Bring up the word “jazz” nowadays, the Millennial might say, “It’s when you hold up your hands and spread the fingers out and shout with a whisper – Jazz Hands.” The Generation X may question, “Is it like elevator music and Kenny G?” And Baby Boomers will reminisce and think, “They don’t make music like that anymore.”
Jazz is rooted in African American culture and heritage. The historic origins began in America and inspired other countries to adopt jazz and evolve it into many styles in an international music fusion. The foundations of playing jazz are based on improvisations, and the layers of talent, inspiration, performance, place and time add other elements to stir the creative and spontaneous jazz riffs, notes, combinations, melodies, and possibly a once in a lifetime compositions. It is the sum of all these parts that contribute to the quality and greatness of a song being played, interpreted, and composed by the musician with their instrument of choice. The lucky recipient to hear and experience this, will be hooked for life.
Jazz may not have the instant and trending appeal of other music genres, but the history and legacy have lived and played on since the 1920s. The Triangle’s Durham Jazz Workshop is reminiscent of the old time jazz clubs. These intimate clubs popped up in different locations across the country in the renaissance of jazz to fill the needs of hungry musicians – not just their need to play music, but also the hunger of their audiences. The DJW location may not be as notable as the jazz clubs that spurred the jazz movement, but by fate and necessity, their choice of location is in the Ample Storage Complex in Durham, Unit L. Here, all who attend can experience the essence, history and romance of a music genre that started from the cotton clubs and secret hideaways to offer a taste of jazz.
Dave Finucane discusses and shares his insights as a musician, “jazz club owner,” and founder of the Durham Jazz Workshop (DJW). The mission statement is: “DJW is a non-for-profit, 501(c) 3 organization which provides the Jazz community of the Triangle with educational programs, performances, and special events. Donation helps the Durham Jazz Workshop to keep jazz growing in the Triangle, NC and contribution helps keep tuition and admission fees low, contributes to our scholarship funds, and helps support programming that brings more jazz to the community.” And to keep jazz alive for anyone and everyone.
KR: What are the background, inspirations, and motivations of doing the Jazz Workshop initiative?
DF: The workshop started in late 2012. My wife and I moved here in 2005 with our kids. Valarie and I ran a jazz workshop in the town we lived in (NY). Getting to know Jim (James) Ketch (current Professor of Music and Director of Jazz Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Music Director for The North Carolina Jazz Repertory Orchestra (NCJRO). Jim knew that we ran a Jazz workshop in New York and he expressed an interest to start something down here. His involvement with the North Carolina jazz repertory orchestra and the foundation of NCRO overseas and supports the group, and Jim invited me on that board in 2012. With me, Jim wanted to see if the foundation would like to start the Jazz Workshop. It turned out that the board did not think that it fit the mission of the NCJRO. (However), the board supports the start-up and the lawyers serving on the board helped to write up the nonprofit paperwork, offered to help us get up and running. Valerie and I started to look for places and a venue. Because of the expensive rates in downtown, we went on Craigslist looking for a donated space. We saw a picture of this place and took a look.
KR: Destiny played out when you saw the location?
DF: It’s a little place out of the way but it has amazing acoustics, and over time, the foundation has supported our growth. Then the classes gradually (increased), and we are growing the audience for the scheduled shows.
KR: My first experience at DJW, I was trying to figure out the business model. The venue reminds me of the old time jazz clubs that popped up (in places one would never think). Then you have the school and I thought it would be competing with the college jazz programs (Duke, UNC, NCSU, etc.). Can you explain how it is different from their programs?
DF: We do have some college students. It’s really more for youth, middle and high school students. We also have classes for adults. We put ensembles together from people that signed up for classes. Students are also adults reconnecting with music after a long time, some are retired and have more time to get back to their own instrument and some adults pick up an instrument later in life to learn about jazz and meet people. We have amateurs and music enthusiasts and different levels of people playing, as well as professionally. It is very social as well as educational. DJW does not compete with the university programs.
KR: DWS seems fairly new. What would be the bottom line goal for this initiative for the long haul?
DF: We are just entering our fourth year. What’s our goal financially?
DF: So far, the biggest income revenue is running the classes and people paying tuition. We run six-week classes a term. People that sign up, we put groups (bands) together and take a week off. Then people re-sign up or we get new people. Some people jump in and jump out as work allows them. Classes and workshops are our main driving forces. We are interested in the concert series as well. There is a tremendous amount of jazz talent in this area and I’m interested in creating a traditional jazz club environment. As a nonprofit, we rely on donations too.
I’m a musician as well, a sax player. I love jazz and I love listening to the music in the right kind a setting. Never putting down any places that put on music but it is not as the same as playing on the stage and people coming to hear the music, versus a restaurant crowd (where people come to listen vs. background music).
KR: It can be a depressing plight for musicians where jazz can be background music, and it’s hard to play in a venue where the jazz is appreciated. It’s another element and a trend that makes it difficult for aspiring professionals to survive just with their music talents. It takes people like you with your initiative to keep the quality and caliber of the experiences and educate about jazz music. You can be a great musician/performer but if you don’t have anyone listening, isn’t it how an art form can die?
DF: It’s true. It’s interesting what I find over time. Certainly, musicians love playing in a room where people are listening. Musicians are affected by the audience and their attentiveness. They can hear (feel) the energy of the audience that is patiently listening. Also, it’s great for the audience who are jazz fans. It goes both ways as musicians and the audience grow together and it’s a beautiful thing.
KR: What do you want the audience to get, and vice versa with musicians?
DF: Music is a deep thing. It’s like food. If you’re in a setting, I think jazz is best experienced in a smaller setting and an intimate (environment) where musicians can feel the energy and vice versa with audiences. Some of the greatest recordings ever were from live venues and small rooms. This may be a lame metaphor but it’s like a computer, whether you have a good connection or not. There is nothing like the live experience of a small and intimate jazz club. It is a totally different listening experience. People grow to appreciate and value it a lot more. They come out the shows more and start to crave it (like food).
I grew up with jazz most of my life in New York. I would get such a Jones to go out to the Vanguard to see so-and-so, or any number of venues. We had such a Jones for it (when we moved here to Durham). We are fortunate to find a place taking root and creating this place.
The classes teach students on different sensory levels. (At the concert series) large parts of the audience are the students at DJW that are learning about the music and playing music. Their “ears” start to get more educated and appreciate the shows on another level.
KR: What’s your professional Jazz background ?
DF: I’ve recorded and I’m an official jazz musician, whatever that means.
KR: You starve staying in your craft!
DF: I also teach and am an adjunct professor at Duke Jazz and at UNC. I do gigs and I play at the club and record, most recently with Steve Anderson and Scott Sawyer.
KR: What do you think are the challenges of promoting jazz trends, appreciation, and interests in jazz nowadays? The music industry with Internet is changing everything. What are your thoughts?
DF: I’m pretty positive about it. Most of my energy is spent around here (DJW) and there’s a lot of good energy and I see an upswing in attendance in classes. There are strong signs, lot of interest with students and all these schools with graduating kids from the jazz program. But the music is not in jeopardy. There is too much creativity out there and you can’t stop that. Our model with the school with the lower rent and revenue streams makes it easier to run this venue. We like the place with the killer acoustic.
KR: If you can define jazz to someone that doesn’t know about the genre, how would you describe it, the soul of jazz.
DF: Oh man, that’s a toughy.
KR: Is that too big of a question? Ok, what does jazz mean to you?
DF: Can I borrow the definition from someone else? I found a quote website that attributes it to saxophonist Stan Getz: “A good quartet is like a good conversation among friends interacting to each other’s ideas.” That resonated with me because to me that’s what great jazz is, people playing these melodies and as they are all improvising, they are communicating with each other, listening to each other effectively.
KR: I asked one of the musicians (at the Steven Anderson show), I notice that you are like talking with each other with the instruments. I asked him how much of it was improve and he said eighty some percent. I didn’t realize it was that much.
DF: Yeah, you play and read through the theme and the melody at the start of the song and then it can be all improve (for the rest of the song). To really define jazz, you have to experience jazz and listen to it yourself. In order to get it, (you need to) be in a room to be caught up in the energy and mystery or whatever it is.
KR: Sometimes it’s difficult to be in a business mode and also be an artist. It’s like a plight of an artist. How do you balance and manage it both?
DF: It is a challenge after teaching classes and lessons. (As a musician) I ask, “What are you all about? Where are you going with this music? I find that more and more that the performances are places where you can just open up and dig down and find yourself, find players and explore the music. It’s really therapeutic.
KR: If you have a wish list, what are the top three things you want to happen with this initiative?
DF: Three wishes:
1. Expand our youth outreach program: We want to reach more underserved students and enroll them in lessons and ensembles. If students get a chance to be mentored in this music, they’ll be hooked for life.
2. Expand the workshop: If one of the adjacent units to the workshop ever becomes available to lease, we’d love to expand. It would give us access to another bathroom and more teaching rooms.
3. Work with a development person to help us achieve funds for goals 1 and 2
The Durham Jazz Workshop is located in an Ample Storage Complex: 4608 Industry Lane, Durham, NC, 27713, Unit L
Phone: (919) 486-JAZZ (5299)