Jazz: It’s a genre, encore admits, not covered often enough in the Port City. In fact, it’s a question we’re asked most often from some readers when it comes to music coverage: Where can I listen to live jazz? Pianist James Jarvis tickles the ivories at multiple joints around town weekly (Bottega, Candlenut Restaurant, Blind Elephant), and Benny Hill’s saxophone sings each Sunday at Burnt Mill Creek. Of course there is the annual
Cape Fear North Carolina Jazz Festival held every February at the Hilton downtown. As well, the Cape Fear Jazz Society (CFJS) continues to cultivate the genre’s beloved local presence.
What started off 20 years ago as a group of Wilmington area jazz lovers, promoters, listeners, and musicians is now an institution celebrating two decades of jazz education and productions. Once known as the Cape Fear Jazz Appreciation Society, the name may have changed but philosophy and mission has not: to present and educate the masses in jazz.
CFJS has hosted countless seminars and master classes at college and high-school levels, and continues to highlight NC’s rich legacy of jazz music and artists. “Early on were shows by Percy Heath, Buddy Montgomery, and onto The Heath Brothers Honorarium, Diane Schuur,” says CFJS president Primus Robinson. “We offer showcases for all area and state musicians through our Bellamy and CAM series, too.”
Jazz at the Mansion at takes place in spring and summer at Bellamy Mansion, while Jazz at CAM hosts concerts the first Thursday of the month through April at our art museum. Robinson and his cohorts will celebrate their imprint on bringing jazz to local audiences and the legacy of their organization with the 20th Anniversary Gala held Friday at the Brooklyn Arts Center on N. Fourth Street.
Actually, Robinson has been in the music business for many years. He started his career as a DJ at Middlebury College in Vermont, then Pennsylvania’s Temple University, before going pro at Philly’s WDAS-FM radio.
“[I went] into the record biz as national promo director at Atlantic Records to founder of the jazz fusion division at Elektra Records,” he continues.
While he continued to move from Arista Records and back to Elektra, at his journey’s center always has been a love for the music. Like CFJS, Robinson appreciates and celebrates the many voices of classic and modern jazz that have marked its progress—from Billie Holiday through Ella Fitzgerald, to Diana Krall, Gregory Porter and Kurt Elling, and on to contributing innovative forces, like Patsy Cline and Willie Nelson.
“I get into all the genres of jazz—from old to new,” he muses. “You don’t know where you’re going, unless you’ve grasped your past. So, from Dizzy Gillespie to Coltrane to the Marsalis Brothers, I mark progress. Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, The Brecker Brothers, and Joe Zawinul brought us fusion. . . . I’m missing so many people whom I cherish their styles and styling. Just give me great music!”
As part of their celebration, CFJS plans to honor a long list of area patrons who have contributed to the ongoing growth and success of the organization. Honorees include founding member Richard Schmetterer, owner of Audio Lab and CFJS vice president; former VPs Hazel Williams, Desiree Joseph and WHQR’s production manager George Scheibner; organizer and director of merchandising Billy Johnson; as well as former president Sandy Evans, now head of The North Carolina Jazz Festival.
“Some are prominent citizens but a lot of ‘just folks’ have given their time and energy to all the transitions our nonprofit organization has survived in its 20 years,” Robinson adds.
Staying in line with CFJS history of working with talent on national and regional levels—especially supporting aspiring local talents—they’ve invited the Brunswick Big Band to headline the gala.
“The Brunswick Big Band has emerged recently as a truly professional ensemble,” Robinson touts. “They also recreate authentic big-band music that harkens back to the most famous big bands. They provide great dance music for a classic, mature audience.”
With 20 years down, Robinson says Cape Fear Jazz Society has many more ideas to come over the next 20. It includes continuing partnerships with the Bellamy and Cameron Art Museum. “CFJS just received another substantial grant from the N.C. Arts Council to continue our work,” Robinson adds. “By proper allocation of our resources, we plan to expand our outreach through educational programs (the UNCW Scholarship Concert); local collaborations (e.g. CAM and Bellamy Mansion series); and major artists at major venues (e.g. Diane Schuur and The Heath Brothers at Thalian Hall).”
The Cape Fear Jazz Society’s gala will feature a cash bar and hors d’oeuvre sourced from several delicatessen and specialty food vendors. Tickets are $30 per person and available at www.capefearjazzsociety.org.