On opening night at The Jazz Room at Stage Door Theater, local musician Chad Lawson and his band played the music of the great Bill Evans. (Photo: Kylie Atkins)
Tucked among the concrete towers of uptown Charlotte, the unassuming entrance to Stage Door Theater could easily be missed. But step inside after work on any third Tuesday and you’ll discover a jazz lover’s delight.
Lonnie Davis is part of the husband-wife team that founded The Jazz Arts Initiative, a local nonprofit dedicated to promoting jazz music. The organization later started The Jazz Room at Stage Door Theater (Photo: Glenn H. Burkins)
That’s when this cozy, black-box theater, part of the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, is converted into The Jazz Room, arguably the closest thing Charlotte has to a big-city jazz club.
Less than two months old, The Jazz Room is the brainchild of the wife-husband team of Lonnie and Ocie Davis. Lonnie, a New Orleans native, is president and director of The Jazz Arts Initiative, a local nonprofit dedicated to promoting the art form she loves. Ocie, a drummer born and raised in California, serves as creative director. They met while studying jazz at the University of New Orleans.
The concept behind The Jazz Room is simple: For one evening each month, jazz lovers, as well as those wanting to know more about the genre, can listen and learn in an intimate setting.
The current series, which kicked off in April, showcases local musicians performing the works of some of the great jazz legends. Each show is dedicated to the music of a specific artist.
On opening night, for example, Chad Lawson and his band played the music of pianist Bill Evans. That was followed in May with Mark Rapp performing the works of Miles Davis. (In June, local trombonist Tyrone Jefferson is scheduled to pay tribute to Locksley Wellington “Slide” Hampton.)
The scene is unlike anything you’ll find in Charlotte, where most jazz is played in restaurant settings where music competes with clanking dishes, idol chit-chat and busy wait staffs. Inside The Jazz Room, it’s all about the music…well, except for a cash bar nestled beside the stage. (Again, the authentic jazz club feel.) Lonnie Davis calls it a “listening room.”
Up front, just inches from the stage, about a dozen or so tables are reserved for people who have purchased Jazz Room membership packages ($125 to $600). The general public is seated just behind the members in stadium-style rows, but in this small venue, every seat has an up-close feel.
Lonnie Davis said she hoped The Jazz Room would attract two types of people – those who already love the genre and those who want to learn more.
“There is a need, in my opinion, for a jazz venue that serves this purpose,” she said in a recent interview with Qcitymetro.com. “There is a need for a listening room, a jazz listening room in Charlotte.”
At the May performance, the audience was decidedly diverse – black and white, young and older, working and retired, casually dressed and business attired. On stage, when Rapp wasn’t playing, he was chatting with listeners about Miles Davis and the complex tunes he performed, joking at one point about how the great trumpeter once tried (unsuccessfully) to master the didgeridoo, an Australian went instrument.
Adventures in the Qcity is a series that spotlights local destinations and is sponsored by the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS). Learn about other destinations on our special page.
Given The Jazz Room’s early success, we asked Lonnie Davis if she had plans to add additional performances. It’s too early to tell, she said, suggesting that the six-month mark might provide a better perspective.
If you decide to visit The Jazz Room at The Stage Door Theater, a reservation is advised but not required. The venue holds about 150 people, and ushers that first night had to turn away about 40 disappointed jazz fans, Lonnie Davis said. The May performance appeared to be sold out as well.
GETTING THERE: Although Stage Door Theater is part of the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, the small entrance with no permanent signage is on College Street (not north Tryon), between Trade and 5th streets. (Look for double doors made of chrome and glass.) From the CATS Transit Center (bus or light rail), walk northwest on Trade Street until you reach College Street, then turn right for one black. (If you cross 5th Street you’ve gone too far.)