A drum set, a grand piano, and a bass guitar sit at the center of the room, waiting to be played.
Faces of Black pioneers — from Stokely Carmichael to Tupac, Lena Horn and Mae Jemison — are shown on a screen behind the instruments.
Old-school soul music plays from two large speakers.
People of different races and ages take their seats and mingle before renowned jazz musicians take the stage to perform a live set.
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This is Jazz at the Gantt.
Since its debut in September 2021, Jazz at the Gantt has highlighted over 20 musicians ranging from ages 18 to 30.
Jazz at the Gantt is a monthly series held at the Harvey B. Gantt Center that showcases the talent of young jazz musicians from New York. At the event, guests experience live music, can enjoy drinks and interact with the artists after the show.
This year’s theme is Young, Gifted and Black.
Last Friday, Jazz at the Gantt hosted a sold out show.
It featured the Luther S. Allison Trio, comprised of Charlotte native Luther S. Allison on piano, Endea Owens on the bass and Domo Branch on the drums.
David Taylor, CEO of the Harvey B. Gantt Center, and jazz musician Ocie Davis, co-founder of Jazz Arts Charlotte and curator of Jazz at the Gantt, first discussed adding a jazz element to the Gantt in early 2022.
In two separate interviews with QCity Metro, both Taylor and Davis noted the positive feedback they have received from attendees.
To the pair, the feedback serves as encouragement to bring the program back for a second season, but they are still securing resources to sustain Jazz at the Gantt.
Taylor and Davis wanted to establish a Jazz program unique to Charlotte, which ended in the decision to bring New York-based musicians to North Carolina.
“That was compelling to me, and I thought it was a brilliant approach for this particular first series,” Taylor said.
According to Taylor, people can come to the Gantt before the performance to view the exhibitions, noting the significance of the intersection between art and music.
“I’m bringing in young Black American musicians, and I like to [be specific] because Elon Musk is from Africa and he’s African American,” Ocie Davis said when asked why he chose the Young, Gifted and Black theme.
“[These musicians are] the torchbearers of this great music that we are the progenitors of.”
To Davis, Jazz at the Gantt is an opportunity to preserve and pay homage to the “true culture” of Jazz, which he says, is often watered down and taken for granted.
“It’s so important, at this point in the world, that we gatekeep our culture because we’re influential worldwide,” Davis said.
“I’m tired of us being treated like second class citizens because we’ve given everything to this country; we’re the soul of this nation.”
In fact, Davis is so fervent about this program that he’s contributed close to $30,000 of his own money to pay the artists and rent quality instruments.
Although he’s suffered a slight deficit, Davis feels it’s worth it.
“Afterwards, people would come up to me shaking my hand and thanking me for what I’m doing, how impactful this is and wishing there were more people there,” Davis said.
From the mountains to the Queen City
Zev Friedman and Justin Holts drove 2.5 hours from Asheville, N.C. to experience Jazz at the Gantt for the first time.
Although they didn’t know what to expect, they were, however, certain that they were going to see a good jazz performance.
Friedman first learned about Jazz at the Gantt through WFAE. Afterward, he looked up the Luther S. Allison Trio.
“I was like ‘damn that’s good. I wanna drive down and see this,” Friedman told QCity Metro.
Holtman, who is an occasional jazz musician, noted that it’s not often he experiences a high caliber of play, such as Friday’s performance.
He’s been to several jazz shows back home but said that he appreciated the intimate feel of Jazz at the Gantt.
“I felt very comfortable to be in this intimate space with top-level musicians,” Holtman said.
“I mean I’m just an amateur but I was blown away by the skills of these folks,” Friedman added.
“I was just like wow, I need to like, rewind that and watch it again.”
A mini getaway
Chanda Thomas and Rain Alexander were also attending Jazz at the Gantt for the first time.
The two said they are always looking for adult activities centered in culture.
Alexander learned about Jazz at the Gantt through an email she received from the Gantt Center.
Normally, she said, she would bypass the email, but this time, she decided to acknowledge this particular event.
“This is the third event that I’ve been to here in eight years,” Alexander said in an interview with QCity Metro.
“But I love jazz so whenever they have events here that are centered around music, it draws me in.
For Alexander, Jazz at the Gantt is an escape from everyday life.
“It’s a moment where you can just not worry or think about all the other things going on in the world, in your life and just enjoy the rhythm, the music, the sound and the calm peace,” Thomas said.
Thomas appreciated the diversity of the audience, noting there was a mixture of race, age and culture.
She also enjoyed that the musicians were interactive with the crowd.
“Sometimes, you go to events and you don’t get to interact with the artists, so that’s what I really enjoyed. I thought it was interesting and personable.”
Jazz at the Gantt’s season-ending performance will be held Feb. 24 and will feature the Camille Thurman Quintet.
Davis, however, is hoping to curate a second season of the series that expands on the Young, Gifted and Black theme.
After February, he said, the program will take a hiatus as they assess how to move forward.
“There are opportunities for subscriptions and sponsorships,” Davis said.
“We’ve got grants we can go after, we’ve got corporate entities we can touch base on, so there’s a lot of things that are possible.”
Davis is also thinking about other themes for other seasons including a “legendary season” that brings in jazz legends as well as an “international season” that reflects how jazz has influenced the world.
Davis also says he aims to bring the program to other cities.
As of now, a date has not been solidified for a second season, but Taylor said the plan is to start in March or April of this year.
“It’s just about folks coming out for a really unique jazz experience with some amazing, young talent,” Taylor said.
For tickets to the next show, visit https://www.ganttcenter.org/calendar/jazz-at-the-gantt-0223/