Conscious Party: Jazz-n-Justice

INCLUSIVE TUNES: The Swing Asheville house band welcomes musicians from the community to join them on stage the first Tuesday of each month for the group's Community Jazz Jam. The next one takes place Jan. 2 at THE BLOCK Off Biltmore and raises funds for the Hawthorn Community Herb Collective.
INCLUSIVE TUNES: The Swing Asheville house band welcomes musicians from the community to join them on stage the first Tuesday of each month for the group's Community Jazz Jam. The next one takes place Jan. 2 at THE BLOCK Off Biltmore and raises funds for the Hawthorn Community Herb Collective. Photo by Brad Nathanson

WHAT: An evening of swing dance classes and dances to benefit the Hawthorn Community Herb Collective

WHEN: Tuesday, Jan. 2, 7 p.m.

WHERE: THE BLOCK Off Biltmore, 39 S. Market St.

WHY: Following a successful year of keeping swing dance and music active in the area, Swing Asheville starts off 2018 with its monthly Community Jazz Jam, Tuesday, Jan. 2, at THE BLOCK Off Biltmore.

As with each week’s event, offerings include intermediate (7 p.m.) and beginner (8 p.m.) swing dance classes taught by experienced teachers who rotate each month, followed by a dance with a band 9-11 p.m. To help grow the community of musicians, the first Tuesday of every month is “Jam Night” instead of a regular band.

“The jam allows learning musicians to play with seasoned pros in a friendly, non-competitive environment. It’s also great for experienced musicians in other styles of music to learn how to play for dancers,” says Annie Erbsen, one of Swing Asheville’s informal organizers. “If we want to keep this music alive, the only way is to encourage people to learn to play this music and support them in any way that we can.”

For the first year or two of the jam, which started in April 2015, a few amateur players showed up each month to play with the house band. Now six to 10 people typically join them on stage, ranging from complete beginners to professional touring musicians. Sheet music is provided, and all are welcome to participate.

“Not only are a lot of people joining in, but the gender balance is fairly equal, which is uncommon in this style of music,” says Erbsen, who plays guitar and banjo. “If you look at most jazz bands, they are usually mostly made up of men. Women obviously have just as much musical talent and skill, and so it’s been my goal to see what I could do to even out these numbers.”

Last spring, Erbsen helped form a mostly women’s jazz practice group that calls itself Bad Things, many of whom now join in at the jam. And in addition to summer’s well-attended Blue Ridge Bal, an event focused on balboa, one of the original swing dances, Swing Asheville began teaming with its new home venue to give back to the community each week, calling the collaboration Jazz-n-Justice.

In this partnership, THE BLOCK Off Biltmore donates 10 percent of its bar sales on swing nights to a different nonprofit each month, and Swing Asheville collects donations as well. The nonprofit supported by January’s dances is the Hawthorn Community Herb Collective, a group that aims to make herbal medicine and know-how accessible in Western North Carolina.

Swing Asheville’s Community Jazz Jam takes place at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 2, at THE BLOCK Off Biltmore. Dance is $5 and classes are $10/$8 for Swing Asheville members. www.theblockoffbiltmore.com

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About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for ashevillemovies.com and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA). Follow me @EdwinArnaudin

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