• Elizabeth Gildea

As he reflects on his career, drummer Ron Wiltrout counts his blessings. “Being able to make a living playing drums within three months of graduating college — I will never take that for granted,” he says. And he has been grateful for the emergence of Forte Jazz Lounge. “Having a dedicated listening space is very hard to come by. ...To have a listening room for jazz is vital to support a vibrant creative community.”



Like so many others, Wiltrout got his start in the middle school band. He attended Goose Creek High school (just outside of Charleston), where he describes having a “really good high school band director… who made sure we knew there was a lot out there to learn, and that if you want to learn something, you kinda become obsessed with it.” His band director recommended that Wiltrout attend workshops in the tricounty area. “That really opened my ears up to really big things,” he says, “because I had professional jazz educators describing in really concrete ways what I was hearing.”


As he grew older, so too did Wiltrout’s fascination with jazz grow. “I was really excited about figuring things out, solving the puzzles,” he remembers. “It seemed like jazz was a good way to kind of get to the fundamentals of everything.” He went on to pursue a jazz degree at University of South Carolina, where he was especially influenced by director of jazz studies Bert Ligon and then- director of percussion studies Jim Hall (now professor emeritus).

Upon graduation, he quickly decided to return to the Charleston area; and he knew he needed to be versatile in order to stay employed. “When I first got out of college, my first gigs were like, playing in a house band, playing everything from straight-ahead jazz to Sade covers. You had to be able to play grooves and backbeats and shuffles. You had to be able to play pretty much everything.” Wiltrout notes that the diversity of the Charleston music scene is part of why he loves it: “Since it’s a small town, you meet everybody pretty quick. Old professionals who’ve been doing it fifty years, people who’ve been doing it five years and everything in between. I could take the rock, the salsa, the jazz — every night playing a different kind of gig.”


Music has taken Wiltrout to New York dozens of times, and as far away as Australia, but his jazz work tends to stay within the region between Charleston and Columbia, SC, and Savannah, GA. (One career highlight was during Spoleto Festival USA, when well-known drummer Eric Harland, then a member of the Charles Lloyd quartet, rented Wiltrout’s drums for a performance.) He has worked with local legends Charlton Singleton and Quentin Baxter, calling Baxter one of his “top five influences of all time and a personal hero.” He has played with the Charleston Latin Jazz Collective, the Charleston Jazz Orchestra, and countless other groups, many of which he has led.

Ron Wiltrout is playing at Forte Jazz Lounge on Thursday Sept. 17 and Thursday Sept. 24. For more about Ron Wiltrout, visit his website at http://www.ronwiltrout.com.


  • Elizabeth Gildea

Drummer Josh Hoover has played in classical and jazz settings, and even spent a year-and-a-half touring with a rock band in a secondhand truck. But after that truck broke down in the desert, and after his four snowy years at Indiana University, he realized the Holy City and its alluring waterfront were calling him back. “Charleston is just so beautiful to me,” he says. “I knew the music scene was really good and only getting better.”

Hoover grew up in the Mount Pleasant suburb of Charleston, where he discovered his love of percussion in his middle and high school bands. He initially majored in classical music at university. A highlight of his time there was studying under Steve Houghton, whom he describes as one of the greatest drumset teachers in the country. Working with Houghton influenced his decision to change his major to jazz. While his classical background was invaluable, jazz, he says, “was a better sort of expression of musicality for me. One of the big draws was the interactive element.”


Reflecting on his experiences playing at restaurants around Charleston, Hoover remarks, “I’m very thankful there’s a place like Forte… one of the only places that’s for jazz that you can just go and listen.” Forte is a venue “…for jazz musicians to be featured and not just put in the background.”


Though he performs mainly on drums, Hoover is a multi-instrumentalist who plays a range of classical percussion instruments as well as piano, bass and guitar, the latter two of which he says he has spent a lot of time working on during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the economic slowdown, Hoover says of Charleston: “I think the jazz scene is certainly alive and well. I think there’s always room for growth.”


For more about Josh Hoover, visit his website at http://www.joshhoover.net. He can be reached by e-mail at josh.t.hoover@gmail.com.


  • Elizabeth Gildea

Brett Belanger (pronounced BELL-an-jer) got his first bass in seventh grade and soon found himself being recruited by his older brother to join a band. It wasn’t long before he began taking lessons and paying more attention to the bassline when he listened to music. He credits his mother and bass teacher with exposing him to such jazz influences as Jaco Pastorius.


By college he knew he wanted to follow a musical career path, and he chose to concentrate on jazz. In his second year at College of Charleston he began to play the upright bass. “It really in a lot of ways is two different instruments,” he says. “They have the same role and pitches, but they’re really quite different. I now play electric with upright technique.”


It was at College of Charleston that Belanger met bass teacher and pianist Frank Duvall, whose mentorship proved especially valuable. Duvall would play piano during lessons so that Belanger could play bass in context; and as soon as his student was ready, Duvall was calling him for gigs. “I think it’s a really unique thing to be able to play with your teacher,” says Belanger. “To be able to play a gig and then go into the practice room and talk about that.”


“I was playing with a lot of my teachers while still being in school. I really made an effort to go out and listen to everyone in town,” he says. And like many local musicians, he feels Charleston is rich with opportunities for jazz players. “Sitting in was a big thing. Playing a couple tunes for fun when I was checking someone out. I think Charleston is kind of a hidden gem in that, for a city that’s not very large, the caliber of players and the amount of those high caliber players is pretty high.”



In addition to teaching private lessons, Belanger has also been involved with Hilton Head Jazz Camp and ColaJazz Camp for several years. Find Brett Belanger on instagram at @BrettBelanger, on Facebook at facebook.com/BrettBelangerMusic, or on his podcast The B Section.