Recent events prove Charleston jazz landscape alive and well

Of The Post and Courier Staff

Much has happened on the jazz scene the last several weeks, and it’s all good.
Saxophonist Mark Sterbank’s concert at CSU on March 31 was a hit. The rhythm section composed of pianist Tommy Gill, drummer Quentin Baxter and bassist Herman Burney Jr. promised in advance a nice show led by Sterbank, but it was extra special in that Fred Wesley of James Brown band fame added his trombone to the front line.
Later that week he said of working with area musicians, “Those guys can really play. I thoroughly enjoyed it. You know, most of the time I go to a gig, probably play some funk, and go home. But there, I had to read music, play (chord) changes, change keys, all of that. Man, it was something.”
— The jazz fraternity is close-knit. When the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra came to town for an April 12 concert, right after the band arrived for the sound check that afternoon at Gaillard Auditorium, Ron Westray, a Columbia native and leader of the LCJO trombone section, was asking around about Baxter, with whom he has played before and remembers as an excellent musician.
Sterbank showed up at the sound check, hoping to hook up with a former teacher of his, reed player Victor Goines, who is also director of the Juilliard Institute for Jazz Studies. Sterbank attended Juilliard.
After entering the back door, shortly after Westray, Goines immediately recognized Sterbank. The two embraced and began to get caught up as Goines started assembling his tenor, getting ready to go to work. They were a little late arriving and had to keep it all going since the show started at 8. Everyone was exhausted, but in good spirits. Charleston was the 48th stop on a 50-city tour, and everybody could smell home.
The concert was a huge success. Jason Nichols, executive director of the sponsoring Charleston Concert Association, said the following Monday, “What a way to spend my 101st show!”. The show had sold out almost a week early, and it was a risk that paid off. He had said earlier it was only the second jazz show in 20 years put on by CCA.
“I have never seen the Gaillard that packed. We had to turn away hundreds. … You know, about 2,000 of those people there are classical music fans, but did you hear that foot stomping and hand clapping?”
Nichols is thinking about inviting Wynton Marsalis, LCJO director, back to do some education.
— Jazz education was furthered at a symposium March 25 at the Avery Research Center, where names such as Freddie Green, Cat Anderson, Jabbo Smith, and St. Julian Dash were intoned by panelists Raymond Rhett, Lonnie Hamilton, George Kenny, Bob Ephiram and Oscar Rivers, all musicians and educators with Jenkins Orphanage and Avery Institute connections. The third-floor exhibition hall was standing-room-only as stories, comments and questions on Charleston’s jazz history were discussed.
The audience included scholars, jazz fans, friends and relatives of former Jenkins players, students and history buffs.
Dr. Karen Chandler, director of Avery, has worked hard to make music programming a part of the center’s outreach. The center is now home, for instance, to Harold Singletary’s Poetic Jazz Society, a monthly jazz set that fuses jazz music and poetry by area writers. It’s been going since last fall and still seems to be gaining momentum.
— On April 4, one of the jazz acts at the nascent 3 Rivers Festival in Columbia was an all-star South Carolina band organized by saxophonist and band leader Skipp Pearson. The band, which opened for headliner Joe Sample, included, from the Lowcountry, Baxter on drums, Kenny on saxophone, Wesley on trombone and bassist Lee Burrows.
“The band was fantastic and we were very well received,” Pearson said. “About two-thirds of the people who saw Joe Sample were there to see us.” Pearson, one of this year’s Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Award winners, has been on the scene for more than 40 years and hopes to institutionalize the statewide band concept.