Smooth Jazz Fridays brings a touch of class

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Shawn Hopson, Charles Carter and Warren Wilson formed the group called Club Duo to bring the community together with a sophisticated and classy event called Smooth Jazz Fridays. This event is held each first Friday of the month at the Holiday Inn in Oakland.

Line dancing, a deejay and a live band make up the itinerary for this event. The live bands range from jazz to hip-hop and R&B music. Fifteen years ago Shawn Hopson and his partners decided to do a First Friday’s event at the Braddock Hills Holiday Inn. In the beginning it was a deejay and a jazz band. The deejay played on one floor while the jazz band was on another floor. It was a nice flow because it gave people options to hear jazz, hip-hop or R&B.

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SERENADING THE LADIES—R&B/soul singer Danny Boy, formerly of Death Row Records, performs at Smooth Jazz Fridays.

Club Duo was started in 1992 as an active wear company. In an effort to raise money for the active wear business, the partners decided to venture into the entertainment business. They began having monthly parties at a local hotel charging admission at the door. At these monthly events they had a local radio deejay personality and a local jazz band. The events yielded great results, so much so they dropped the idea of doing the active wear. The monthly parties lasted for the better part of two years with crowds in excess of 300 people.

The next venture was producing and promoting a national jazz concert. In May of 1996, Club Duo produced and promoted smooth jazz national recording artist saxophonist George Howard. Unfortunately it was one of George’s last performances before his untimely death in March of 1998. They also co-sponsored several events such as fashion shows and community action celebrations for several nonprofit organizations.

Club Duo went on hiatus for about 10 years due to the separation of the original partnership. They resurfaced in 2006 when Hopson decided to use the same business model, this time using smooth jazz instead of R&B music as the flagship product. Smooth Jazz Fridays is targeting the middle-age professional who spends a social evening out once or twice a month and is not comfortable in the local bar scene. It is their belief that people enjoy entertainment when they feel good and safe about the environment they are in. They are promoting Smooth Jazz Fridays as a social event, not just a night out. It is the club’s goal to make each and every customer feel special when there.

Hopson, a musician in his own right, decided to move their event from Braddock to the city.

“One reason for the move was that the hotel in Braddock closed down,” Hopson said. “There seemed to be a void in the city and this location provides an atmosphere where people feel safe. The Holiday Inn was also very open to what we were trying to do. We try to set ourselves apart by having a certain dress code. We only do this once a month and we cater to a certain clientele of people. People call us First Fridays, but we are called Smooth Jazz Fridays. If people want to call us First Fridays, that’s fine just as long as they come to our event. The dress code is no jeans or Timberland boots. We want people to come with a casual dress code that is comfortable. We want to keep this event at a certain level” Hopson said.

They brought Norman Connors to the August Wilson Center for African American Culture and in the future they plan to do boat rides and have comedy events.

“What we’ve been able to do so far is capture a crowd of people that we can now solicit our other events, too. We see ourselves promoting concerts and managing entertainers like singers, actors, models, etc. We also want to be known nationally as one of the premiere promoters in the country. We start the evening off with line dancing and by doing so we get a crowd of people that we wouldn’t ordinarily get. We also incorporate jazz and people who just want to get their groove on, so we have three different elements of entertainment to offer the public. The fact that we are only charging $10 for these three elements of entertainment is a pretty good bargain.”

Charles Carter is a member of Club Duo and he is also a musician who enjoys having Smooth Jazz Fridays for the community at large.

“I have a background in music and I’ve been doing this for a very long time. We feel that there was a market for the events we have. There was a dying need for this type of event. This is like a family reunion and everyone loves coming here. I’ve been a musician since I was six years and my grandfather Ernest Will­iams by way of Philadelphia was a musician, too. When we were born, my grandfather always wanted us to be musicians and we did not let him down. We are the rhythm section that he always wanted. We had a record from back in the day called “I Want to Talk to You” from the 1980s. We opened up a lot of shows with Levert, Patti Labelle and many others. I also ended up signing a contract with Sylvia Robinson of Sugar Hill Records. The name of our band is called “Brother to Brother” and Norman Connors is the person who came up with the name of our band. The idea was to get a place where we felt safe. Eventually we want to carry this idea into our own club or venue. This is our third anniversary and we have grown tremendously over that time period. We are also involved with Cleveland because they also have a First Fridays and we are going there to collaborate and make things happens. At the same time, they are coming here to Pittsburgh to support what we are doing as well,” Carter said.

Warren Wilson is in agreement with Hopson and Carter that Pittsburgh needed an event for the mature people in the city.

“I thought that we needed something for the mature crowd. There’s a lot of places to go but not places where you could really feel safe and be around mature people. When we talked about doing this years ago, I thought it was a great idea. I thought if we could get this going here in Pittsburgh, then we could get it going on in other cities, too. We get a good response from the folks here and I hope people continue to come and support us,” Wilson said.

Club Duo will eventually venture into other market segments such as, event planning, concert promotion, agent booking, comedy events, and several other entertainment related businesses.

A long range goal is to again promote national jazz acts here in the city and help restore jazz to the once vibrate jazz scene in Pittsburgh.

(You can visit their website at http://clubduopgh.com/­home.)

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