Janie Evans sings as James Parker plays the keyboard for the Electric Image Band at the 2013 Harambee Festival and Juneteenth Community Empowerment Celebration at the Douglas Block. This year, the Thelonious Monk Jazz Festival runs Friday evening followed Saturday by the Harambee and Juneteenth events.
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Telegram photo / Alan Campbell

Janie Evans sings as James Parker plays the keyboard for the Electric Image Band at the 2013 Harambee Festival and Juneteenth Community Empowerment Celebration at the Douglas Block. This year, the Thelonious Monk Jazz Festival runs Friday evening followed Saturday by the Harambee and Juneteenth events.

Downtown events honor jazzman, history

By Tyler Kes
Staff Writer

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One of Rocky Mount’s more famous sons would have turned 100 this year, and the city is honoring him with a jazz concert and community festival.

The Thelonious Monk Jazz Festival runs from 7 to 11 p.m. Friday at the Booker T. Theater as part of the Juneteenth Community Empowerment and Harambee Festival.

“I have always known Thelonious Monk was from here, and I have always known Thelonious Monk was one of the greatest international jazz artists that has ever existed,” said Joyce Dickens, president and CEO of the Rocky Mount/Edgecombe Community Development Corporation. “In 1998, we decided we wanted to start to honor him and to lift him up as a Rocky Mount son.”

One of the goals of the festival is to raise Rocky Mount as a destination for cultural tourism.

“Rocky Mount has lost so much in economic development, with such high unemployment,” she said. “My hope is that one day we can do something that impacts nationally. I want to see what we can do with job creation with cultural tourism.”

Four musicians will perform.

“We start with Rhythm Express, which is a local band,” she said. “Then the second one is John Brown.”

Brown is the leader of the John Brown Quartet and serves as the director of the jazz program at Duke University.

“He was here last year and did a great job playing music,” Dickens said. “Third is Daniel Davis. Davis was introduced to us by the Rocky Mount Parks and Rec director. He is an urban violinist, a young black man who plays the violin, but he takes it from another perspective than you would expect.

“The fourth one is Coco. Coco is an international jazz singer. I think we have a good lineup. We have four different artists, and they are from four different genres.”

Taking part in the concert is a huge honor for Coco Rouzier because Monk’s impact on jazz.

“For the last two years they have invited me to perform,” Rouzier said. “I was honored because Thelonious Monk is so iconic. I could not believe he grew up in Rocky Mount.”

Rouzier normally plays with a quartet when touring, but said she does not bring the group to Rocky Mount, preferring to play with local musicians.

“This is a special place,” she said. “There are so many talented musicians.”

The concert is a nice way for people to relax and maybe learn something, Dickens said.

“It is a very stressful time in life,” she said. “I just hope they have some fun, to tell the truth ... and that they learn about Monk.”

Saturday will see the festival shift gears to focus more on Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the day the last slaves were freed in the United States, said Gregory Royal, the Juneteenth Planning Committee chairman.

“Saturday will be a day full of activities,” Royal said.

Inflatables will be set up for the children at the Douglas Block, he said, and there will be food vendors, arts and crafts, musicians, such as Marques Houston and presentations from groups such as the N.C. Association of Black Storytellers.

The first event begins at 10 a.m. and the last concludes at 8 p.m.

The theme of this year’s festival is the community’s youth, Royal said.

“We are trying to reach the youth,” he said. “Every year we bring in adult speakers, so this year we are bringing in youth speakers.”

Former NBA player Buck Williams also will speak, Royal said.

For information about the events, which are free, call 972-1151 or go to downtownrockymount.com.