Upstairs at Mistral

May 22-June 5

7:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.


Mistral Restaurant

99 S. Market St.

(843) 722-5708

This weekend marks the kick-off of a unique, locally-produced celebration of jazz, soul, and improvisational music as the Jazz Artists of Charleston (JAC) present Upstairs at Mistral. The 13-night series will be held in the French-style bistro Mistral.

“We’ve now spent a year and a half building our support — not just with our fans and audiences, but also with contributors, businesses, and artists,” says JAC president and local musician Leah Suarez. “It’s sparked an energy within the musician community. That’ll help us pull this off.”

Local author Jack McCray — an advising member of the JAC board who also writes a jazz column for The Post and Courier — agrees with Suarez. “We’ve purposefully gone after other kinds of creative people,” he says. “The improvisational nature of the music seems to attract other kinds of creative people. It is diverse, inclusive, and horizontal rather than vertical … and all are welcome. I think that is evident in that many of the musicians we’re involved with play many kinds of music, not just jazz. And many of them do in other types of creative art.”

A trained vocalist, songwriter, and musical collaborator with years of experience in the Charleston music scene, Suarez organized a similar series two years ago at a venue on King Street. Last year, she and the JAC relocated it to Mistral, which boasted an intimate atmosphere ideal for live jazz.

In producing and presenting these special live music events over the last year, JAC has developed a confident rhythm — a stride interrupted by loose details or unexpected impediments. There’s a strong sense of camaraderie and interaction from the board members to the musicians themselves.

“We are trying to educate musicians as well,” says Suarez. “We want to be here for musicians while maintaining a standard. It’s about becoming an established resource for the community. It’s just as important to include designers, photographers, writers, and visual artists. That’s what’s going to make or break this. We want to be able to make exhibits, sites and coffee table books. We want to educate and go into schools and develop curriculum. There are lots of different facets and challenges to this.”

The JAC initially planned to present Upstairs at Mistral and the Holy City Homecomin’ concert (to be held on June 2 at the Charleston Music Hall) in conjunction with Piccolo Spoleto, just as they’ve done previously. However, JAC and Piccolo amicably disconnected last month. Now, the Mistral and Holy City Homecomin’ events are entirely independent, with the JAC running its own box office.

“It’s a little scary,” admits Suarez. “We took a leap of faith, and we’re relying on people showing up like last year. It’s all on us now. It’s a significant change and an important step for the JAC. We had the support of the city last year, which helped us get our footing. It was a win-win situation last year. This year, it’s an important step forward for us to lay the groundwork for years and years to come and becoming a fixture for Charleston.”

The Holy City Homecomin’ looks like it’ll be a pretty elaborate big-band performance with the young-but-solid Charleston Jazz Orchestra and guest conductor (and Lowcountry native) Bob Belden.

“For such a small market, we have a ton of great players,” says McCray. “We want to contextualize that and demonstrate to the general public — our friends, neighbors, and anyone who might be interested — that this is a terrific scene here.”

Upstairs at Mistral

Fri. May 22 — The Rudy Waltz

This kick-off gig features the free ‘n’ loose piano trio.

Sat. May 23 — Hedgepeth & Holstein Duo

N.C.-based duo: percussionist Byron Hedgepeth and bassist Mike Holstein.

Sun. May 24 — Leah Suarez

Vocalist, songwriter, and series organizer Leah Suarez leads a Latin-tinged jazz combo.

Mon. May 25 — Caravan

Django-driven, French-styled gypsy-jazz trio.

Tues. May 26 — Gradual Lean

Lee Barbour, Kevin Hamilton, and Quentin Baxter reunite.

Thurs. May 28 — The Charleston All-Stars

A loose and cool gig with “surprise guests.”

Fri. May 29 — The Pulse Trio

Progressive improv combo.

Sat. May 30 — Elise Testone

Talented Charleston vocalist and guests: cool jazz, soul, and funk.

Sun. May 31 — Charlton Singleton Quintet

Trumpeter and arranger Charlton Singleton’s versatile quintet.

Mon. June 1 — Duda Lucena Quartet

Brazilian-born singer, guitarist, and composer playing a blend of Brazilian and jazz styles.

Wed. June 3 — Tommy Gill Trio

Acclaimed pianist’s trio offers standards and improv.

Thurs. June 4 — Scandal in Bohemia

Exotic acoustic combo featuring accordionist Nathan Koci.

Fri. June 5 — Tenor Madness

Featuring the tenor saxophone stylings of Robert Lewis, Mark Sterbank, and guests.