, what others are doing, what is successful for them, trying to incorporate that into what we are doing. We just launched new educational programs for the fall. Some programs we have been wanting to do for a long time. Now we are in a position to, although we didn’t realize that would mean virtual. Education is the foundation of who we are as an organization.
Joni: The Charlotte region is filled with talented jazz music creatives. Tell us about our world and this landscape of jazz creation.
Lonnie: Originally I am from New Orleans. When we got here, we didn’t know what to expect. Troy is actually one of the first musicians we met… It is unbelievable the talent here in this state, this region. World class. We are privileged to have musicians of this caliber in our own back yard. A lot of people don’t realize how much talent is right here. A lot don’t realize the history of jazz and the impact this area has had on jazz history. Thelonious Monk, Max Roach, Ella Fitzgerald were born in North Carolina. Nina Simone. Cross the state line and you have Dizzy Gillespie in South Carolina. We make sure the students in our Jazz Academy are aware. This is who we are as a community. They could be the next, if they just put in the work. It’s in the ground of our region.
Troy: It’s amazing… JazzArts Charlotte has been here for only 10 years. That’s not that long a time for the scope of work they have accomplished. We have someone pulling people together camps and weekly classes for youth, now the adult programs. Bringing all this to the table and making it accessible to people. Introducing people to it.
Joni: Music can be a time capsule, looking back at yesteryears, or making this music now so we can be reminded of what it was like at this point of history. Seeing how jazz has had a critical role in civil rights, what have we learn from that jazz soundtrack for these conversations taking place?
Lonnie: Jazz has always been a reflection of our society, I think… It puts us under a microscope. The musicians together on stage bring with them their experiences, who they are as people, their ability to work together, listen to each other (or not). The ultimate form of democracy. It requires working together, coming to some understanding. the music provides a framework, but there is a whole lot of freedom in jazz…. It’s important musicians have to be in tune, willing to compromise and give of themselves, open to forming a truce and understanding of each other through the music. That is certainly the case as it relates to the civil rights movement and social unrest at that time. And now. I’m sure a lot of innovative great music is going to come out of the time we are living right now.
Joni: What words of inspiration would you give to the music community as we are still facing this lockdown.
Lonnie: Hang in there. Know they are valuable and we need them. We need the venues and the artists. There’s gonna be a light at the end of this tunnel… If people didn’t as much pre-COVID, they will certainly appreciate musicians and music following this interesting time. We have no place to go but up.