Building Community Through Music – The Birmingham Times

By Ariel Worthy

The Birmingham Times

Jazz in the Park puts on a free show featuring local and national artists every Sunday from April through October.

Bernard Lockhart remembers falling in love with jazz while stationed in San Diego, Washington and Hawaii during his tour with the U.S. Navy.

“I would attend a lot of jazz concerts, so when I was discharged and came back home, I noticed there was not a lot of jazz here in Birmingham on a regular basis,” he said. “[The west coast] would have jazz concerts almost every weekend, and coming back home, there was none.”

Bernard Lockhart started Jazz in the Park, which now attracts as many as 1,500 music lovers per week. (provided photo)

Lockhart, 56, decided to bring the genre to the city, by throwing a paid jazz concert at Carver Theater in 2008.

“It was not a great attendance,” he said. “I couldn’t understand why people didn’t support jazz.”

Lockhart decided to try harder and asked city officials about bringing Grammy-winning jazz artist Esperanza Spalding to Birmingham.

“I went to the city council to ask for support and Carole Smitherman said, ‘yeah I will support this because it’s something good for Birmingham,’” he said. “On the way out the door, she said, ‘Why can’t I get jazz in my community?’”

That prompted Lockhart to look up information about community jazz concerts. He found that across the country, cities were having Jazz in the Park concerts. In 2010, Lockhart brought the concert series to Birmingham.

“I only did five concerts in Avondale Park the first year,” he said. “Now today we’re almost at 30 free concerts around the state” that include artists like Esperanza Spalding, Keiko Matsui, Eric Darius, Josh Vietti, Julian Vaughn, Jazmin Ghent and the Birmingham Heritage Band.

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Jazz in the Park, which is every Sunday from April through October, attracts between 1,000-1,500 visitors each week. The series travels to different parks…

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