Jazzing It Up
The NC Jazz Festival livens up Wilmington in February.
Jazz lovers can celebrate because the NC Jazz Festival is scheduled for February 2,3 and 4 in 2023.
“I want people to realize they will hear 19 different musicians at the festival,” says Sandy Evans, president of the NC Jazz Festival since 2005. “It won’t all be Dixieland.”
Evans’ own taste leans toward bebop musicians such as Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk.
The venue for the Jazz Festival is the ballroom at Hotel Ballast in Wilmington.
“People have to be given a chance to hear things in a setting where they are comfortable and having a good time,” Evans says.
Special Event Night opens the festival on February 2 and features three celebrated artists. Evans explains that singer Steve Washington comes from Washington, D.C., to open the festival at 7:30 pm.
“His voice is a cross between Billy Epstein and Nat King Cole, real smooth,” she says.
Besides performing with the Drifters, Supremes and the Village People, he sang in a tribute to Nat “King” Cole at the Smithsonian Museum of American History in April 2022.
The next performer is world-renowned pianist Lenore Raphael with accompanist Steve Hobbs on vibraphone. Raphael, who has her own radio show on purejazzradio.com, is considered one of the best jazz pianists in the world today. Guitarist Nate Najar, considered one of the finest modern jazz acoustic guitarists in this decade, closes the Thursday night show along with saxophonist Jeff Rupert. The two will give a tribute to Charlie Bird and Stan Getz.
The festival continues Friday night at 7:30 pm with five or six musicians playing together in seven free flow sessions. As long-time attendees know, one person is the leader and sets the pace for that session.
“I encourage the musicians to play what they want when they are the leader, so they can exhibit their special qualities,” Evans says.
Featured musicians this year are pianists Ehud Asherie and Rossano Sportiello; bassists Herman Burney and Neal Miner; trombonists Emily Asher and Dion Tucker; trumpetists Bruce Harris and Shaye Cohn; percussionist Kevin Dorn and Chick Redd; reed performers Adrian Cunningham and Houston Person; violinist Jonathan Russell; guitarist Nate Najar; and vocalist Lucy Yeghiazaryan.
“People will have a good time because it’s good music,” Evans says. “This is one time they will listen to different styles and realize that they can’t say, ‘I don’t like jazz.’”
Patrons have the added benefit of enjoying a musical brunch from 10:30 am to 1 pm on February 3, the second day of the festival.
Flyers announcing the festival are available at The AudioLab, 5732 Oleander Drive; Cameron Arm Museum, 3201 S. 17th Street; and Hotel Ballast, 301 N. Water Street, all in Wilmington.
The NC Jazz Festival is a nonprofit organization comprised of a board of 10 members who volunteer their time and talents to organize the festival each year. Evans’ interest in jazz started when she was a teen and went to a jazz club every week in Lake George, New York.
“My husband was into big bands, and that broadened my jazz knowledge,” she says.
She denies she has any musical talent but says, “I love to listen, and I clap like crazy. I really, really enjoy hiring musicians and getting them gigs. It’s a lot of fun.”
Want to go?
NC Jazz Festival
February 2, 3, 4, 7:30 pm to midnight
Hotel Ballast, 301 N. Water St., Wilmington
Tickets and information: ncjazzfestival.org
February 2, $45; February 3 & 4, $65 each night
Active military, $25; students, $15
Reservations for 10 only
Patron tickets: February 3 & 4, including musical brunch, $215 or February 2,3 & 4, $240