A Conversation with…Art of Cool’s Cicely Mitchell. Working to bring a jazz festival to Durham.

This article is the fourth in our series of “Conversations With” members of the creative community in the Triangle who are thinking big, working hard and making a difference in our Region. 

Today, we talk with Cicely Mitchell, who, along with trumpeter, arranger and composer Al Strong, is the founder of  The Art of Cool Project, a nonprofit presenting organization.  Art of Cool is dedicated to presenting and promoting live jazz (and related music) in unique venues throughout the Triangle.  Art of Cool is a Triangle ArtWorks Partner and we have been following AOC’s growth from the beginning.  It has been amazing to watch the impact of this Organization’s work on the jazz scene in the Triangle, largely brought about by the hard work and tenaciousness of  Cicely Mitchell.

In this interview, Cicely talks about the Art of Cool, what its like to build an organization from scratch and AOC’s quest to bring a jazz festival to Durham. 


Tell us about what brought you to create Art of Cool in the first place?

We wanted to connect the jazz musicians with the audience in an intimate distraction-free environment. Since one of our founders is a musician, it was very important to empower musicians and the pop-up jazz concerts, so we first started with just that.  Our first concert was at LabourLove Gallery in Durham.  We hosted shows in art galleries, then club venues, then outdoor stages like American Tobacco. The drive comes from the scene. The people who love jazz influenced music are growing in numbers and want more experiences. We aim to please. The festival is the next natural step to provide a larger cultural experience centered around jazz/soul music.

Tell us about AOC’s successes so far.  What are you proudest of?

I’m proudest of planning the jazz fest for 2014. We have been working on this for over a year now and it seems to be coming together nicely.

Pierce Freelon at an AOC show at American Tobacco.

How are you making this happen?

Volunteers. Hard work. Partnership resources. Hard work. Late nights.

Why a jazz festival, why Durham, why now?

Durham has the talent, venues, and audience to launch a successful jazz festival. Durham is currently home to three-time Grammy nominated jazz saxophonist, Branford Marsalis; six-time Grammy nominated jazz vocalist, Nnenna Freelon; Grammy nominated jazz bassist, John Brown; and Grammy nominated jazz vocalist, Kate McGarry. These Durhamites are great examples of world-class local talent that live among us in the Bull City. In 2012 The Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC) finished #5 in box-office sales and Carolina Theatre finished in the top 100. Both of these venues are in one city block (five minutes walking distance) from one another in proximity. The audience for jazz is well-educated, high-income earners, and between the ages of 35-55. The Triangle area with its abundance of universities, health care and research companies, and technology startups is a great pool for a jazz roots audience. With these three elements (talent, venues, and audience) working in our favor, Durham is poised to tap into its rich music tradition of jazz/blues roots and produce a two-day multi-venue festival downtown in 2014. (Editor’s note-Can you tell Cecily is a statistician?)

F.O. Finch III, Ed Butler, Lisa Veronica Wood, Aaron Bittikofer and Jim Crew at Koka Booth Ampitheater. Photo courtesy of Sweet Life Studios 2013

How’s it going?

Great so far. We’ve formed a lot of partnerships in order to pull it all off. We just announced our first two headliners: Maceo Parker and Miguel Atwood-Ferguson. We also will be partnering with NCCU to present their 2014 NCCU Jazz festival prensentations within our festival

What can the community do to help?

The community can purchase their wristband early via our  Kickstarter . We need the cash flow to continue booking and hiring production/logistics teams. By purchasing the wristbands early they help us get cash earlier than the day of show to build the infrastructure we need to execute the festival and we are offering them a slight discount. Tickets for the festival will be 10-15% higher due to taxes and the club membership fees.

To learn more about the Art of Cool Project visit their website, attend their next event: The Zombie Jazz Apocalypse at Motorco, or learn more about and support the Jazz Festival.

Comments are closed.