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ENCORE: From Coltrane To J. Cole, Harvey Cummings II Has The Jazz Chops

Harvey Cummings II.jpg
Photo courtesy of Harvey Cummings II
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Harvey Cummings II is an award-winning pianist, saxophonist, producer and music educator in Charlotte.

Opportunities from contributing music to the hit Cartoon Network show “The Boondocks” to performing with Marsalis jazz family royalty, it’s no wonder Charlotte native Harvey Cummings II has been called a “jazz legend in the making,” mixing the classic riffs of Coltrane with the hip-hop sensibilities of J. Cole.

"We’re trying to push jazz forward, but at the same time, we want to preserve it. We want to keep it. We’ve got to keep explaining the history. ... As long as everybody supports it, we’re going to be fine. Charlotte’s going to be fine."
– Harvey Cummings II

Interview Highlights:

On his start in music in Charlotte:

I was raised in the East Side (Hickory Grove area). My mom was into music. She minored in music at North Carolina Central. She had a piano in the house, and I was about 3 years old when I started picking up everything she would pick up. And then they put me into lessons when I was 5 and 6.

On encouraging music opportunities in the region:

You can’t wait for other people to do stuff for you. Growing up in Charlotte, there’s a lot of opportunity … but there’s not a lot of opportunity. So you have to create your own.

I created a jazz event called The Standard, which was focused on performance but also the educational aspect as well. My background is in education, and I’m all about this next generation. I still remember when I was in kindergarten at Pine Grove Elementary, and I remember the Charlotte Symphony came to the school and shared. [Musicians taught us] “This is a violin … this is a viola … this is a bassoon … this is a saxophone.” And I thought — I can do all of this!

I wanted to give those same opportunities to kids in the community. And that’s what I mean by creating your own opportunities, creating your own wave and riding it.

On the influences in his 2017 debut EP Chicken Day:

The sound of Chicken Day revolved around that soulfulness. Everybody always says, “What’s the sound of North Carolina? What’s the sound of Charlotte?” Every one of these groups, every one of these bands has soul.

The biggest influences were J Dilla, Pharrell, Kanye, Pete Rock, The Roots. I really wanted to trick people into listening to jazz. That was the big thing. But that was the sound of Chicken Day.

The concept of Chicken Day came from the thing that goes on at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. And at North Carolina Central, our Chicken Day was on Wednesday. And this is when the cafeteria would literally serve fried chicken with mashed potatoes and greens and all of that. It was packed out. They had a DJ in there, the Greeks were stepping, the band was playing. It was a scene out of a different world. People would skip class just to go to Chicken Day. Chicken Day was lit. It was the beginning of brunch culture, if you think of it. And I wanted to pay homage to it. I wanted to create a project that revolved around that HBCU culture.

On the importance of jazz:

For me, jazz is the direct window into somebody’s soul, into somebody’s mind, into somebody’s heart. It’s the ultimate expression of music.

Music featured in this #WFAEAmplifier chat:

Harvey Cummings II - “Higher”
Harvey Cummings II - “Freedom Ain’t Free”
Harvey Cummings II - “Ain’t That Somethin’”
Harvey Cummings II - “That There”
Harvey Cummings II - “Lost in the Sauce”
Harvey Cummings II - “Lady Bird”

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Joni Deutsch is happy to call Charlotte home as WFAE's manager for on-demand content and audience engagement, where she's led the first Charlotte Podcast Festival (named one of the “best podcast conferences” by Buzzsprout) and helped produce such podcasts as FAQ City, SouthBound, Inside Politics, Work It and the Apple Podcast chart-topping series She Says. In addition to being an NPR Music contributor, Joni is also the creator and host of WFAE’s Charlotte music podcast Amplifier, named “Best Podcast” by Charlotte Magazine and honored for excellence in arts and music podcasting by the local Edward R. Murrow Awards and The Webby Awards (called “The Internet’s Highest Honor” by The New York Times).