Durham’s Art of Cool music festival is the brainchild of jazz lover Cicely Mitchell and trumpeter Al Strong.
The two envisioned a weekend in which the old school sounds of jazz would mix and mingle with neo-soul, rap and hip-hop. Over the past six years the festival has exploded in popularity, featuring artists including jazz composer Roy Ayers, neo-soul singer/songwriter Anthony Hamilton, multi-platinum rapper Nas and Erykah Badu. In 2018, the festival was sold to the DOME Group and featured the unexpected reunion of Durham’s own Little Brother. Joining host Frank Stasio to talk about the evolution of the festival and preview this year’s lineup are national jazz recording artist Yolanda Rabun and Zoocru band member Alan Thompson.
Rabun will open the main stage Friday, Sept. 27 at Durham Bulls Athletic Park and Zoocru perform that same night at Motorco in Durham. This year’s headlining acts are Jill Scott and Run DMC.
Rabun on the prequel to the Art of Cool Festival:
The Art of Cool started from my perspective as a project. They [started] showcasing a lot of the local jazz artists that were around. And I was one of those artists who performed at Labor Love — that beautiful gallery that used to be in downtown Durham … That’s kind of where it started for me. Then they had an idea, the owners at the time, [to] come up with this festival and showcasing us all.
Rabun on the early days of the festival:
I remember Maceo Parker was one of the performers, and we were at the Carolina Theatre, and we were all piled in and looking at a legend. It was just absolutely amazing. And just walking from that location to I think Beyu Caffe was involved at the time, Pinhook, Motorco. It was just really neat.
Thompson on making music with Durham as a backdrop:
Durham has always had a rich history in music. A lot of influence comes from just being here and being full-time musicians. And having the experience to play with other seasoned artists — artists like Yolanda.
Thompson on how Art of Cool brings generations of music lovers and musicians together:
It totally eliminates the concept of ageism. You’re in here with two artists. Two completely different ages, but we’re relating to a lot of the same things. We have very similar tastes in music, ideologies, views about the business. It transcends age.