In the last decade or so, Western North Carolina has been building on that same theme, mixing its rich old-time and lively bluegrass traditions along with an emerging Latino and South American sound and a healthy alternative rock scene.
Jazz too is enjoying more exposure in Western North Carolina thanks to organizations like the Asheville-based Jazz Composers Forum, which has been helping to bring more jazz performers to local and regional venues. Last year, the Asheville Poetry Review devoted its entire edition to jazz essays and poems celebrating the art form.
Jazz fans can groove on over to the Performing Arts Center in Waynesville when the Jed Levy Quartet swings into town Saturday, May 19. The group features New York City saxophonist and composer Jed Levy along with Bill Gerhardt on piano, Mike Holstein on bass, and Jeff Brillanger on drums. Gerhardt and Holstein are well known jazz artists who are founders of the Jazz Composers Forum in Asheville. Both are members of the New York-based band, CoTangent. That group has a pair of CDs, Stained Glass, and Thrive. They performed in Waynesville in 2006 with jazz trumpeter, Ingrid Jensen. Brillanger, meanwhile, has performed with Levy on four albums, including Mood Ellington and Round and Round.
Gerhardt, who first met Levy back in the early ‘90s and has recorded albums with him, continues to be impressed with Levy’s range of versatility, his work as a sideman, and now his leadership as a composer and band leader.
“He’s played with everybody,” Gerhardt said.
Levy has played alongside top-notch names across the musical spectrum from the Cab Calloway orchestra to the Temptations and Four Tops to Chico O’Farill’s Afro Cuban Orchestra. In addition to performing as a tenor and soprano saxophonist and flute player, he also composes. Since graduating in 1980 from the New England Conservatory, Levy has been playing in quartets, orchestras and various groups throughout the country as well as festivals in New York City, Chicago, Montreal, Ottawa, and overseas in France and Portugal. A fixture in the New York City jazz scene for nearly three decades, Levy has also taught music at the prestigious Berklee College of Music and Columbia University.
As a SteepleChase recording artist, Levy has been featured on five albums where he’s been the band leader — most recently with Gateway — as well as more than a dozen other albums where he’s been a sideman or band member.
Expect to hear a lot of Jed Levy music compositions for the Waynesville concert, Gerhardt said. When it comes to working with Levy, you know you’re dealing with a consummate creative professional.
“Jed has a very clear vision as a leader and as a composer,” Gerhardt added.
Jazz allows a performer to start with a framework and improvise, Gerhardt explained, and that sense of surprise, the understanding that no song is ever played the same way twice, is the thrill he looks for in music. It’s not about showing off technical abilities. It’s about giving in to the music.
“Take the music to new places,” Gerhardt says, calling to mind a jazz mantra.
And while it’s great to perform in front of a packed house of jazz aficionados, Gerhardt says it can be more fun to play in front of a crowd of people who don’t necessarily know what jazz is.
“They don’t have as many preconceived notions of what it should sound like,” Gerhardt said.
The pianist learned that first-hand while playing mountain villages in Spain years ago.
No stranger to Western North Carolina, Jed Levy and his band toured the region back in 2003 when the Asheville-based Jazz Composers Forum set up performances and workshops at Appalachian State University, UNC-Charlotte, UNC-Asheville and Claxton Elementary School in Asheville.
This time around, Levy and his band aren’t doing workshops, but they are playing venues in Boone, Blowing Rock, Charlotte, Winston-Salem and Asheville. The Waynesville gig will be the Levy Quartet’s last date on the North Carolina tour.
The jazz performance in Waynesville will be held at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 19 at the Performing Arts Center on Pigeon Street. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for seniors. Students with a current student ID are free. For more information and to purchase tickets contact the Arts Council at 828.452.0593.