Forte Jazz Lounge offers a “needed” place for Charleston’s jazz traditions to thrive

Hitting every note


Upon entering Forte Jazz Lounge, the new King Street music venue, visitors are greeted with reminders of the past. Pictures and drawings of jazz icons decorate the walls that wind around to a performance space. Tables with white cloths and couches point toward a stage that can accommodate swing-era big bands or small bebop trios. The business’ design makes a statement. Jazz isn’t background music here; it’s the main event.

“I really hope that this becomes an important place for everyone to come and enjoy and listen to jazz without any other demands,” owner Joe Clarke says, looking around the room.

Clarke and his wife, Rosie, opened Forte over the summer, believing that a jazz club could act as a source of entertainment for locals and a training ground for new artists.

“I think that it could be a place that will be regarded by musicians as an important place for music development, and their development as professional musicians,” says Clarke. “But, I hope that people who live in Charleston will find value in it and come back to it, again and again.”

Just like some of Charleston’s most beloved venues, Forte will put their focus on local artists, providing them with a place to perform originals and jazz standards. Chris Williams, Kat Keturah, and Alvah Anderson are already slated to perform through September.

“I think Charleston has a very large, diverse population of guys and girls who have really honed their art, and have been doing it in the corners of restaurants, weddings, and cocktail parties,” Clarke observes. “I feel like it’s time that they have a little bit of a spotlight.”

Jazz fans know how many subgenres have spawned from the music in its century-old history. Dixieland, avant-garde, bebop, third stream, Latin jazz, fusion — and those are just a few of the essentials. As Clarke puts it, all are welcome at Forte, though he can’t promise every subgenre all the time.

“I’m not excluding anything. If it involves musicians up there expressing acoustically their art, then we’re good,” he says. “But for the most part we’re catering to the average listener who likes jazz.”

When choosing artists to perform, Clarke says that he looks for musicians who are just as fun as they are proficient. “There is an element of entertainment that I want my musicians to have,” he says. “I don’t want them to be just mousy. I want them to talk about how the song that they’re about to perform for everybody is important and how it’s important to them and how it’s important to the culture.”

Forte has only been open for five weeks, but the venue is booked through December, according to Clarke.

“We’re not going to have a house band,” he adds. “We might have a lot of the same returning musicians because there are some very good drummers who a lot of people like to use, very good bass players who a lot of people like to use, but the headliners will always be different every night of the week.”

Currently, Forte Jazz Lounge hosts two live performances every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

On Mondays, Clarke’s own group, the Joe Clarke Big Band, uses Forte as a rehearsal space, and he says that they will occasionally open these sessions to the public. Clarke has expressed interest in further growing the Charleston jazz scene, hopefully by cultivating the next generation of musicians. In the near future, Sundays will be dedicated to students. Musicians and budding jazz artists can go to Forte and participate in a weekly masterclass from 3-5 p.m. followed by a “student performance opportunity” at 6 p.m.

But, all credit does not go to Clarke; he points to his co-owner and wife, Rosie, for keeping the place running while he’s teaching at Charleston County School of the Arts in North Charleston.

“I’m hoping that we can last enough time to make history in Charleston, in music, and in jazz,” Rosie says. “All these musicians deserve a place to shine.”

While considering why he opened up a jazz club, Joe Clarke says that one word seems to slip out of every patron’s mind.

“The word I keep hearing is that it’s ‘needed’. Every single person that comes through that door, if I’ve had a conversation with them, the word ‘needed. This is so needed,'” he explains. “I don’t know why they say it’s needed, but I think it’s needed because there’s such a diverse population of jazz musicians in Charleston. Somehow we got really lucky.”

Folks familiar with Charleston’s almost arcane jazz history know that luck only had something to do with it. The Holy City has been the home of jazz forerunners at the Jenkins Orphanage, Billboard Jazz Chart-toppers Ranky Tanky, and a popular music school at CofC. If done right, Forte could be the continuation of a legacy that fell dormant to many mainstream listeners.

Forte Jazz Lounge will have their grand opening ceremony on Thurs. Sept. 5 at 5:30 p.m. The Joe Clarke Big Band will perform after the ribbon cutting. Mayor and pianist John Tecklenburg will join the band for the first song.

Support the Charleston City Paper

We’ve been covering Charleston since 1997 and plan to be here with the latest and Best of Charleston for many years to come. In a time where local journalism is struggling, the City Paper is investing in the future of Charleston as a place where diverse, engaging views can flourish. We can't do it without our readers. If you'd like to support local, independent journalism:

UP NEXT FROM

FEATURE

9/19 COVID-19 update: 706 new cases; 9 deaths; 11.2 percent positive

Charleston City Paper Staff

COVID-19 updates: South Carolina health officials reported 706 cases of coronavirus on Friday, with 36 additional confirmed deaths. With 6,324 tests collected, the percent-positive rate was 12.1 percent. As of 3 p.m. Sept. 19, via S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control:Confirmed cases in S.C.:  134,052 (+706 new cases since Friday)Percent Positive: 11.2% (down from 12.1%)Positive tests in Charleston County (total): […]


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Letters: Tread carefully on blame, Unschooling and Welcoming your letters

Editor’s note: Charleston City Paper publishes letters received each week on Saturdays. To submit your own reaction to City Paper coverage or local issues, we welcome letters to the editor. Tread Carefully I found Christopher Briggman’s response to the assault on the city of Charleston’s beloved Quintin Washington both insightful and at the same time […]

9/19 COVID-19 update: 706 new cases; 9 deaths; 11.2 percent positive

COVID-19 updates: South Carolina health officials reported 706 cases of coronavirus on Friday, with 36 additional confirmed deaths. With 6,324 tests collected, the percent-positive rate was 12.1 percent. As of 3 p.m. Sept. 19, via S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control:Confirmed cases in S.C.:  134,052 (+706 new cases since Friday)Percent Positive: 11.2% (down from 12.1%)Positive tests in Charleston County (total): […]

Brack: Parasite ad may backfire to help Graham

It’s gotten so bad in the cauldron of American politics that you wonder whether people are itching to argue about the color of the sky. “It’s blue,” one might say. “No,” says another. “It’s orange. I saw it on TV in Oregon.” “You’re both wrong, it’s black.” In truth (real truth, not fake truth), all […]

6 Charleston-area SC House races to watch in November

The solid Republican majority in the S.C. House of Representatives is unlikely to sway much in the Nov. 3 election. But political observers say six Lowcountry races will be close as Republicans and Democrats jockey to pick up seats. There are 59 general election races of the 124 seats.  Currently, there are 78 Republicans, 45 […]