It didn’t take long for Noel Freidline to realize Columbia was hungry for jazz music. In the midst of its third full season, the CMA Jazz on Main series at the Columbia Museum of Art is entertaining sell-out crowds with its diverse programming and world-class performers.
Credit for the idea goes to Dr. Stephen Serbin of Family Medicine Centers of South Carolina, a supporter of the art museum. He’d seen pianist and vocalist Freidline perform at a jazz club in Hilton Head and approached Freidline about launching the series as artistic director.
Freidline, who lives in Charlotte, was already involved with a similar concept at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art that had been incredibly successful, he explains. So he started CMA Jazz on Main with a short season and now has grown it to five concerts a year that are consistently selling out.
“Our goal is to present a diverse presentation of jazz with artists that are on a national and regional level,” Freidline says.
He saw how it worked in Charlotte, which hadn’t had a true jazz club in a decade, so when the jazz series started there, people were hungry for it, Freidline says. “We were surprised by the number of people who showed up and the response.”
It turns out the desire for good jazz music wasn’t unique to Charlotte. “Columbia audiences have been wonderful. They are very supportive, appreciative and open to our diversity in programs,” Freidline says. “Folks have taken a chance on us.”
Freidline – who also performs in the concerts – has truly expanded most people’s idea of a jazz concert. He’s booked diverse musicians and styles sometimes unfamiliar to most of the audience.
Recently, a show paid tribute to gypsy jazz, a style of jazz music attributed to guitarist Jean “Django” Reinhardt in the 1930s. With origins in France, it’s also sometimes referred to as gypsy swing. Freidline booked gypsy jazz musicians from Boone and Asheville, North Carolina. Before the concert, he asked the audience who was familiar with gypsy jazz. Only 20 percent of the crowd raised a hand. “The others trusted what we were doing,” Freidline says.
That same kind of diverse thinking will be on display in the final two concerts of this season’s CMA Jazz on Main.
On March 24, audiences will be treated to a tribute to the Modern Jazz Quartet, four jazz musicians known for their complex and iconic compositions and arrangements. Most of their work was never published and thus rarely heard outside their own performances. Over the course of several months, Freidline created a full program of the quartet’s music. The featured guest for the concert is Jon Metzger who plays the vibraphone (similar to the xylophone).
Then on May 12, concert-goers will likely see the harmonica in an entirely new way. Jazz harmonicist Frédéric Yonnet is regarded as one of the most talented and innovative harmonica players on the international music scene today.
A master of the harmonica, Yonnet has appeared on NPR and “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.” He has performed, toured and recorded with some of the heaviest hitters in the music business, including the legendary Stevie Wonder, Prince, award-winning songwriter David Foster, Ed Sheeran, Erykah Badu, India.Arie, Anthony Hamilton and John Legend, as well as the National Symphony Orchestra.
Freidline said Yonnet performed in Charlotte last year and received a standing ovation for 10 of his 11 songs. “It was unbelievable. He’s an amazing musician and a showman,” he says.
Introducing audiences to new and innovative music and art is the sole purpose behind CMA Jazz on Main.
“Great art and great entertainment – that’s our goal,” Freidline says. “We want to present jazz – not just the artistic side, but in an entertaining way. Jazz is an American art form influenced by the entire globe – it has a little bit of everything in it. Its willingness to embrace influences from any direction, that’s what makes it such a vibrant art form.”
To learn more about CMA Jazz on Main, visit ColumbiaMusueum.org.