Roy Ayers, Anthony Hamilton top 2015 Art of Cool festival lineup

Downtown Durham, North Carolina, which urges visitors to “find your cool,” will be the scene for the second incarnation of the Art of Cool Fest, a three-day music event featuring jazz, R&B and neo-soul acts scheduled for April 24-26, 2015. Vibraphone master Roy Ayers headlines on the Main Stage on Friday night with R&B singer/songwriter Anthony Hamilton heading the evening lineup on Saturday.

Festival co-founder Cicely Mitchell says that this year’s addition of more neo-soul and R&B acts is in response to the festival’s audience who wants to see musicians like Roy Ayers on stage. Mitchell funded both the first and second Art of Cool festivals through Kickstarter campaigns raising more than $35,000 for the 2015 festival. The Art of Cool is also seeking additional corporate sponsorships for the 2015 festival.

“We have an incredible lineup this year for our second annual Art of Cool festival,” Mitchell, president of the Art of Cool and Ph.D. at the UNC School of Medicine, told “With a focus on traditional jazz, soul, fusion and international jazz, we have legendary artists and recent Grammy winners and nominees coming to Durham to celebrate music and creativity. This year’s event is going to be memorable.”

In addition to the many regional and local artists that will play at the festival, his year’s lineup includes many artists that rarely appear in Durham. Jazz legends will rub shoulders with groups just out of their garage studios, international stars will perform next to Carolina homegrowns, and the influences of jazz, hip-hop, soul, and R&B will mix and mingle in a melting pot of sound.

Friday headliner Roy Ayers, sometimes called the Godfather of Neo-Soul, is one of the legends. With a career that stretches back into the 1960s, embracing the evolution of jazz from post-bebop to acid jazz. He helped invent jazz-funk and was a popular R&B bandleader in the ‘70s and ‘80s. His best known and loved songs include “Don’t Stop the Feeling” and “Searching."

Saturday’s headliner, Anthony Hamilton is a home grown superstar. Born in Charlotte, NC, Hamilton has been a fixture in the Grammy nominations since 2009, when he won the Grammy for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance with the single, "You've Got The Love I Need," collaboration with Al Green. His song “Best Of Me” is in the running for both Best R&B Song and Best R&B Performance at this year’s Grammy Awards. For this year’s Art of Cool Fest, Hamilton will perform a very rare set, playing his critically acclaimed 2003 platinum break-out album, Comin’ from Where I’m From, in its entirety on the Durham stage.

Avery*Sunshine, who headlines at the Sunday VIP brunch, is a jazz/soul vocalist with deep gospel roots. She collaborated with Roy Ayers on her 2010 self-titled album and the two have been known to “drop in” on each other’s stage performances.

The 2015 Art of Cool lineup includes several other Grammy winning artists including Kenny Garrett who won Best Jazz Instrumental Album in 2010 for Five Piece Band – Live and Snarky Puppy, which won a Grammy last year for Best R&B Performance with the song “Something” with Lalah Hathaway.

Jazz vocalist Gretchen Parlato teams with award-winning singer/songwriter Alan Hampton to reprise their song “Smile” from Parlato’s new album Change Your Mind.
Other artists from the traditional jazz side of the fence include vocalist Eve Cornelious, Blue Note recording artist trumpeter Takuya Kuroda, Ben Williams and Sound Effect, and 2011 Thelonious Monk piano competition winner Kris Bowers. Cornelious is no stranger to Durham. Back in 2002, she helped found a program called JazzVoxfest! which introduced the art of jazz singing to both new and experienced singers and created a jazz endowment scholarship fund at NCCU.

Covering the soul/jazz and neo-soul side of things at Art of Cool will be Jesse Boykins III, a key figure in the Romantic Soul movement, and the trio Moonchild headed by the impressive vocal skills of Amber Navran.

Farther out on the fringe are BadBadNotGood, famous for their hip-hop/jazz jam sessions on youtube, and jazz pianist Marc Cary’s Rhodes Ahead Trio. Playing just horns and drums, the Hypnotic Jazz Ensemble, made up of eight of jazz trumpeter Phil Cohran’s sons, have been wowing Europe. Israeli-born vocalist Ester Rada combines soul, Ethiopian jazz, funk and R&B in a unique blend.

The festival’s three days of music include more than 30 performances on two outdoor stages and at several indoor venues. This year the indoor clubs – Motorco Music Hall, Durham Armory, the Pinhook, and the PSI Theatre at the Durham Arts Council – are tightly grouped making it easy for pass holders to jump from one to another. The Main Stage is located close by at Diamond View Park on the lawn between the American Tobacco Campus and the Durham Performing Arts (DPAC) building.

Festival goers can buy a two-day wristband ($125) which includes both Main Stage performances and entrance to all the clubs on both Friday and Saturday nights. Single tickets will also be sold to just the Main Stage shows. A three-day VIP Pass ($260) includes all the performances and club admissions, plus a Sunday VIP brunch with a performance by Avery*Sunshine, access to the VIP tent, priority entry and reserved seating at every show, and a swag bag.

Several free events, open to the general public, are included in the lineup, including the Festival Kick-Off Party at Durham Central Park with live music and a food truck rodeo, and the Ultimate Day Party on the lawn under the water tower at American Tobacco.

The Art of Cool Fest is a creation of the Art of Cool Project, originally founded back in 2011 by Cicely Mitchell and trombone player Al Strong to sponsor “pop up” concerts at local galleries. The events proved wildly popular and sparked the larger festival of today, although the Art of Cool Project continues to sponsor concerts both large and small throughout the year. The non-profit also sponsors the StArt of Cool, a jazz education program.

Two-day and three-day passes to the Art of Cool Fest are now on sale. Single day passes, if available, will be offered in the spring.