Cincinnati's Red Light Jazz Room Music Series Features Innovative Performances of Gospel, Jazz and R&B

The Red Light Jazz Room music series is held on the third Wednesday of every month at Somerset.

click to enlarge Ollice Spaulding performing at Red Light Jazz Room at Somerset. - Photo: Ja'Van C
Photo: Ja'Van C
Ollice Spaulding performing at Red Light Jazz Room at Somerset.

Let the record show that when Lex Nycole gets an idea, she cannot be stopped. The freelance curator has been dreaming up event projects for years. And even as she takes on jobs curating and producing for various arts organizations around the city, she’s manifesting her vision. 

Recently that vision has been the Red Light Jazz Room, a monthly music series showcasing spirituals, jazz, rhythm and blues, soul and gospel. Red Light Jazz Room held its first series in 2017 at Revel OTR, where it ran bi-weekly for three years. 

“I knew that I had a lot of love for it,” Nycole says. “When I did it, I was like, ‘This has the potential to be reoccurring.’”

The original Revel OTR series wrapped up in time for Nycole to take a West Coast internship. When she returned, COVID-19 delayed her next move, but she used that time to develop her vision further.

“My ultimate goal is how to be meaningfully different,” Nycole says. “I try to figure out 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 your average jazz night. Nycole is intentional about every sensory detail she can control. In the current series, which is held at Somerset the third Wednesday of every month, the entire space is transformed for the occasion. Red fabric instillations by local designers SUBSTUDIO drape from the ceiling, and red candles add warm ambience to the evening light.

Beyond the look and feel, Nycole is adamant about curating artists who wouldn’t normally find their way to Cincinnati. Last month, she brought in Nigerian-born artist Mannywellz, son of the Nigerian gospel artist Jacob Kunle Ajomale. 

“You don’t get to hear music like that ever in Cincinnati,” Nycole says. “And he was incredible. I told him for three years straight, ‘I’m gonna get you in Cincinnati’ … and I did. And I was like, you know what, there’s something in the air here.”

Bringing in bigger acts to 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 the Haile Foundation. Building a bigger budget was essential if she was going to get this series to reach its full potential.

“I set out to be like, ok I’m going to raise $50k for this project — and I did it,” she says, adding that working within the confines of pre-set event space budgets wasn’t an option. “I can’t do that shit. Y’all are holding me back.”

Nycole notes that out of this $50k budget — which was for six events between May and October — barely any comes back to her. The funding pays for equipment, stages, designers, producers, travels costs, and paying the artists themselves. Her budget also helps keep the events free, which maintains their accessibility.

“I wanted to help foster…high-impact experiences that you didn’t have to go to a concert to see,” Nycole explains. “You could just show up at Somerset and you’re like, 'oh my God, I get to walk down the red carpet!'”

That’s no exaggeration — when you attend a Red Light Jazz Room you enter on a red carpet. But no need to dust off your black-tie attire. Nycole’s idea of a dress code is, like the overall event, accessible but extravagant.

“Come as you are,” Nycole says. “I encourage people to be casually fly. Be comfortable but like, be seen.”

The current Red Light Jazz Room series is halfway through. You can catch the next performance at Somerset on Wednesday, August 17, when the Red Light house band hosts a jam session with local musicians. Feel free to bring your guitar to this one.

On Wednesday, September 21, Ron “T.nava” Avant from Free Nationals performs. Local soul artist Lauren Eylise will close out the season on October 19.

Nycole doesn’t know 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 love it,” Nycole says. “I get to see the people that come back consecutively every time. It means a lot to me, and it means that I have something worth building and growing and scaling.”

For more information about Red Light Jazz Room, visit instagram.com/redlightjazzroomcincy.

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