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James Blackmon hoping to jazz up Columbus’ Green Room at Garden Theatre

Courtesy of James Blackmon

James Blackmon says, at 44, he was born too late. He’s a jazz musician in a world that’s moved on from jazz music.

“This is the music that I love,” Blackmon said. “I really do wish that I had been around to have met Duke Ellington and to have played with him.”

Blackmon’s two-act jazz show “James Blackmon is Born Too Late” is scheduled to perform 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday in the Green Room at the Garden Theatre, a recent expansion of the Short North Stage.

Blackmon’s career as a performer began when he was 12 years old, in a community theater production of “The Wizard of Oz.”

“I was a very shy kid, but being on stage in a play opened me up in a way that I didn’t know was coming,” Blackmon said.

After Blackmon graduated from the University of Alabama with a degree in theater, he moved to California to act in movies and television.

“I loved the craft of acting, but the art form, being able to say something with your artwork, that doesn’t really exist in Hollywood,” Blackmon said.

Blackmon eventually left Hollywood and came to Ohio State to pursue a graduate fellowship in theater.

In 2000, Blackmon was performing in New Orleans with a contemporary gospel group when a woman in the audience requested he play some jazz music. Blackmon agreed, and it turned out to be a life-changing decision for him.

“I knew that was the right answer, but I had no idea what I was going to do,” Blackmon said. “I got a couple of songs together to do my first set. And I was doing ‘Satin Doll’ by Duke Ellington one day, and like a lightning bolt it hit me. I thought, ‘This is what I love. This is what I should be doing.’ I dove in with both feet and became a jazz musician until I started doing piano bar stuff.”

Blackmon ran a piano bar, named James’ Club 88 Piano Bar & Jazz Cafe, located at the corner of West Long Street and North Front Street in Columbus from 2007 to 2009.

“What I did not know was that in 2008 we were going to have a recession,” Blackmon said. “I saw a lot of my clients dry up because they just couldn’t afford to come in.”

The Short North Stage is attempting to revive the music scene that was hurt by the recession.

“One of our goals with the Short North Stage was to bring back live performances, especially music-driven performances like James’ works,” said Peter Yockel, board president of the Short North Stage.

“When we took over the Green Room space, and we started to have performances in there, we realized how vital it was to our mission,” Yockel said. “Artists can sit down, start, build their own show, their own theme. We’re trying to go back to cabaret, which puts the artist front and center.”

Blackmon hopes to make full use of this space at his performance.

“It’s a great opportunity. I’m still organizing, cutting and sorting songs. There’s too much music of this era,” Blackmon said.

Despite the pressure, Blackmon is relaxed.

“James is a really easy-going, really easy to work with guy,” said William Strickler, Blackmon’s upright bass player and a music industry major at Capital University. “He lays out what he wants clearly. It’s real easy to read his music.”

Blackmon said he likes to keep an eye out for how easily people absorb his music as well.

“I always look around at the crowd to see that I’ve made some kind of connection,” Blackmon said. “There are some people that will sit and watch. But I’ll notice a foot start tapping, or see their head bobbing. I like that. I want to move people.”

Tickets for the concert are available for $12 in advance and $15 at the door. The Garden Theatre is located at 1187 N. High St.

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