With his plain black button-up and black slacks, Fred Wesley doesn’t look like a man who can drive a crowd crazy. But then he picks up a trombone, furrows his brow and begins to blow.
If you go
What: Jazz Artists of Charleston Jazz Series.When: Set One 7 p.m., Set Two 10 p.m. June 3-7; 8 p.m. June 8 (closing night special event).Where: Upstairs at 493 King St.Price: June 3-7, $20/set in advance, $25/set at the door; June 8, $40 in advance, $50 at the door.More info: 641-0011 or thejac.org.
On Tuesday night, Wesley blew some funk into the small crowd at Charleston Music Hall, eliciting hoots, catcalls and even spur-of-the-moment dancing in front of the stage.
The one-night-only performance with Fred Wesley and his New JBs was part of the fifth annual Jazz Artists of Charleston Jazz Series, which runs until June 8 in venues across town and coincides with Piccolo Spoleto and Spoleto Festival USA. The series’ primary venue is upstairs at 493 King St.
“This is the time of year when the arts in Charleston are on display,” said Mark Sterbank, advisory board member for the JAC and local tenor saxophone musician. “We wanted to have a series of our own and contribute. It’s a perfect time to do that.”
The nonprofit JAC was founded by Leah Suarez, the group’s president and executive director, and other local musicians. Its mission is to “develop, promote and support a vibrant and creative jazz culture through concerts, special outreach events and educational programs,” according to the group’s website.
“Jazz is not just a genre, it’s a verb,” said Suarez, who performed Getz/Gilberto with Sterbank on Saturday. “It’s at the core of everything we do, and we keep a very organic and improvisational atmosphere. This is not just musicians playing a gig, or the same standards every night.”
The JAC Jazz Series was part of Piccolo Spoleto during its first and third years, but the other three years (including this year) have been self-produced events. There are a few reasons for that, among them the timing of the Piccolo schedule, which doesn’t release until late March or April.
Still, continuing to align the JAC Jazz Series dates with Piccolo Spoleto and Spoleto Festival USA has kept audience numbers up, even drawing in the younger college-age generation.
“The festival timing is a great model to see what we can do, and it’s crucial that our heart stays here,” said Suarez. “We have so much in Charleston. It’s been the cradle of jazz, and it’s exciting to be a part of that.”
Sterbank, who also teaches jazz studies at Charleston Southern University and plays with local ensembles such as the Charlton Singleton Quintet, added that local talent and collaborations are what keep the JAC running successfully.
“Our musicians are incredible and creative,” he said. “We draw and present world-class talent on a local level, and I believe in that strongly.”
There are six shows left in the series. The closing show, “Charleston All-Stars,” is a session jam featuring the Charleston Jazz Orchestra All-Stars. The June 8 show will be at 8 p.m. at 493 King St.
Go to thejac.org.
Leah Stacy is a Newhouse School graduate student.