We may not be able to go to concerts for the foreseeable future, but in the online world, the Charleston Jazz Orchestra is still providing music. Charleston Jazz has posted portions of their concerts on YouTube and Facebook, but began publishing entire concerts online on March 26 as part of a weekly series called “From the Archives.”
The first posted concert was from April 2019, a program called “Mess Around: A Tribute To Ray Charles featuring Manny Houston.” New concerts from the archives will be posted on Facebook and YouTube every Thursday evening for as long as necessary.
“It’s an interesting time for performing arts organizations that typically perform onstage with hundreds and hundreds of people around them,” says Tatjana Beylotte, the executive director of Charleston Jazz. “So the next best thing is to perform online.”
Luckily, the orchestra has a large catalog of performances to choose from; more than 11 years, as it turns out.
“The good thing is that we have recordings of all of our performances,” Beylotte says. “We record all of them and edit a couple of the songs to add them to our YouTube page, but in this case, we’re going to have the entire performance, which we don’t usually do.”
Beylotte recently re-watched the Ray Charles program and she says she found the experience exhilarating.
“‘Mess Around with Manny Houston’ was such a great upbeat performance,” she says. “It’s fun, and it’s positive, so we wanted to use that as the first one to lift everyone’s spirits and make them smile. Art, especially in difficult times, has that power to make you feel. It’s a good way to process what’s going on, and it’s a great way to make you feel good, at least that’s what it does for me.”
Of course, it was a bittersweet experience for Beylotte, as well.
“It was really emotional to watch it,” she says, “because you don’t know when we can experience it again live.”
Rather than simply moving backwards chronologically, the performances will be curated based on the material and how the audience reacted.
“We have a pretty good idea what was on all of them to begin with, which ones got a good response from the audiences, and so on,” says the CJO’s music director, Robert Lewis. “So when we had this idea of having the watch party on Thursdays, we kicked around a few ideas of what we wanted to start with, and we settled on the Ray Charles tribute. It was a fun show, people liked it, they know the tunes.”
“We like to think they’re all entertaining,” Lewis adds with a laugh, “but it certainly seemed like one that people would enjoy seeing.”
The online concerts are free to watch but there will be options for tips and donations, which will be used both to help Charleston Jazz and a lot of musicians.
“Our organization is suffering,” Beylotte says. “There are resources that we would normally receive through ticket sales for our performances, but we’ve obviously had to postpone our performances in March and in April, which means that ticket revenue is no longer coming in during those months. So we hope that we will encourage people to donate to CJO if they enjoy these full performances. The funds will be used not only to continue this series, but we’ll also be sharing the donations we receive with the members of the orchestra itself.”
Beylotte stresses that the people who we enjoy hearing on these archival performances need our help right now more than ever.
“It’s incredibly difficult for them because they were relying on these performances in addition to the other gigs they do,” she says. “If everyone who enjoyed the show donated $10, that would be incredible, and you could never see the CJO for $10 live. So I really hope that we can both bring joy to the community by releasing these performances and raise a little money to get us through these months until we’re able to get back on stage again, which we hope will be July 25.”
Lewis adds that in addition to potentially helping Charleston Jazz and the musicians, the process of putting these performances online is a good way of keeping the creative juices flowing at a time when there are few other ways to do so.
“We’re trying to find a way to stay active,” he says. “There’s obviously that aspect of, we’re trying to support the guys in the band, but we’re also trying to keep things together, keep moving forward, and keep being creative. We’re trying a whole bunch of things and seeing what works and doesn’t work, which is how the creative process always goes.”