A New Father’s Day Tradition

The Queen City Jazz Fest has slowly become a Father’s Day weekend tradition. For the third year in a row, Charles Whitfield and his team have put together a show that ranged from smooth  jazz to R&B to serious funk. What was supposed to be a day, according to local weather reports, filled with rain, actually turned out to be a sunny day. Mike Phillips put it best when he said, “If I played the wrong notes, would I still get paid?”

The festival kicked of with Yuna. Fresh off her recent release Chapters, her trio got the crowd in the mood for an evening of great music. I have to admit when I first saw the line up for the festival, I had to check out Yuna’s music. After hearing cuts like “Best Love” and “Crush” that features Usher, I realized her music has been on my radio for a while. By the way, Chapters is a must-have for your music collection.

Jeff Lorber has to be one of the coolest people ever to sit behind a set of keyboards. Then you add Paul Jackson Jr. and Everette Harp and now you got some Serious Business that’s hotter than the 88 degree weather during their performance. This line up of Jazz Funk Soul is just as strong as the original with Chuck Loeb. They could have easily been the headliner, and the same could be said about Mike Phillips and Jeff Bradshaw.

It was great seeing the pair of Mike Phillips and Jeff Bradshaw together. The musical range of the pair was on full display. From classic jazz riffs to a tribute R&B greats like Stevie Wonder and the late Prince. Mike Phillips isn’t one to stick to the stage. He took his music into the crowd, dancing and playing his way up one aisle, through a row of seats, and down the opposite aisle – for one long note.

It was my fourth time shooting Culbertson, and it’s the fourth show I’ve seen because he keeps his energetic performances fresh, even as he rotates crowd favorites and standards with newer work. For anybody new to a live Culbertson performance, last night was a powerful introduction to an eclectic musician. For those familiar with Culbertson’s intensity, last night didn’t disappoint – if anything, it raised the bar of expectation. We should rename the stage the Brian Culbertson Stage, since he has owned it at this festival for three straight years.

What’s next for Queen City Jazz Fest? More musicians? An additional day? I’m excited to see.

The third annual Queen City Jazz Fest is quickly becoming a Father’s Day weekend tradition for many music lovers.This year, the festival brought together Yuna, Mike Phillips with Jeff Bradshaw, Jeff Lorber with Paul Jackson Jr. and Everette Harp, and Brian Culbertson. Culbertson headline the show for the third year in a row.

The Queen City Jazz Fest

The Return of Jazz to the Uptown Amphitheater

Mike Phillips running through the crowd at the Queen City Jazz Fest.

Mike Phillips running through the crowd at the Queen City Jazz Fest.

 

On Saturday evening, jazz returned to the Time Warner Cable Uptown Amphitheater in a major way. The lineup of Mike Phillips with Karen Briggs, Will Downing, and Brian Culbertson was a great choice for the first Queen City Jazz Fest.

I was a little hesitant when I first saw the lineup. Four of the entertainers I had shot before, some very recently, so I was wondering how different their shows would be. In the past, after photographing an artist several times, I seemed to know the show as well as the band. It doesn’t mean it’s a bad performance. It just means they don’t work at keeping everything fresh.

Mike Phillips getting uncles and personal with the fans.

Mike Phillips getting up close and personal with the fans.

 

In the case of opening act Mike Phillips, however, I wasn’t worried at all about his set. Saturday made the third time in two months that I’ve seen Mike. In back-to-back nights at the Art of Cool Festival in Durham, NC, Phillips went from leading an intimate quintet to taking the main stage by storm to open for Anthony Hamilton, delivering two widely different but deeply satisfying and high-quality shows. Phillips goes out at 100 miles per hour and never slows. At one point at the Queen City Jazz Fest, he was running through the packed crowd acting like it wasn’t 90 plus degrees.

Enter violinist Karen Briggs. I had photographed her in Charleston with the all-female group Jazz in Pink and remembered how mellow they were, but at the QC fest, her energy equalled Phillips’ and the two played off each other well. Briggs is fierce on the violin.

Karen Briggs joined Mike Phillips to open TheQueen City Jazz Fest .

Karen Briggs joined Mike Phillips to open TheQueen City Jazz Fest .

 

“Wouldn’t you like to see her perform with Ken Ford?!” a friend asked. Yes. That would be a bigger violin battle than when “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” (Speaking of country music, I did have a Grand Ole Opry flashback when Briggs went from violinist to fiddler in mid song. You couldn’t have asked for a better opening.)

A fan surprised Will Downing with flowers during his performance.

A fan surprised Will Downing with flowers during his performance.

 

Will Downing was up next. This was going to be a first for me, the only one in the entire festival, and it became a treat to hear this true vocalist. An automatic crowd favorite from the opening note, you could tell from the screams who was there to see Will. Actually, you could tell when the women rushed the stage. Especially when they brought flowers. It was time for love. His interaction with the fans was genuine as he went through hit after hit. Fans felt like he was performing just for them; at least, that’s what the lady beside me was saying to her girlfriend during “A Million Ways.”

Queen City Jazz Fest 2015

Queen City Jazz Fest 2015

 

After Will Downing finished, I overheard a small group say they could go home. I politely leaned over and said, “You might want to rethink that.” After seeing Brian Culbertson last Labor Day weekend, I knew the passion in his performance – no slowing down, ever, with even the most mellow of his sets bringing energy – and would place him in the top two of shows I covered in 2014 (Trombone Shorty is the other topper). Saturday’s show didn’t disappoint. I had an idea it would be fantastic because, 45 minutes before, Culbertson and the band were still talking over the set list. Brian Culbertson and his band travel together, so there is an intimacy on the stage that makes for nice change-ups in the music and gives depth to a show within a show, which fascinates this photographer.

 

A packed house at The Queen City Jazz Fest

A packed house at The Queen City Jazz Fest

 

Ticket sales don’t always attest to an event’s solidity or strength, but in the case of the Queen City Jazz Fest, they speak truth. A packed house with fans on their feet on one of the hottest days of the year definitely gets the vote for success. My fingers are crossed that this is the start of a tradition in the QC for many years to come, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the #QCJF16. Maybe we will get that Karen Briggs/Ken Ford violin battle. With so many young acts that have jazz as a connection, there could be something similar to the AOC brewing right here in Charlotte.

Check out the entire gallery on our Jazz Shooter page.