Ramsey Library Special Collections
Over the last century, North Carolina produced some of the most influential artists in American jazz. Max Roach, Thelonious Monk, Percy Heath, and John Coltrane were all born in the state; Dizzy Gillespie grew up just beyond the state line in South Carolina, but attended school and studied music in Laurinburg. These jazzmen eventually left North Carolina to pursue their music and careers, but their deeply-shared regional roots remained with them. They sought each other out and gigged together in cities like Philadelphia and New York, influencing each other and laying the groundwork for what we know as modern jazz. Coltrane, who was born in the small town of Hamlet and grew up in High Point, would take jazz even farther "out." The modal and freer sounds he explored in the 1960s drew inspiration from his spiritual roots in North Carolina, but also from African and other world cultures as well.
Other jazz artists with North Carolina connections include Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington’s right-hand man, composer, and arranger for many years, who called Hillsborough his second home. Among his memorable compositions: “Take the ‘A’ Train”, “Lush Life,” and “Satin Doll.” The state lays claim to pianist Dr. Billy Taylor of CBS’s Sunday Morning and NPR’s Jazz at the Kennedy Center fame, who has dedicated his life to educating America about its indigenous musical art form. And then there's the unique song stylist that is Nina Simone, who was reared in Tryon and attended school in Asheville.
Included here are major jazz figures, forgotten sidemen, unknown early musicians and band leaders, contemporary recording artists, and jazz educators. Hopefully, this resource guide will aid students and other researchers in uncovering some of North Carolina's great jazz heritage and introduce some classic recordings along the way.
See also the Bonus Section: North Carolina Jazz Trivia.
Portions of this guide originally published in the Fall-Winter 2001 issue of North Carolina Libraries, pp. 121-25. John Coltrane image (top) used with permission from David Wild. Special thanks to Dr. Thomas Hennessey at Fayetteville State University for his helpful suggestions.
This page last updated 18 March 2004.