I've spent a lot of time observing the local scene, talking to musicians, & doing my share of research. My take on local jazz over the last 40 years is more complex than Indy Week's need to, e.g., squeeze the implications of the Durham History Museum's "J Is For Jazz" exhibit into half a page.
Some interesting things happened here in the mid-seventies for jazz today in Durham & this area: Ira Wiggins got his bachelor's degree at Central, just before the jazz program started; Yusuf Salim arrived in Durham; Jim Ketch was hired at UNC, immediately starting jazz events there; Mary Lou Williams began her brief stay at Duke, igniting at slow fire of jazz there. All of those things factored into our current jazz scene.
Yusuf began his second career of encouraging & giving opportunities for a cadre of local musicians, a few of whom are still his spiritual disciples, teaching & encouraging this generation of jazz musicians. Ed Paolantonio, Scott Sawyer,& Al Strong come to mind. While, at different levels, Nnenna Freelon & Frankie Alexander are still singing, having started with Brother Yusuf.
Though his name probably isn't in the "J Is For Jazz" exhibit, Jim Ketch has done a lot over these years for local jazz, the NCJRO being the most obvious example, as it sells out for most of its monthly Sharp Nine gigs. Plus, he's helped teach many local musicians who make our current scene what it is: Keith Ganz (Kate McGarry's marital & music partner), Eric Hirsh & two-thirds of his quartet, & young drummer Atticus Reynolds. In addition, Jim & fellow professors Steven Anderson, Juan Alamo, Scott Sawyer (reprise), Dan Davis, & Jason Foureman are regular peformers hereabouts.
Duke's influence has been more subtle, perhaps because it has the least academic impact. However, John Brown makes up for that, having created the oldest jam session in Durham (Jazz At The Mary Lou most Wednesday nights fall/spring semesters) & presenting a little/little big/big band for special occasions. That he uses numerous local musicians in his private & public educations gigs helps those multi-work musicians survive.
Then there's the NCCU Jazz Studies program. Ira Wiggins has made it grow by magic at times, even when finances & resources for student gigs were slim. Without NCCU students & graduates, there just wouldn't be as many jazz musicians here as there are. Those musicians are damn good, Central grad Al Strong the obvious leader of Durham jazz. Those musicians have been taught by professors who also get out & play, whether as leaders or sidemen.
I've spend time getting to know many of the NCCU student musicians during their studies & after. They're special for me since I've seen them develop during the last three years. Now I'm getting emotionally ready to see some of them move one, though I really, really want many of them to stay!
I need to note Gregg Gelb's name here. For many years he's been working local jazz furrows. By my count he's got at least four different bands that play regularly in the Triangle. However, his most important contribution is in jazz education: the Triangle Youth Jazz Ensemble is one of the best high-school level big bands in the country & will compete again next month in the Essentially Ellington finals at Lincoln Center. And, he's just one of many local musicians teaching children, teens, & adults around here.
Ira Wiggins was quoted in Indy Week as saying "right now" is the best time for local jazz. Why? I think it's because there are finally enough jazz fans in this area, many of them migrants to NC, to take advantage of the key venues that started in the last five years: the Sharp Nine Gallery/Durham Jazz Workshop, the Beyu Caffe, The Shed, & C Grace. Though the Beyu & The Shed have needfully diversified the music they offer--as has Art of Cool--those people now know where to go for jazz.
Plus, jazz has popped up quietly in local bars & restaurants. Over the last year, for example, I can now find jazz five nights & one Saturday afternoon each week in Chapel. Yes, it does take work to find such things, but a visit to this website makes it a lot easier.
So we've got a base of local jazz that gives most fans lots of choices weekends & weekdays. Then there's extravore jazz: the Art of Cool Festival, Duke Performances, Carolina Performing Arts, NC State's Center Stage, the Carolina Theatre, DPAC, NCCU, UNC, & Duke jazz program performances (with student & faculty musicians too), & most of WNCU's programming. Though, the last programs a decent amount of local musicians.
All these make up Durham's jazz history & its present set of performances. Art of Cool has gotten plenty of publicity, but the credit should be spread around. There's more than enough to share.
Yeah, it would be nice if we had a full-time jazz club to pop into. Not possible until the area gets populated enough--but it's nice to imagine that ideal club spread as it is now among the many venues we have now.