International and local artists will gather in Columbia this weekend to celebrate and share the art of jazz.
The ColaJazz Fest is an annual festival that showcases different forms of jazz in the Columbia community. Both well-known stars of the genre and smaller, regional bands are invited to perform at the festival.
The festival takes place across Sept. 24 and Sept. 25. Saturday night’s event is a gala at the State Museum, featuring concert performances from two jazz musicians, Aimee Nolte and Carl Allen, and a performance from the local band The Organa Trio. Sunday’s event is a “Funday,” an outdoor concert that lasts all afternoon, complete with food and drinks. This event features a lineup of five artists with a wide variety of music styles.
All of this is possible due to the ColaJazz Foundation. Founded by Mark Rapp in 2015, ColaJazz is an organization that seeks to encourage jazz throughout the Midlands through education, outreach and performance.
The foundation was created after Rapp, a jazz trumpeter, wanted to recognize and uplift jazz talent in South Carolina. In 2015, the foundation produced a compilation record featuring local jazz musicians and has continued to grow from there.
“I had a couple of main goals that I wanted to see flourish in and around the Midlands, and that was to have a summer jazz camp and to bring back a proper Capital City Jazz Festival,” Rapp said.
With ColaJazz Fest, the foundation has brought a jazz festival to South Carolina's capital. In contrast to the smaller shows ColaJazz organizes, like "Live in the Lobby" at the Koger Center, the Fest operates on a larger scale, with some jazz musicians from outside of South Carolina coming to perform.
Aimee Nolte is one such musician. Nolte is a singer and songwriter from Los Angeles who has released four jazz albums. Although this is her first time performing at the ColaJazz Fest, she has been teaching at the Hilton Head Jazz Camp for the past five years, exposing her to South Carolina's jazz scene and the work the foundation has started.
“It's great that Mark is taking the educational side of jazz, and the performance side of jazz, and also just the idea of community and putting them all together with Cola,” Nolte said. “It’s a really beautiful thing.”
Although Rapp said he works to introduce more notable musicians to the festival, he also said he wants to support regional talent. A new aspect of this year’s festival is the outdoor performances on Sunday, which feature musicians from South Carolina.
Rodney Foster Jr. and his band will perform at the outdoor festival. Foster Jr. performed at the festival last year and said he is excited to return. He said he hoped Sunday will highlight jazz in all of its forms.
“Everything comes from jazz. I mean, it's hip-hop, it's rock and roll, it’s blues,” Foster Jr. said. “So if you see my crew, we know jazz standards and we appreciate the art form and the tradition, but we'll also go into our hip-hop bag because jazz completely inspired hip-hop.”
This genre-blending will be on full display in the artists performing on Sunday. Groups like Foster Jr.'s and Chris Reed’s will feature newer visions of jazz while the Dick Goodwin group will play jazz standards. There will be bluegrass performed by the Randy Lucas Trio and Cuban jazz from Gino Castillo and the Buena Vista Legacy Band.
As much as there is excitement to perform, there is also eagerness among the artists to give back and connect to the Columbia community.
Rapp, Nolte, and Foster Jr. all spoke to the historical importance of the genre as a building block for other art and, as Rapp notes, as a statement, particularly for Black Americans dealing with oppressive circumstances.
"We don't get what we have now without it. And so it's an important art form," Foster Jr. said. "It's just knowing your history. If we know where we coming from, we'll know where we're going."
Each artist also emphasized the need for community support, whether from jazz fanatics or people unfamiliar with the genre.
“We need you,” Rapp said, with a laugh. “We need you to come out and experience the excitement of jazz.” With the festival, Columbia can do just that.