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Despite pandemic limitations, JazzArts Charlotte seems to have grown. This year, the jazz nonprofit (with the help of several substantial grants, including one from Knight Foundation), pivoted quickly from cancelled shows to a number of successful new initiatives held socially distanced and online. Jazz at Victoria Yards, an outdoor summer series, proved a popular return to in-person music events; Conversations with Curtis, a recurring conversation series with featured musicians over Zoom, gave insightful context to these events and others. JazzArts' major concert series, the JAZZ ROOM (which normally takes place monthly at the Stage Door Theater in downtown Charlotte), even officially reopened this month with a Trumpet Summit. Meanwhile, the organization's virtual alternative to the JAZZ ROOM, entitled The SET and born last year to maintain a monthly musical presence, will continue on as yet another series, at least for a little while longer.
The SET allows for JazzArts to feature local musicians, in a way unique from the JAZZ ROOM, which often presents themed tribute concerts to jazz greats. September 23rd's edition of The SET featured local band Menastree (read "ministry"), a funk/jazz/RnB fusion group of young Charlotte and Carolina natives.
Braxton Bateman, trumpet player for the band and alum of JazzArts' youth Jazz Academy, introduced Menastree from the stage at Neighborhood Theatre in NoDa. They began with an upbeat funk tune held tightly together by drummer Jesse Lamar Williams and bassist Jeremy Maher. Stefan Kallander supported on guitar, and Zach Wheeler complimented on saxophone and keyboard. Following the opener was a brief interview between Bateman and Williams, who discussed the mission of Menastree and the future plans of the band.
All filming and sound production were done in conjunction with the Neighborhood Theatre (which also had its own virtual series this year, called Queen City Streams). Performances coming out of the theatre have been very well produced, with clear sound and image, multiple camera angles, and shifting perspectives that provide visual interest without distracting from the music. The setting for this evening included the theatre's signature full-sized oriental rug and purple backdrop lighting.
Menastree grooved on with a gentler song which included vocals by bass player Maher and allowed for trumpet and guitar solos. Later music featured Wheeler who also sang, this time with voice altered through a synthesizer, and alternated with his saxophone.
The band is solid in groove and style, providing, as JazzArts advertised, "feel-good music" that inspires dancing and overlaps many styles but certainly has a jazz and funk foundation. The band, which was created in 2014 by Williams and Maher among others, often performs at the popular Evening Muse theatre in NoDa, a home for many local up-and-coming artists. According to Bateman and Williams, Menastree will continue to appear there and throughout the city, and the band also has a mixtape and several singles available soon. Menastree's performance of The SET is still available through JazzArts' YouTube and Facebook Live and will be for the foreseeable future.
Industrious as ever, JazzArts has plenty of exciting events scheduled for this fall. October's The SET will feature Mac Arnold & Plate Full O' Blues, who recently played with JazzArts at Victoria Yards. Meanwhile, the JAZZ ROOM is back in full swing with a tribute to Billie Holiday on October 15th and 16th. Additionally, JazzArts' educational mission will proceed both in-person and virtually, with new classes offered for adults through Zoom. See details through their website, listed on the sidebar.