Bryan Carter Embraces the Freedom of Jazz at Pride
Juilliard musician’s queer music night honors jazz’s legacy
By James Scott,
2:40PM, Tue. Aug. 9, 2022
In 2019, after finding there were no Pride events at any prominent New York City jazz venues, Juilliard-trained musician Bryan Carter took matters into his own hands. With help from friends, what started as a simple night of jazz and LGBTQ+ celebration became the showstopping Jazz at Pride..
Now headed to Austin on Aug. 11, Jazz at Pride continues what started just two years ago with even more orchestral flair and style. On the program will be not just spins on traditional jazz greats like Duke Ellington but also danceable renditions of artists like Shania Twain and Celine Dion. “There's nothing I hate more than going and sitting in a jazz club and everyone's buttoned up and quiet,” Carter says. “Like, that's not what the music is about. The music is meant to be danced to.” Jazz you can twerk to, a phrase Carter coined in an interview with ABC News, exemplifies this upcoming show’s attitude toward the genre. “There's nothing wrong with twerking to jazz,” he says. “This is dance music. This is party music.”
But the performance is only one element of the Jazz at Pride program Carter is developing. The other piece is a newly formed nonprofit, which focuses on providing more education and more representation in order to make band and orchestra rooms safer for young queer people around the country. “When I was 16 years old, I didn’t know of any queer jazz musicians,” Carter recalls of his own experiences as a young, closeted artist. Attending Juilliard threw him into an even starker environment, where opposed to the classical music, dance, and theatre divisions, Carter didn’t find the same acceptance of myriad sexualities and genders. “We're really trying to make sure that the next generation knows that you're not alone,” he says. “You're here, [and] we're here for you. You can be here for each other.”
In the wake of Jazz at Pride, Carter says he’s found many of the more toxic attitudes he first encountered have begun to get better. “I think that it's steadily improving, but there's still a lot of work to do,” he says and adds that “It's really just making people aware of the consequences of their words and their actions. Once you do that, [the homophobia] just kind of naturally dissipates in a way, you know. It gets a little bit better.”
This steady improvement not only includes a reduction in homophobic language, but also a growing community of openly queer musicians like Carter himself nurtured by safe spaces like Jazz at Pride. “For me creating a safe space is creating a space where everyone feels free to be themselves,” he says. “The tagline of our show is: Jazz is freedom. Pride is freedom.” To Carter, any lack of authenticity can immediately be noticed with an improvisational and conversational style like jazz. “It's really hard to withhold a piece of who you are, a piece of your soul, from the audience,” he says.
Rather than hide those parts of himself because of conflict, Carter takes the same approach he would if a fellow bandmate were playing a tune he didn’t agree with: continue to play against the other musician until they find a point of resolution in the dissonance. Finding the right notes of disruption is, in Carter’s experience, the very nature of queerness and jazz itself. With Jazz at Pride’s performances and nonprofit work, he seeks to keep jazz’s core of freedom. “This has always been a music that pushes boundaries, and makes people think, pushes people outside of their comfort zone,” Carter explains. “So I don't really think what we're doing is anything new. We're just continuing on the legacy and the tradition of what jazz actually is.”
Jazz at Pride is on Thu., Aug. 11, at 7pm at Skybox on 6th, and is the official kick-off event for Austin Pride 2022. Find tickets and more info at jazzatpride.ticketbud.com.