The ColaJazz Foundation has partnered with the downtown Columbia cocktail bar Bourbon Restaurant to host a free concert series happening every Thursday until the end of June.
ColaJazz is a non-profit organization that aims to "be the driving beat in jazz education, performance and outreach" for Columbia's jazz scene. With this concert series, it is both performing and providing outreach.
The partnership titles these concerts the "Jack-n-Jazz" series, because a portion of the proceeds from every Jack Daniel's cocktail purchased at Bourbon during these performances will be sent to ColaJazz's outreach program, which plays music for patients at Lexington Medical Center.
Kristian Niemi, owner of Bourbon Restaurant, approached Mark Rapp, founder of ColaJazz, about doing a concert series on Thursday nights. From there, Rapp and Bourbon Restaurant found an opportunity to bring Jack Daniels on as a sponsor.
"(Mark) is pretty good about reaching out to local businesses and having performances," said Zach Bingham, a blues and jazz artist that performed in the Jack-n-Jazz series during its first week on May 19. "I always love when concerts aren't just entertainment but also have some sort of angle that helps out the community."
The Jack-n-Jazz series features a variety of jazz artists. Gino Castillo, who performed on June 2, brought Cuban jazz to Columbia with his group — the aptly titled — Gino Castillo Trio. His act plays a combination of American and Cuban jazz standards.
Castillo loves to share his international background through his music. Born in Ecuador, he started playing drums at 5-years-old. Then, he moved to Cuba and learned to play percussion there. Once he came to play in the United States, Castillo said he decided to stay after falling in love with Charleston, South Carolina and has expanded his act across the southeast.
"I play all the South Carolina areas — with Columbia, Greenville, Charleston, sometimes closer to Georgia and Savannah — so each place has a different charm," he said.
Castillo has been a part of the ColaJazz community for some time, collaborating with Mark Rapp on an international Cuban music project called "Legacy Band," where Rapp played the trumpet alongside him.
Collaboration is a large part of the ColaJazz community and mission. Bingham has also been playing with Rapp and ColaJazz for a while.
"Me and Mark (Rapp) go back quite a ways," Bingham said. "The old speakeasy that used to be in Five Points, we used to play there pretty regularly."
In addition to these unique artists, the Jack-n-Jazz series will feature R&B jazz from Rapp's own Mark Rapp Funktet, New Orleans jazz from the Soda City Brass Band, pop jazz from the Reggie Sullivan Band and more.
Rapp programs the lineup of artists himself, but is also involved in the outreach side of the programming.
"I've played a lot of outreach concerts and brought jazz music to a lot of different places, everything from the Children's Hospital to — we do a lot of school outreach — a lot of 'Title 1' schools," Rapp said. "No money can pay for the feeling you get of giving someone ... love through music — the companionship through music."
Rapp also described the precious moments that make the mission of series like ColaJazz worth it.
"They have a moment where they're swaying to the music, you see them sometimes singing along. Man, that's just priceless," he said.
The full schedule of artists and dates for Jack-n-Jazz is available on the ColaJazz website.