Lonnie Davis Isn’t Singing the Blues

Charlotte’s jazz maven is busy teaching, advocating, and running the city’s best jazz club.

Husband-and-wife team Lonnie and Ocie Davis created Charlotte’s hottest jazz club. But the Jazz Room, their pop-up club in a small, back-door space at the Blumenthal, is just one part of their nonprofit Jazz Arts Initiative (JAI). Lonnie serves as its president and CEO, and Ocie is the artistic director. The couple moved to the Queen City from New Orleans, after being displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

The Jazz Room is probably the most visible of JAI’s initiatives. What else does JAI do?

Yes, many people only know the Jazz Arts Initiative for our monthly Jazz Room concert series. However, music education is our most important focus. JAI offers youth programs, including Jazz In Schools, JazzArts Summer Music Camp, and JAI youth ensembles and workshops. We also support local musicians through our JazzArts Music Stage at Kings Drive Art Walk and the Charlotte Jazz Festival.

I love the Jazz Room. How you do describe what it’s like?

It’s a special place, one of the only true jazz listening rooms in Charlotte. Jazz Room is a casual and intimate, dimly lit space where the best local, regional, and internationally renowned artists re-imagine the music of jazz legends such as Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, and others. The series attracts both jazz newbies and seasoned jazz lovers.  

What upcoming Jazz Room concerts are you most excited about?

Our John Coltrane tribute (Aug. 9) and our Season 9 wrap-up, a tribute to the great vocalist Frank Sinatra (Sept. 15). These are both very popular shows, and tickets will likely sell out weeks in advance.

Charlotte isn’t The Big Easy; what’s kept you and Ocie here all these years? And what do you think of the Charlotte music scene?

It’s been over 10 years since Ocie and I relocated. Charlotte has truly embraced JAI’s mission. This community strongly advocates for the arts— and the overall support of the performing arts—which has helped make our work much easier. The Charlotte music scene has definitely developed significantly over the past decade. We hope some of the work we are doing to connect the cultural community through jazz has helped that effort.

What happens when you outgrow the Stage Door Theater?

That’s a great question! The Stage Door Theater is the perfect “jazz club” environment. I anticipate we will do our best to stay in this wonderful space, as a resident company of the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. If needed, we’ll continue to expand by adding more days to the series, as we have done since our lone Tuesday evening concert four years ago. Jazz lives in the Queen City!

Jazz Room memberships, tickets, and more information are available at thejazzarts.org. Jazz Room concerts are held at The Stage Door Theater in the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center.

Photos by Joe Ciarlante