Carolina Jazz Festival takes place in Chapel Hill, February 15-17, 2024


By Laurie Paolicelli

Rome, Italy – June 08, 2022, detail of the cover and cd of the Giants of Jazz series, Duke Ellington and the Small Groups.

The Carolina Jazz Festival has a mission: to highlight and promote jazz by presenting live performances of original compositions and jazz standards, performed by seasoned musicians and high schoolers, as well. Yes, high schoolers. Jazz of all kinds is an integral part of so many younger musician’s repertoire. UNC’s goal with all of its students is to strengthen young learners’ ability to think critically, work collaboratively, and communicate persuasively. And that includes the musical stage.

Now in its 47th year, the festival includes public performances by touring bands, artists in residence, faculty, and students, in addition to workshops and master classes for students. The festival — in conjunction with Jazz at Lincoln Center — also hosts the North Carolina Regional Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Festival. The annual Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition & Festival is one of the most innovative jazz education events in the world.

James and Susan Moeser.

The entire extravaganza is a legacy of former UNC Chancellor James Moeser. Dr. Moeser is chancellor emeritus and also professor emeritus in the music department.

In fact, when Hill Hall reopened in 2017 after a renovation, a dedication ceremony was held to rename the main auditorium after James and Susan Moeser, in recognition of Moeser and his wife, Susan’s, love of music. 

HolidayChoir Performs at Hill Hall Atrium on UNC Campus.

Thanks to generous contributions supporting it, many of the events at the festival are free and open to the public.

Christian McBride.

The headliner, Christian McBride, takes place Friday night, February 16, at Memorial Hall. Christian McBride is an eight-time GRAMMY Award winning bassist, composer, and bandleader, and Artistic Director of the historic Newport Jazz Festival, New Jersey Performing Arts center (NJPAC), the TD James Moody Jazz Festival, and the National Jazz Museum in Harlem. Christian is also a respected educator and advocate as the Artistic Director of Jazz House KiDS, and the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Summer Sessions.

Most of festival takes place on or near UNC Campus, with the exception of one special performance.

On Thursday, February 15th, at 8:00 pm there will be a Faculty Jazz session with their guest Sharel Cassity at the Durham Sharp 9 Gallery. Saxophonist, Flutist, and Educator, Sharel Cassity is prominent on the New York and Chicago jazz scenes. Voted the 2023 “Rising Star Alto Saxophone” and having a cover feature in Downbeat Magazine, Sharel has appeared on the Today Show, Good Morning America, and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. She is in the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame and is a recipient of the ASCAP Young Jazz Composers Award.

The Durham Jazz Workshop (DJW) is an arts organization dedicated to providing the best in jazz education and live performances in North Carolina, part of an ecosystem of small performance venues helping jazz musicians string together tours throughout the United States.

Plan to attend the festival or just come on a whim. That’s called improvisation, a jazz specialty. You’ll fit right in.

Carolina Jazz Festival Schedule

February 15-17, 2004

  • Thursday, February 15th at 8:00 pm: Faculty Jazz with Guest, Sharel Cassity, Durham Sharp 9 Gallery – $20 – $30 TICKETS
  • Friday, February 16th at 4:00 pm: UNC Jazz Combos Guest, Sharel Cassity, Moeser Auditorium, 145 E. Cameron Ave Chapel Hill. FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.
  • Friday, February 16th at 8:00 pm: The Christian McBride Quintet (Festival Headliners) at Memorial Hall – TICKETS
  • Saturday, February 17th at 9:30 am – 6:00 pm: Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Festival, Sharel Cassity, Guest. Performances by high school jazz bands and combos throughout the day. The UNC Jazz Band will perform at approximately 4:15 pm in Moeser Auditorium after the high school jazz band and combo performances and just before the afternoon award ceremony. FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.


Sharel Cassity.

Laurie Paolicelli is executive director for the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau, a position she has held since 2005. Laurie has worked in tourism and marketing for twenty-five years, having served in leadership roles in Houston and California convention and visitor bureaus. She is a native of the Twin Ports of Duluth, MN/Superior Wisconsin. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business and Communications from the University Wisconsin-Superior and graduate certification in Technology In Marketing from the UNC-Chapel Hill’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media.

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