A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

[caption id="attachment_178299" align="alignnone" width="1140"] Gastonia native and world-renowned performer Maria Howell belts out the lyrics to Bill Withers’s classic rhythm and blues song “Lovely Day” at Middle C Jazz.[/caption] Uptown

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

[caption id="attachment_178299" align="alignnone" width="1140"] Gastonia native and world-renowned performer Maria Howell belts out the lyrics to Bill Withers’s classic rhythm and blues song “Lovely Day” at Middle C Jazz.[/caption] Uptown

The Spotlight on North Carolina’s Jazz Venues

Saxophone and piano
Maria Howell performs at North Carolina jazz venue, Middle C

Gastonia native and world-renowned performer Maria Howell belts out the lyrics to Bill Withers’s classic rhythm and blues song “Lovely Day” at Middle C Jazz. photograph by Brian Twitty Photography

Uptown Jazz

Since opening in Uptown Charlotte in 2019, Middle C features internationally recognized jazz artists, including many with North Carolina roots. Acts ranging from solo performers to 20-piece bands bring an eclectic schedule of performances to the venue. Entertainers engage with the audience by telling stories or asking guests to sing along. They perform familiar songs by legends like Aretha Franklin — and unexpected artists like Billy Joel and Steely Dan — using bass, piano, saxophone, and vocals to make old songs sound new.

Middle C Jazz
300 South Brevard Street
(704) 595-3311

Guest singer Jacqui Otaño performs with the house band at the O.Henry Jazz Night

The house band at the O.Henry Hotel brings in a guest singer, like April Talbott (above) each Thursday evening in the Social Lobby. photograph by Jerry Wolford & Scott Muthersbaugh

O.Henry Cocktails and Jazz

On Thursdays, the O.Henry Hotel’s lobby transforms into a jazz lounge, where the house band plays selections from the Great American Songbook — from Satchmo to Sinatra and every show tune you can name. Each week, the band — Neill Clegg on clarinet, flute, or saxophone; Dave Fox on piano; and Matt Kendrick on stand-up double bass — performs alongside a roster of guest singers, like April Talbott, with roots in the area and far-ranging talent.

O.Henry Hotel
624 Green Valley Road
(336) 854-2000

Jazz band performs at Cypress Bend Vineyards

By night, Cypress Bend Vineyards becomes a music venue for groups like The Holiday Band. photograph by Faith Teasley

Jazzy Fridays & Swinging Saturdays

At Cypress Bend Vineyards’ Jazzy Fridays, attendees can enjoy wine tastings, wine flights, and food trucks while listening to live music. Since the vineyard opened in 2005, the weekly event has evolved from featuring only jazz to showcasing beach music and R & B. Cypress Bend also partners with UNC Pembroke’s student jazz groups for “Sippin’ and Swinging Saturdays,” a wine and live music event on select Saturdays beginning in March. Look for other jazz events at the vineyard in the future.

Cypress Bend Vineyards
21904 Riverton Road
(910) 369-0411

Saxophonist Ziad Rabie performs at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art

Outside the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, the Firebird sculpture welcomes jazz fans to a monthly series spearheaded by saxophonist Ziad Rabie. photograph by Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, Emily Chaplin & Chris Council

Jazz at the Bechtler

Since the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art opened in 2010, Artistic Director Ziad Rabie has been selecting national and regional musicians to perform at Jazz at the Bechtler. On the first Friday of every month, the museum hosts two 75-minute shows, during which the Ziad Jazz Quartet and a guest artist perform in the museum’s lobby, surrounded by the works of internationally and nationally recognized artists.

Bechtler Museum of Modern Art
420 South Tryon Street
(704) 353-9209

Come Sunday Jazz Series
Southern Pines

Held six times a year at the Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities, this program is named for jazz legend Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday,” and each artist performs a rendition of the song. Guests are encouraged to bring a picnic to enjoy in the gardens while musicians perform on the patio, with the historic Boyd House as the backdrop.

Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities
555 East Connecticut Avenue
(910) 692-6261

Jazz at CAM

The Cameron Art Museum’s contemporary art exhibits often influence the curation of the Jazz at CAM series. Local and regional musicians perform in the Weyerhaeuser Reception Hall on the first Thursday of each month, September through April, and CAM Café opens for dinner on evenings when there’s a performance.

Cameron Art Museum
3201 South 17th Street
(910) 395-5999

North Carolina Central University alums and students put on multi-genre performances at Hayti Collective Kitchen & Cocktails. photograph by Charles Harris

Jazz Builds the 919

Just over a year ago, musician Taha Arif saw an opportunity to support the Durham jazz community by hosting weekly live music events. On Wednesday nights at Hayti Collective Kitchen & Cocktails, local musicians, many of them North Carolina Central University alums and students, perform a blend of jazz, hip-hop, swing, and soul.

Hayti Collective Kitchen & Cocktails
908-101 Fayetteville Street

Live Jazz at Little Jumbo

Little Jumbo, a neighborhood cocktail bar on the edge of Asheville’s Montford Area Historic District, brings in world-class jazz musicians on Monday and Tuesday nights. Monday’s lineup includes a rotating cast of musicians, and on Tuesdays, owner Jay Sanders’s quartet plays original compositions with the intention of pushing the genre forward.

Little Jumbo
241 Broadway Street
(828) 417-4783

UNC Jazz Studies Concert Series
Chapel Hill

Established in 1977, the three-day Carolina Jazz Festival — held this February 15 through 17 — is part of a yearlong concert series in which nationally recognized jazz composers and musicians perform alongside UNC’s various student and faculty jazz bands.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
145 East Cameron Avenue
(919) 962-1039

If you can’t make it to one of these places to hear live jazz, you can listen to this playlist by Our State senior editor — and resident soundtrack maker — Mark Kemp, a former music editor of Rolling Stone, curated a one-of-a-kind Spotify playlist featuring North Carolina jazz songs and musicians.

This story was published on Jan 16, 2024

Vanessa Infanzon

Infanzon is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Charlotte Observer and Business North Carolina. She lives in Charlotte.