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It was a distinct pleasure to be present at the inaugural concert of Wilmington's 40th annual North Carolina Jazz Festival amid a sold-out audience of several hundred jazz fans in the well-appointed ballroom of the downtown Ballast Hotel. The creator and organizer of the festival, Sandy Evans, and her team, must be congratulated on both organizing and selecting an excellent schedule of national and local musicians to play over the three days of the festival.
Of particular note, as part of the NCJF educational outreach, many of the musicians interacted with local school children and high school and university students in their spare time. It was no coincidence that the opening group was the superb Jon Hill Trio; Hill is a percussion teacher at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington – and probably the most "musical" trap drummer this reviewer has heard in many years. He brilliantly led his two students – Carlos Garcia on piano and Carlo Rouse on acoustic bass – in a set of jazz standards, much to the audience's delight. It was most gratifying to hear the additional treat when Chuck Redd sat in on vibes, thus adding some pizzaz with eight and four bar "conversational" exchanges with the other musicians.
One of the treats for this reviewer was the performance of the "rising star" singer Veronica Swift with the pianist Emmet Cohen and his trio; she is the daughter of vocalist Stephanie Nakasian (who was in the audience) and the late renowned bebop pianist Hod O'Brian. Possibly even a greater treat was when mother and daughter decided to perform a finale duet together, singing the Bernice Petkere piece "Close Your Eyes." As remarked in the excellent program notes, Cohen has been praised internationally for his "nimble touch, measured stride and warm harmonic vocabulary" that he employs to communicate with other musicians and audiences. It might very well be a description of the vibe for this jazz festival – already in the plans for next year.
PS A half hour jam session followed this performance but is not reviewed here.