“What happened in Charleston, New Orleans, Memphis, Kansas City, Savannah and other cities not only illustrates the fact that jazz was born in America, their stories prove that America is built on the same principles as jazz. It’s a kind of real-world metaphor. Jazz is democratic. Everyone can have something to say. It’s diverse and inclusive. It’s an experiment. There’s never been anything like it before. It will always be a work in progress.”
–Jack McCray, Co-Founder of Charleston Jazz
Charleston Jazz History
Charleston Jazz was born at the dawn of acceptance of jazz music as the classical music of the United States of America. Charleston, South Carolina has contributed mightily to the history of the country, especially with regard to African American culture, the crucible of jazz. The South Atlantic coast cradle of North American slavery is a big part of the genesis, evolution and legacy of jazz, an entertainment art form that married the best of European and African attributes in the New World.
Now about 100 years old, jazz is no longer the secular, profane novelty it was once considered to be. Instead, it is a spiritual, organic life force that embodies all that is good about the American experiment. It is taken seriously in sociological, artistic and educational circles at the same time that it carries enormous, socially redeeming entertainment value.
Charleston Jazz works to preserve and celebrate the rich jazz tradition of the Charleston area. It recognizes South Carolina and the South Atlantic coast, whose artistic epicenter is Charleston, as a major cradle of jazz along with Savannah, Ga., Mobile Ala., Memphis, Tenn. and New Orleans, La., among others.
Vocalists Regina Ruopoli and Leah Suárez began to explore the idea of organizing their colleagues to better represent themselves as professional musicians. Charleston area musicians were contacted and a musician forum was held at Andolini’s – a local favorite pizzeria. In attendance was a small, but significant force of notable and working musicians, with one of Charleston’s most respected jazz advocates, Jack McCray, serving as the forum’s moderator.
Exploratory meetings ensued and a founding board began to take shape, including Leah Suárez, Quentin Baxter, Nathan Koci, Clay Grayson, Steven Sandifer, Regina Ruopoli and Jack McCray. A board of directors comprised of mostly musicians, and under the leadership of Leah Suárez, officially incorporated Jazz Artists of Charleston (JAC).
Shortly after its formation, JAC proposed to the city of Charleston’s Office of Cultural Affairs to produce the Piccolo Spoleto Jazz Series, the highest profile local jazz performance entity in the Lowcountry. Just months later, JAC took on the presentation of the Charlton Singleton Orchestra, a 19-piece big band. The orchestra renamed itself the Charleston Jazz Orchestra and took on the mantle of being the area’s resident big band.
The City of Charleston approached JAC about launching a Charleston Jazz Festival during the typically slower month of January. JAC embraced the idea and started to plan the event.
In January, the First Annual Charleston Jazz festival was held at the American Theatre and featured a talented line-up of local Charleston Jazz Bands. During the summer, Leah Suarez departed the organization to pursue her career as a vocalist. In September, Mary Beth Natarajan accepted the leadership role of Executive Director with a vision of dynamically expanding the organization in the areas of jazz performance, education and community outreach. At the end of the year, Brent Swaney joined the organization as Director of Operations after holding a similar role for the United States Air Force and NATO bands in Europe.
The Second Annual Charleston Jazz festival was held a variety of venues throughout Charleston and featured 10-time Grammy Award Winner, Arturo Sandoval and 2-time Grammy Award Winner, Diane Schuur. While the Charleston Jazz Orchestra finished a successful 8th Season, the organization accomplished a few new firsts including its first “Jazz in the Joint” performance at the Lieber Correctional Institute, which brought professional jazz artists – including Mayor John Tecklenburg – to the Lieber Correctional Institute to bring the transformative power of music to the prison system. The organization also held its first “Jazz Day for Kids” bringing over 800 elementary and middle school children from Charleston’s Title One schools to the Charleston Music Hall for a CJO performance and other learning opportunities. The organization also launched its first Charleston All Star Jazz Youth Orchestra showcasing many of Charleston’s most talented young jazz musicians performing at the jazz festival.
2017 was ushered in with dynamic performances from 20-time Grammy Award Winners The Manhattan Transfer and Take 6 at the 3rd Annual Charleston Jazz Festival. Matthew Pardieck was named Chairman of the Board of Directors. With the help of Matthew’s vision and leadership, the organization brought the Leonard School of Music under its wing to form the new Charleston Jazz Academy. The Founders Circle fundraising campaign, led by Founders Circle Chair, Mason Holland, was launched to renovate the education center and build a fund for scholarships. Mr. David W. Carter, Jr. was selected as the Director of the Charleston Jazz Academy bringing his experience as Director of Bands and “Teacher of the Year” accolades to the new role. The Charleston Jazz Orchestra presented a record-breaking Season 9 featuring special guest artists including Ruben Studdard (Season 2 American Idol winner) Freddy Cole (jazz master and brother to Nat King Cole) and T.S. Monk (ace drummer and son of the famous Thelonious Monk). In November, over 900 elementary school children from the Charleston tri-county were treated to a jazz immersion with the Charleston Jazz Orchestra at the Charleston Music Hall. Mayor John Tecklenburg teamed with Maestro Charlton Singleton to give a live stream lecture about the history of jazz in Charleston to hundreds of students across the nation.
During our 10th year, Charleston Jazz expanded the 4th Annual Charleston Jazz Festival to four days and featured the iconic saxophonist, KENNY G, at the Charleston Gaillard Center. Grammy nominated vocalist Nnenna Freelon also graced the festival stage in a performance with the Charleston Jazz Orchestra (CJO). The CJO launched its 10th season with Count Basie vocalist Carmen Bradford performing a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, followed by a tribute to the great Stan Getz in March, and a celebration of the Beatles in April. In May, the Charleston Jazz Academy teamed with Spoleto USA to bring the famous bassist, Reggie Workman, to the Academy to share his wisdom with young artists. In June, it was announced that long time Music Director, Charlton Singleton, planned to step down at the end of Season 10 and pass the band leader baton to Robert Lewis, saxophonist and section leader of the CJO, and Director of Jazz Studies at the College of Charleston. In July, Tatjana Beylotte was selected at the new Director of Development bringing over 18 years of development experience in the arts to Charleston Jazz. In August, the 10 Year Anniversary Gala and Concert was announced with a plan to celebrate the Top 10 Songs from the 10 Years on November 3, 2018 at Memminger Auditorium. The 2nd half of Season 10 will feature Grammy nominated vocalist Rene Marie in September, a tribute to Quincy Jones in October, and a special Holiday Swing concert in December. As a result of extensive Education Outreach throughout the year, over 5,000 students have received jazz education experiences with Mr. David Carter, Director of Education and Outreach. Over 1,700 elementary school children will be hosted at the Gaillard Center for Jazz Day for Kids!
Tatjana Beylotte comes to Charleston Jazz with 18 years of experience in fundraising for arts organizations. Most recently, she managed the fundraising activities for the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston as Deputy Director. Prior to her role at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, Tatjana was Executive Director of 1708 Gallery, a non-profit space for contemporary art. She also worked as the Arts Education Grants Coordinator for the Virginia Commission for the Arts, and Director of Development for International Arts and Artists in Washington, DC. Tatjana holds a Master’s degree in Museum Studies from George Washington University and a Bachelor’s degree in Arts Management from the College of Charleston. Learn More
Director of Performances
Brent has been the Director of Performances for Charleston Jazz since November of 2015. Raised in Virginia, Brent arrived in Charleston by way of Brussels, Belgium, where he was an Entertainment Operations Director for the United States Air Force Band program. In this role, Brent led the Operations for the SHAPE International Band as it toured 26 countries throughout Europe. His past experience also includes working as a stage manager and audio engineer for Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Disney on Ice. In addition to his management skills, Brent is a professional saxophonist who has performed with the NATO Jazz Orchestra and Rhythm in Blue jazz ensemble that performed for over 100,000 people annually. During his work with the Air Force, Brent performed with Arturo Sandoval, Kurt Elling, New York Voices, and ‘Toots’ Thielemans.
Charleston Jazz Academy Coordinator
Janthina “Jan” Moorer is a native of New York, but spent most of her childhood in Summerville, South Carolina. After high school, Janthina moved to San Francisco, California and studied Photography earning a BFA at the Academy of Art University. She also earned her MBA from Colorado Technical University. Past experience includes working at a Portrait Studio and an Art Gallery, before coming to the Leonard School of Music in 2010, which merged with Charleston Jazz in 2017. In her free time, she enjoys listening to her favorite artist, Michael Jackson, and spending time with her husband, Shaun, and their two children, De and Kennedy.
Marketing and Development Manager
Board of Directors
ALVA ANDERSON, Board President; Retired Music Teacher and Performer, Vocals/Viola
RONALD D. MCCRAY, Vice President; Chairman, Career Education Corporation
MATT D. PARDIECK, Treasurer; First Vice President, Wealth Management Raymond James
CLAY GRAYSON, Secretary; Attorney, Grayson Law Firm
CRAIG ASCUE, Owner, Ascue’s Paint and Body Shop
J. ANTON COLLINS, Attorney, Tax Law Offices
DEMETRIUS DOCTOR, Pianist
MADELEINE FRUME, Executive Business Development
DONALD R. JOHNSON, II, M.D., President and CEO, Southeastern Spine Institute
JILL JONES, Strategy Consultant
BASIL KERR, former Director of Instrumental Music at the Charleston School of the Arts
BILL McSWEENEY, Musician
ED MEYER, Retired Insurance Executive
JON OLSON, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Blackbaud
STEVE SIMON, CEO, Simon Auction Services
DEAN SMITH, Managing Director, Stonehenge Financial Partners
HILTON C. SMITH, Jr, President/CEO, East Bay Company, Ltd.
HARRY STALEY, Advisory Business Consultant
VICTOR WEINSTEIN, MD, Chairman, OB/GYN Department, Roper St. Francis Hospital
RON WILTROUT, Percussionist and Founder of the New Music Collective
SCOTT WATSON, Director, City of Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs