Downtown Jazz, the annual summer music series presented by the city of Winston-Salem, hits the midway mark of its season on Friday, with a concert from jazz violinist Chelsey Green and the Green Project, an innovative ensemble that puts the violin front and center of funk, R&B, jazz and soul.
Winston-Salem native, Mia Thompson, will open.
Started in 1998, the Downtown Jazz series brings some of the biggest names in smooth jazz to the city. Carl Dennerson books the bands.
Each fall, he travels around the Southeast, scouting for new talent to play one of six shows at Corpening Plaza, 237 W. First St.
Most of the acts he picks are known to listeners in smooth jazz circles. Kayla Waters, who performed earlier this year, has been on top of Billboard’s smooth jazz charts a few times.
“There was a time when it was hard to get artists to come to Winston-Salem,” Dennerson said. “Now, a lot want to come. They tap me in the fall and try to get into the lineup of the following summer.”
The acts Dennerson chooses have drawing power, with people coming from Burlington, Charlotte, Raleigh and beyond. Dennerson knows of one man who comes down from West Virginia three or four times a year to see concerts.
Because the concerts are free, people from outside the city often use the money they would have spent on a ticket for dinner and an overnight stay at a downtown hotel.
“And that’s good for our city,” he said.
Dennerson estimated more than 1,000 people come to each show. That’s an impressive number, Dennerson said, considering most people get off work at 5 p.m., and make it to the show by 6:30 p.m.
“There’s some dancing, but it’s a chilled-out atmosphere,” he said. “You get a certain groove about it.”
Green, the headliner at this Friday’s show, has performed at the opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the BET Honors Awards Dinner and The John F. Kennedy Center.
The series rounds out with Dee Lucas and David P. Stevens on July 26; Julian Vaughn and Natural Element on Aug. 9; and Melvin M. Miller and Keith Byrd on Aug. 23.