Let the record show that when Lex Nycole has an idea, it can’t be stopped. The independent curator has been imagining event projects for years. And even though she accepts jobs as a curator and producer for various arts organizations in the city, she manifests her vision.
Recently that vision has been the Red Light Jazz Room, a monthly music series featuring spirituals, jazz, rhythm and blues, soul and gospel. Red Light Jazz Room held its first series in 2017 at Revel OTR, where it aired every two weeks for three years.
“I knew I had a lot of love for it,” Nycole says. “When I did that, I thought, ‘This has the potential to happen again. “”
The original Revel OTR series ended in time for Nycole to intern on the West Coast. When she returned, COVID-19 delayed her next move, but she used that time to further develop her vision.
“My ultimate goal is how to be meaningfully different,” says Nycole. “I try to understand how to make culture accessible. I want it to be something that impacts people.
To be clear, Red Light Jazz Room is more than just a jazz night. Nycole is intentional about every sensory detail she can control. In the current series, which is held in Somerset on the third Wednesday of every month, the whole space is transformed for the occasion. Red fabric instillations by local designers SUBSTUDIO drape from the ceiling, and red candles add warmth to the evening light.
Beyond look and feel, Nycole is adamant about selecting artists who wouldn’t normally find their way to Cincinnati. Last month, she brought in Nigerian-born artist Mannywellz, son of Nigerian gospel artist Jacob Kunle Ajomale.
“You never hear music like that in Cincinnati,” Nycole says. “And he was amazing. I told him for three years straight, “I’m going to get you in Cincinnati”…and I did. And I was like, you know what, there’s something in the air here.
Bringing larger groups into the current Red Light Jazz Room series is only possible because of the financial support Nycole has been able to find from local organizations, including United Way of Greater Cincinnati, Greater Cincinnati Foundation, Western Governors University, and Haile. Foundation. Building a larger budget was essential if she wanted this series to reach its full potential.
“I thought, okay, I’m going to raise $50,000 for this project — and I did,” she says, adding that working within pre-set event space budgets wasn’t an option. “I can’t do this shit. You all hold me back.
Nycole notes that of that $50,000 budget — which was for six events between May and October — almost nothing comes back to her. The funding pays for equipment, stages, designers, producers, travel costs and payment for the performers themselves. Its budget also keeps events free, which keeps them accessible.
“I wanted to help foster… high-impact experiences that you didn’t have to go to a concert to see,” says Nycole. “You could just show up in Somerset and be like, ‘Oh my God, I can walk the red carpet! “”
It’s no exaggeration – when you attend a Red Light Jazz Room, you step onto a red carpet. But no need to dust off your black tie outfit. Nycole’s idea of a dress code is, like the whole event, approachable yet extravagant.
“Come as you are,” said Nycole. “I encourage people to fly casually. Be comfortable but love, be seen.
The current Red Light Jazz Room series is halfway through. You can catch the next performance in Somerset on Wednesday August 17, when Red Light house band hold a jam session with local musicians. Feel free to bring your guitar to this one.
On Wednesday, September 21, Ron “T.nava” Avant of the Free Nationals performs. Local soul artist Lauren Eylise will close the season on October 19.
Nycole isn’t sure exactly what’s in store for Red Light Jazz Room next year, but she knows it’s only going to get bigger.
“Everyone seems to like it,” Nycole says. “I see people coming back consecutively every time. It means a lot to me, and it means I have something worth building, growing, and scaling.
For more information about Red Light Jazz Room, visit instagram.com/redlightjazzroomcincy.
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