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Support Live Jazz Performance at Forte Jazz Lounge

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My name is Joe Clarke. I am the owner of Forte Jazz Lounge . Since I was 6 years old, listening to Frank Sinatra for the first time, I have had a dream of opening a jazz club featuring the best musicians and singers. I imagined entertaining people by singing, playing piano and telling funny stories.  I don't know why I just gravitated towards this. In Kindergarten, I would "play" the piano and make my friends laugh by making up songs with funny lyrics. As a youngster, I learned how to play piano, drums and trumpet.  I always wanted to sing as well, although I never had any formal training. Upon leaving The Citadel with a BA in Psychology, I set my mind to being a professional musician. I felt like I had done what everyone else wanted me to do. It was my time to shine. I've been a professional musicians since then. I was never out of work but my family required some stability and health benefits. When I was 35, I started teaching jazz piano to classically trained pianists in 6th to 12th grade at Charleston County School of the Arts. I was a teacher for 18 years. Not only do I love being a musician, I love supporting musicians. In the last 30 years, in a typical year, I have employed 20-60 musicians. I've led quartets and my own 18 piece Big Band, Joe Clarke Big Band . We have played restaurants, weddings, concerts, and special events of all kinds. But teaching and playing 5-6 nights a week was exhausting to say the least. 

At 52, I had the opportunity to see my childhood dream come true. A space that had been previously a theater was being vacated. The owner of the space, who has known me for 20 years, asked me if I wanted to put a jazz club in there. We came to an agreement and March 2019 I signed a lease. I had a plan. Like everything I have ever accomplished, I just knew I could do it. Convincing a bank to loan the necessary funds to make it happen was not going to happen. The variables were just too risky and unknown for a bank to take a chance. But, I have excellent credit and was essentially debt free before I started this. So, I set upon cobbling together every bit of credit I could find.  I maxed out every credit card and took out loans. Altogether, to open the business, I used about $200,000 in credit.  After learning a lot about opening a business in Charleston and having setback after setback, we finally opened our doors August 1, 2019. We missed a whole summer but we were determined. We had a very good turn out for our first month.  Then, August 31-Sept 5, Hurricane Dorian shut down Charleston completely. Clean up and a return to normal business took almost the whole month of September. We pushed ahead and looked as if our business was humming along.  Each month was getting better and better. I was paying back debts, employing the best musicians and validating all the hard work and sacrifice. We had some real blockbuster performances. We were very proud of what we had accomplished. February 2020 was our best month.

Then, the Corona Virus hit. Our last performance was March 14. Before all of this happened, though, we were exploring live streaming. As it turns out, we were ahead of the game. We produced a number of shows for people to enjoy at home. All proceeds went to the musicians who played. We also asked people to contribute to virtual tickets to be redeemed after we were able to open. That brought in a little over $2000. Restrictions on Theater attendance was lifted in August. We opened our doors, but we saw very little in person patronage but were at least able to pay the musicians who played.  At the time of me writing this, September had just begun and we are starting to see signs of life. We saw enough life to know that we should continue. But we need your help to ensure that we can.

Although, I consider this to be a viable business and is a wonderful place to see great jazz performances, I also feel we are adding to our cultural community and community as a whole by curating this music and the best musicians. Jazz music is American music. It is the resolution of so many cultural traditions; European, African and Latin, mainly. But it also is an invitation to the world to take part in an art form that is dedicated to hearing individual voices while being a collaborative art and understanding the power of organizing ourselves into something beautiful. I think we need more of that in the world. I am proud to present to you the amazing musician friends I have met over the last 30 years. Please help us make this an enduring tradition.


  • Anonymous
    • $50 
    • 30 d
  • Mark Condon
    • $100 
    • 1 mo
  • Erin Tripp
    • $20 
    • 2 mos
  • Patience Clements
    • $100 
    • 2 mos
  • Shari Jenkins
    • $25 
    • 2 mos


Joseph Clarke
Charleston, SC

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