This weekend in central North Carolina, an adventurous music festival will pursue an explicit goal: to get more people to listen to jazz.
The event is easily the biggest production to date from the Art of Cool Project, a small concert-promotion outfit based in Durham. Encouraged by the highly educated populace of the Raleigh-Durham Research Triangle region, a concentration of successful venues and a history of African-American music, Art of Cool planned a two-day festival this Friday and Saturday throughout its hometown. And it's doing so by spotlighting many acts at the borders jazz shares with hip-hop, R&B and other similar styles.
"Our thing is expanding the audience for jazz," Art of Cool co-founder Cicely Mitchell says in a phone interview. She says she found her way into classic jazz via neo-soul and R&B herself. "We believe this festival could be a gateway festival, or a gateway presentation, to turn people on to jazz."
The most prevalent bookings feature groups who freely traverse or ignore jazz's boundaries: James Brown and Parliament saxophonist Maceo Parker, jazz-trained neo-soul vocalist Bilal, singing bassist Thundercat, eclectic and proggy guitarist/composer Rafiq Bhatia and the adventurous groove veterans in Kneebody — among many others. Here's a look at five more acts playing this weekend's Art of Cool Festival.