I recently attended the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra‘s concert with Regina Carter. The shows in the Square Room are part of a premium package offered as an addition to the Jazz Orchestra’s regular concert series in the Bijou. Both are great. There really isn’t a better place to hear live music than the Bijou. On the other hand, the intimacy of the Square Room is very nice.
The general admission show had to be sold out and perhaps a little over sold. There were more people than chairs, I believe. A good tip for attending one of the shows would be to arrive substantially early. We arrived at least twenty minutes before the show and got decent seats, but within the next five minutes people arriving had to scramble – some couples arriving could not find two seats side-by-side.
All that aside, once the show started, the attention shifted front-and-center and the KJO performed at their usual excellent level. I do not have a deep knowledge of jazz, but I did grow up on the gulf coast where jazz was part of the culture, so I appreciate it greatly and probably have more than jazz than the average person on my ipod. I marvel at the jazz talent in this city.
I also suspect that many people in Knoxville do not know we have a jazz orchestra. As much as I enjoy jazz, I didn’t know about them until I moved downtown in 2009. How is that possible? Vance Thompson founded the group in 1999 and still leads it seventeen years later. It’s a Knoxville treasure.
Often the orchestra plays with a featured artist and many of them are nationally or internationally known. As is generally the case, Regina Carter, this month’s featured artist is world famous – in jazz circles. Which means most people have never heard of her, though she possesses amazing talent and is a star in that world.
From Detroit, she began playing melodies on the piano at age two. She took piano lessons and soon branched out to learn multiple additional instruments before settling in on violin. Classically trained, she also played with pop bands in her youth before switching to a study of jazz as a college student.
She steadily made albums through the nineties, first with the String Trio of New York and then solo and her reputation grew. Eventually she played sessions with numerous stars such as Lauryn Hill, Mary J. Blige, Dolly Parton, Billy Joel and Aretha Franklin and toured with Wynton Marsalis. She ultimately received a MacArthur Grant (500K over five years) for the excellence of her art.
So, that’s the caliber of talent KJO brings to the city. And she was masterful, playing styles bordering on classical at times, sophisticated jazz and playful Dixieland infused melodies. I loved watching the other musicians respond to her. I thought it was amazing, but I can generally read at least some of the other musicians to see what they think and several were clearly enraptured.
On a personal note, that was the first time I’d seen local music photographer Eric Smith back at work after a recent health issue and that was a delight. You can see Eric’s work on display at the Bijou where he has been the house photographer (also at the Tennessee) for many years. I met him sometime in the 90s when he took a photograph of my daughter and her friend with Joan Baez. Jewel of a guy and I was happy to see him.
Of course, the crowd was full of friends as any downtown event gets to be for those of us who live in the center city and that’s almost as important as the music. Good music and good friends are hard to beat. I’ll drop a video below to give you a sample of Ms. Carter’s work. Hope you enjoy – and I hope you’ll look for a chance to hear the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra if you haven’t already done so.