Charlotte Jazz Scene Attracting Bigger Names with Continued Growth

Queen City Nerve

Kat Edmonson leads list of chart toppers playing smaller venues in town

Kat Edmonson

Kat Edmonson will perform at Middle C Jazz in Charlotte on April 9.

Singer-songwriter Kat Edmonson has performed on national stages like Austin City Limits, A Prairie Home Companion, and Late Night with David Letterman. She has sung at Carnegie Hall, the Montreux Jazz Festival, and Blue Note in Japan. Her 2020 concept album, Dreamers Do, topped Billboard’s traditional jazz chart.

Edmonson is no stranger to Southern stages, either. She was a featured performer at Spoleto Festival USA in 2014, and I caught her gig at Savannah Music Festival in the spring of 2019. Amazingly enough, despite having Charlotte on numerous occasions, she’s never performed here.

“My greatest link to Charlotte,” she told me, “is that my childhood friend – best friend – lives there, and I’ve often been to Charlotte to visit her. But not for any other reason, and I haven’t been to any jazz clubs in town.”

Until recently, there hasn’t been much of a jazz scene for Edmonson to either take in or perform for. But that’s all changing in a big way. Offering two sets on April 9, Edmonson is near the front of a grand parade of big-name jazz artists who will be marching in and out of the Middle C Jazz Club this year, playing to newly unmasked, capacity-sized audiences.

We’ve seen some of these players before, like Kirk Whalum and Delfeayo Marsalis, at special events dating back to JazzCharlotte in the late ’80s and, more recently, at the Blumenthal Performing Arts’s annual Charlotte Jazz Festival. Jazz fans had to satisfy themselves with hoping that these special events, held indoors and outdoors at large venues, would return to us annually with such groovy cargo as Diane Schuur, Dave Brubeck, the Harper Brothers, Maria Muldaur, Renée Marie, and the Jazz @ Lincoln Center Orchestra.

Defeayo Marsalis

Defeayo Marsalis will perform at Middle C Jazz in Charlotte in June.

Now the big names are playing our smaller venues, creating a more intimate jazz club vibe. Headliners following in Edmonson’s wake at Middle C Jazz this year include Nicole Henry (April 15-16), Joey DeFrancesco (May 20), Jonathan Butler (June 3-4), Delfeayo Marsalis & The Uptown Jazz Orchestra (June 10), Kirk Whalum (July 15-16), Jeff Kashiwa (July 22), Jeff Lorber (September 9-10), and Euge Groove (November 11-12).

“We just had Gerald Albright, and then we just had Norman Brown, and they sold out,” says Middle C club owner Larry Farber. “We’ve got Brubeck Brothers (April 7) coming in. I mean it’s been really, really good. February and March have been our two biggest months since we opened in November 2019. Knock on wood, we’re on an upward trajectory.”

And in case you hadn’t noticed, the Stage Door Theater’s Jazz Room just announced the Season 16 of their monthly series, and upward trajectory is an understatement, bringing in such luminaries as Donald Harrison (April 8-9), Emmet Cohen (May 20-21), Jeff Tain Watts (July 8-9), and Pedrito Martinez (September 2-3).

A couple of these headliners, Henry and Martinez, claim recordings that have now lingered for at least two months on Jazz Week’s chart of most-played albums on jazz radio, both peaking in the top 5; and a couple more, DeFrancesco and Cohen, are in the cumulative top 50 for the past year, with Joey D at the top of the heap.


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