After first set, rain shutters free festival event

Apr. 26, 2014 @ 03:21 AM

Driving rain and lightning forced an early shutdown to the opening party for this weekend’s Art of Cool Festival Friday afternoon, but not before jazz fans got an enticing earful from one of the student groups from North Carolina Central University’s Jazz Studies Program.

The students opened the free concert in Durham Central Park, the first of a weekend of concerts scheduled for 10 venues Friday night and today. The band opened with an arrangement of “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got that Swing,” a Duke Ellington standard,  followed with the ballad “What’s New” and finished with Hank Mobley’s tune “This I Dig of You.” Saxophone player Brian Horton, who teaches and leads the ensemble, also played and soloed with the students.

Alto and soprano saxophone player Miguel Hidalgo-Monroy, who is finishing his degree in composition and performance in NCCU’s graduate program, took the first solo on the Ellington tune. As the band was setting up under the Farmers’ Market shelter, he said he hopes the festival gets more exposure for the program’s students and guest artists. “I think it would be great to get people out to see all the great players at the university,” and the great guest artists, Hidalgo-Monroy said.

This year, NCCU, which usually presents a spring festival on campus, partnered with Art of Cool and presented its concerts in conjunction with the festival.

Vibraphone player Brandon Rich, a junior in the program, said he plans to stay in the area and teach after he graduates. He started as a music education major, but “then I got real into jazz” and enjoys playing. “It’s hard to stay away from it,” Rich said.

Before the rain hit, a steadily growing crowd gathered under the market shelter’s eaves, and on the Central Park lawn. Travis Cagney was sitting on the lawn. He bought a full-day pass for Saturday. “I just want to experience as much as possible and see how long I last,” Cagney said.

During the students’ set, Carolyn Brewer, 75, who uses a cane and a walker, completely disproved the belief that jazz is not a dance music. She likes to dance, and attends many of the festivals in Durham Central Park. Other audience members made dance-like moves.

Other performers scheduled to perform at Friday’s free opening were Peter Lamb and the Wolves, the Kidznotes Jazz Ensemble, Yolanda Rabun and Mel Melton and the Wicked Mojos. A post on the Art of Cool Festival’s Facebook page said the rest of the concert had been rained out.

Art of Cool grew out of a series of monthly concerts that Cicely Mitchell and trumpeter Al Strong began in 2011. In 2012, they announced intentions to present a Durham jazz festival, with the idea to make it an annual event. During the two-day event, 48 local and guest artists will perform at 10 different venues in and around downtown -- among them Motorco Music Hall, Beyu Caffe, the Durham Arts Council, Pinhook and Hayti Heritage Center.

Today’s lineup includes performances by Cody ChesnuTT, Christian Scott, The Foreign Exchange, Amel Larrieux and many more.