by Jack McCray
Nov. 3, 2008
Jack McCray, a writer based in Charleston and co-principal of the Charleston Jazz Initiative, offers these five little-known facts about Charleston’s place in jazz history:
1. Deep roots. With coastal South Carolina being the first place where Negro spirituals were documented, Charleston’s jazz roots are as deep as any other cradle of jazz.
2. Nurseries. A group home for boys and girls, the famed Jenkins Orphanage (1891-present), and a freedmen’s school founded after the Civil War, the Avery Normal Institute (1865-1954), combined resources in the late 19th century to plant the seeds that led to Jenkins’ becoming one of the most prominent jazz nurseries in America.
Aficionados of jazz know that the work in this musical genre is defined as much by the style and personality of the musicians as it is by the arrangement of musical notes. In fact, jazz tunes aren’t supposed to sound like a particular song, but like the individual artists, which is why the personalities behind the music are so integral to the sound itself, and essentially why the work that Karen Chandler and her colleague Jack McCray are conducting is so crucial.
Associate professor of arts management, pianist and arts entrepreneur, Chandler is a font of energy who in recent years has directed much of her talent and effort toward reclaiming an important aspect of Charleston’s musical heritage. The Charleston Jazz Initiative (CJI) grew out of an event she helped organize four years ago, which was a part of a semester-long
retrospective on jazz. When that effort unveiled significant links between locally trained musicians and jazz luminaries such as Duke Ellington, Chandler and McCray – a local writer and longtime jazz devotee – joined forces to follow the threads.