Born in New Orleans and cultivated in cities across the nation, Jazz is one of America’s most valuable cultural assets. The complexity and freedom of jazz creates a sense of controlled chaos, and Central Piedmont Community College Jazz instructor Bill Hanna does a fine job of keeping things under control. Bill has been a fixture of the Charlotte music scene for decades, both on the stage and in the classroom, and he brings elements of both environments into his jazz improvisation courses at Central Piedmont. In these classes, Bill is more of a bandleader than a professor, guiding students as they improvise solos over jazz standards such as Duke Ellington’s “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be” and Kenny Dorham’s Latin-tinged “Blue Bossa.”
The class allows each student to take plenty of creative liberties, and the backgrounds and tastes of the musicians can be heard in their playing. Colombian-born pianist Edwin Benitez incorporates a variety of lively Latin styles into his approach. Guitarist Spencer Bloodworth (pictured) favors a blues-rooted soloing style with a ghostly tone, playing alongside the smoky barroom blues of guitarist Robert Wright. This year’s ensemble even included classically trained cellist Thomas Evans, who added a unique voice to the ensemble, along with guest vibraphonist Zach McBee. Soulful alto saxes (Matt Collins and British expat Joe Exton) and Mr. Hanna on the trombone round out the horns, and Brooks Butler and Jordan Ponder (both of whom learned to play their instruments “on the job” in just a semester) provide a tight rhythm section.
The CPCC musical community is vibrant and growing, and the jazz program continues to provide a colorful creative outlet for aspiring jazz musicians in the Charlotte area. Look for performances by the various CPCC jazz ensembles at the end of each semester in Bryant Auditorium. Also, don’t forget to check out Bill Hanna at the Double Door Inn on Tuesday nights, and keep an eye out for the students as they perform in their own projects around Charlotte.