Tonight, before Los Angeles jazz adventurer Terrace Martin hit The Pour House stage in Raleigh for The Art of Cool Project and 9th Wonder’s monthly soul series Caramel City, Art of Cool president Cicely Mitchell announced the full lineup for next year’s third annual Art of Cool Music Festival, scheduled May 6–8, 2016, in Durham.
Two months ago, the festival got an early lead in the festival announcement game when it revealed two of its headliners, famed jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard and Detroit soul maverick Dwele. In previous years, the festival’s lineup landed in late November, just before Thanksgiving. AOC organizers likely saw a need to make a move and get a jump on ticket sales before the former Asheville-based electronic music festival, Moogfest, reveals the lineup for its inaugural year in downtown Durham, set to take place next year just 11 days after AOC. That lineup is expected in November.
Regardless, tonight’s AOC lineup largely marks a return to the core of the organization’s jazz-advocacy mission, sacrificing some of AOC 2015’s soul audacity for a more ambitious and focused jazz agenda.
“We decided to go a little bit more jazz-oriented this year, based on some the backlash we got from the traditional jazz crowd—that we didn’t have enough jazz offerings,” says Mitchell. “People grew and developed their ear with us along the years. We couldn’t have given people that kind of lineup last year.”
The jazz-heavy lineup includes the high-minded trumpeter Nicholas Payton, saxophone swingman J.D. Allen, drummer Otis Brown III, Grammy-nominated harpist Brandee Younger and tenor saxophone maestro Marcus Strickland. In addition, the lineup delves into nuanced, jazz-fusion territory with acts like millennial soul rebels The Internet, Kamasi Washington, Derrick Hodge, vocalist Charenee Wade and returning favorites Thundercat and Moonchild.
It was fitting that Mitchell revealed the festival’s acts during tonight’s Terrace Martin concert, since he’s been at the center of how jazz music and its sensibilities have recently snuck into other forms of music.
“A lot of the artists on the lineup are somewhat affiliated with Terrace Martin, who is affiliated with To Pimp A Butterfly and Kendrick Lamar,” says Mitchell. “We also wanted to make the statement for the festival that jazz is starting to seep into mainstream hip-hop again. Jazz artists like Kamasi Washington and Thundercat have not only gained a hipster audience but also somewhat of a hip-hop following. It falls right in line with what our mission is, which is to expand the audience.”
While the audience may be expanding, AOC has been very deliberate about not trying to expand beyond its purview. Meanwhile, according to a recent article in The Herald-Sun, Moogfest is “expecting to have 200 ‘performing and participating talents’ across 25 venues, all within a mile radius of downtown Durham.” So far, it’s clear neither where all of those performance spaces will be located, nor who any one of those 200 acts will be. Compared to 2016’s scaled-back version of AOC, those goals seem gargantuan.
“We know our strengths, “ says Mitchell. “Art of Cool is about presenting the highest-quality acts in select venues, giving an intimate experience to the audience. We’re not about quantity, we’re about quality.”