Prior to attending this year’s Art of Cool Festival, I narrowly thought, “Oh, this is just jazz…I don’t listen to a lot of jazz. The festival sounds cool, but I don’t know if it’s me.” I was given the opportunity to attend the Durham festival and learn more about it firsthand, and I can honestly say that I felt my mind expanding throughout the weekend. I now see just how much more there is to this festival and jazz music than meets the eye.
The Art of Cool Festival successfully hosted talent from all over the country for the third year in a row, bringing a much needed economic and cultural boost to the city. Lovingly referred to as “The Coachella of Jazz”, the description could not be more accurate. The goal of the festival is to celebrate jazz-influenced music, expand the audience for this genre, and bring together business leaders as well as entrepreneurs to discuss business topics, demo products, and have roundtable discussions. There were performances by an impressive roster of artists including Thundercat, The Internet, Terence Blanchard, Anderson Paak, Kamasi Washington, Rapsody, Moonchild, PJ Morton, and more.
The Art of Cool has organically transitioned from a summit of alternative jazz wizardry to a living breathing orchestral organism of music from today, tomorrow and yesteryear. Just like the high couture fashion shows of Milan, where designers go to get “inspiration” from the conceptual clothing on the runway, so is the Art of Cool to mainstream music. The performers are a delicious melting pot of talent and creativity that the rest of the country feeds off of to create music to which we can all bob our heads.
What do I mean by this? Well, I learned just how much jazz and soul roots were hidden in songs that I listen to on a daily basis; I was appreciating this kind of musical influence without even realizing it. No example is more evident of this than the work of Kamasi Washington, whose influence and contributions can be heard on Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy winning album To Pimp a Butterfly. As a solo artist, Washington is best known for his album, The Epic, which was released in 2015 to high critical praise (the album contains over 3 hours of music and is truly epic in scale). He is the perfect example of the Art of Cool showcasing artists that are often heard but not seen – he has worked with the likes of Nas, Snoop Dog, Chaka Khan in addition to Kendrick Lamar, but this might be the first time you have heard his name.
Some of our favorite Art of Cool Festival moments include:
- Listening to Kamasi Washington’s press conference. When asked “What advice do you have for young people and teenagers who are aspiring musicians or artists?”, Washington replied, “To have perseverance. Music is a life journey. If you’re not in it for the rest of your life then you should probably just treat it as something that’s just fun…I would tell them as well, just enjoy playing music.”
- Watching the sheer joy from Amber Navman of Moonchild as she sang and the mutual admiration/respect the band members showed for each other while performing.
- Finding out that over 4700 people bought tickets and the 3 day festival resulted in over $700,000 of visitor spending for Durham.
- The energy brought by the performances of Rapsody and Anderson .Paak.
- Demoing the new virtual reality, Wildeyes, that focuses on creating educational and immersive experiences by letting you virtually explore the national parks in the United States.`
- Listening to Terrace Martin’s press conference where he discussed what the Art of Cool meant to him; it is the importance of pushing forward all art because “you can’t be a true forward pusher of art and just say you’re gonna push black art, this art. What the f*ck is that? It’s art.” Martin also spoke about how special it was to be able to do a festival like this in the South.
- Being a part of a community bonding together over music.
Probably the most important lesson I learned at the Art of Cool is that music is still creative, thoughtful, interesting and inspirational. The music we hear on today’s Top 40 list is highly diluted and broadly likable for the masses, but the Art of Cool gave me a chance to peek behind the curtain to where much of the music starts.