Something more than a rehearsal space, something less than an auditorium… Sharp 9 feels like a private club but everyone is invited. A project of the Durham Jazz Workshop, directed by Dave Finucane and Valerie Courreges, Sharp 9 is a unique space to hear music in Durham. The location is on Industry Lane and that is just what it sounds like: a random industrial park strip off Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway. No retail or residential space is nearby, and despite living in the area for decades, I had no idea that this building existed until I looked for it.
The décor is stripped down, consisting of steel beams, plastic and metal waiting room style chairs around small bistro tables, and art provided by collections of CD liner notes and covers affixed to poster-sized frames on the walls. Bottled water and snacks may be available for donation, but don’t look for a bar tender or a kitchen at Sharp 9. Patrons are, however, permitted to bring their own refreshments. On several visits I have brought a bottle of wine and glasses. I have seen other people bring take-out dinners. And on a recent visit, my husband and I brought coffee in travel mugs and desserts in a paper bag.
The music starts at 8 p.m. and this is not a venue where you want to walk in late; that would be like missing part of a concert. The ambiance is comfortable but very respectful of the music. Sharp 9 audiences are generally quiet, except for frequent applause and the occasional heartfelt “Oh, yeah!” or “That’s right!” after an amazing solo. And there are many amazing solos. The music here is outstanding and could be heard in any major club or concert hall. I don’t understand sound engineering, and so I can’t explain how it works, but the acoustics in this simple room are outstanding.
On my recent visit to Sharp 9, I saw internationally known Durham treasure Baron Tymas with his quartet. This North Carolina Central University professor of music played compositions from his upcoming CD, offering description and explanations of his inspiration for the pieces, which he wrote and recorded in Montreal last year. His jazz guitar performance was not the only highlight, but was well balanced by his drummer (and long time collaborator) Thomas Tayler, saxophonist Annalise Stalls and bassist Aaron Gross. Their memorable show consisted of two hours of beautiful and inspiring music, the majority of which was composed by Tymas, but with a few pieces written by others and carefully selected to showcase the prowess of the musicians.
Shows at Sharp 9 are just one facet of the Durham Jazz Workshop offerings. Workshops, upcoming concerts, classes, and group and solo lessons are available for students of all ages and of all types of jazz. Durham Jazz Workshop is a nonprofit organization that aims to support jazz in the Triangle in a variety of ways. I’m not a musician, but as a lover of jazz music, I feel fortunate to have this organization and Sharp 9 Gallery in Durham.