The Savannah GA Jazz Festival continues to celebrate jazz music


The opening notes of a smooth and classic rhythm, the inclination of the instruments as they emit a distinctive warm sound and velvet crooning voices that are reinforced by the two-way relationship between musicians and their audience, this is what is jazz music.

It was a group of men in the ’70s and’ 80s who helped ensure that the sounds of jazz did not die in Savannah, but prosper.

With the upcoming 40th Savannah Jazz Festival, individuals can celebrate jazz’s historic past in one of the cities that have helped the genre thrive.

Read more:40th Annual Savannah Jazz Festival to feature Ranky Tanky, Ana Popovic and more

The creation of Savannah Jazz

Tom Glaser, co-founder and first president of the Coastal Jazz Association, was taking an adult jazz class at Savannah State University with his wife in the late 1970s when he met teachers Ben Tucker, who died in 2013, and Teddy Adams.

The friends – bass legend Tucker and trombone legend Adams – met in Tokyo in 1967, Adams having left Savannah at a time when jazz music was dying in the city.

“I started playing jazz in the mid-1950s, and around the time I started playing. Savannah was the mecca of jazz, and before that, Savannah was known as a city of jazz. There were many opportunities here; there were jam sessions, musicians came here from other places, ”Adams said. “And then, from around 1960, it started to go down.”

Musicians perform at the Savannah Jazz Festival on October 1, 1983 at Grayson Stadium.

When he returned and found out that Tucker owned a radio station in Savannah with other musicians and had his iconic bass stored in New York City, it took some time to convince Adams – the equivalent of six months – to convince Tucker to join him in rejuvenating jazz in Savane. From there, they gathered other surrounding musicians and formed the Telfair Society. They organized jazz events, gave monthly concerts at the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences, and taught classes like the one Glaser had attended.

“A few of us who attended this class together said, ‘Isn’t it a shame that this city that has these great jazz musicians, there’s no room for them to really play.” Glaser said. “Public radio was only just beginning. In a way, it started with classical music and not jazz. There has been a lot of disappointment about this. “

This disappointment set the stage for the formation of the Coastal Jazz Association, now known as Savannah Jazz. With the efforts of Adams, Tucker, and Glaser, Savannah has gone from little or no live jazz venues or city nightclubs to a lot of jazz for residents and tourists alike, including the annual Savannah Jazz Festival.

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One of Savannah's first jazz festivals was held on October 1, 1983 at Grayson Stadium.

40 festivals and more

Shortly after Glaser, Adams, and Tucker formed the Coastal Jazz Association along with a few other musicians, they hosted a benefit concert on Valentine’s Day in 1983 for soul singer Huxsie Scott, a member of the Telfair Jazz Society. , to help her raise funds for bypass surgery. Glaser said the concert gave them the confidence to host their first Savannah Jazz Festival at Grayson Stadium.

“A thousand people came to this event, and the musicians all donated their performances, and the people came out of the woods – musicians who were in the area that we didn’t even know. They were from Atlanta, and it opened my eyes, ”Glaser said. “That’s what really made us see that, number one, there was indeed a strong following for jazz in Savannah. Second, we really had some fantastic musicians who needed to play and be recognized. “

Glaser, who still has the program for the first festival, remembers acts that happened at the first festival, such as trumpeter Stubby Mitchell and pianist Kenny Palmer. For Adams, a big highlight of those early days was the local and national musicians from all over that they were able to spotlight and bring back to Savannah like jazz musicians James Moody and Eddie Pazant.

Now hosted in Forsyth Park after the first two festivals, the Savannah Jazz Festival continues to attract first-class local and national musicians to Savannah each year.

Musicians perform at the Savannah Jazz Festival on October 1, 1983 at Grayson Stadium.

Acts this year will feature prominent musicians such as singer and blues guitarist Ana Popović, pianist Kenny Banks Jr. and Grammy Award-winning quintet Ranky Tanky, based in Charleston, South Carolina.

Celebrated background singer and board member of Savannah Jazz, Dolette McDonald has festival experience. She has hit the jazz festival stage four times and said the experience has been a gift and a learning experience.

“The third year, Howard [Paul] asked me to play, and I did a full set which was absolutely fantastic, ”said McDonald. “It was a dream come true. And that was a pretty unexpected giveaway and it just gave me a little reassurance that I could actually act, put on quite a show as Dolette McDonald. “

Read also :City of Savannah Withdraws Permits Amid COVID-19 Outbreak; more restrictions possible

While this year marks the 40th festival, it has actually been 39 years since the festival was conceived. When the 1996 Summer Olympics were held in Atlanta, they hosted two festivals – one during the Olympics, in which they brought Ray Charles to perform, and a second in September.

The Savannah Jazz Festival continues to be one of the only free festivals in the country that allows audiences to enjoy first-class musicians. Looking back on the founding of the Telfair Society and the 40 years the festival celebrated, Adams stressed the importance of showing support.

“Realize the importance and depth of the backbone commonly known as jazz and realize the great contributions Savannah has made and still makes to people,” Adams said. “Jazz does not understand that it is due. He’s America’s only true native eccentric. It is our gift to the world. So my thing is that the people of Savannah realize the importance, the depth and support it.

Savannah bassist Ben Tucker looks up to Kevin Bales as he plays a piano with the Savannah Coastal Jazz Association Hall of Fame All-Stars on September 30, 2006, during the Savannah Jazz Festival

Hall of Fame Exhibit

In partnership with the Coastal Heritage Society, Savannah Jazz plans to host an exhibit on the history of savannah jazz at the Savannah History Museum. The opening is scheduled for February 2022. Paula Fogarty, Acting Executive Director of the Savannah Jazz Festival, said the museum’s story came from “All that Savannah Jazz: From Brass Bands, Vaudeville, to Rhythm and Blues,” searched and written by Charles J. Elmore Sr., professor emeritus at Savannah State University.

“It’s going to tell the story of Savannah’s rich jazz history which is as old as it was in New Orleans, but our story hasn’t really been told,” Fogarty said.

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Glaser is chairing the fundraising initiative for the exhibit which still has $ 40,000 to spend before the opening. The interactive exhibit will also feature the Savannah Jazz Hall of Fame, celebrating those who paved the way for jazz in the city such as Joe “King” Oliver, Louis Armstrong’s mentor, Johnny Mercer, the famous Savannah songwriter and singer. , and, of course, Tucker and Adams.

Teddy Adams plays trombone, Delbert Felix, back right, plays bass, and Kirk Lee, right, plays trumpet at the Savannah Jazz Festival kickoff at Blowin 'Smoke on September 20, 2009 .

Former Savannah Mayor Otis Johnson, a jazz enthusiast, sits on the exhibit’s advisory board, a role that matches Johnson’s involvement since the inception of the Telfair Society. Like many former mayors of Savannah, Johnson was instrumental in providing funds for the festival.

“I was a lawyer before I was mayor, and I was a lawyer while I was mayor, and I am a lawyer after I was mayor,” Johnson said.

Following:Savannah Jazz Festival receives grant

Tourists and locals alike can expect to be educated on jazz’s rich and untold history, an experience that Glaser says will be a game-changer for the way people view jazz in Savannah.

“I think this will solidify our place on the jazz map around the world,” Glaser said.

The show must continue

The 40th Savannah Jazz Festival will take place in front of a limited audience live at Savannah Station from September 23-26 and will be broadcast live worldwide in partnership with radio stations WSAV and Dick Broadcasting.

Following:Savannah Jazz Festival 2020 Keeps Safe With Ships of the Sea Museum Live Stream

The festival was supposed to be held live in Forsyth Park, but when Savannah Mayor Van Johnson revoked the event’s permit due to increased COVID cases, they made similar adjustments to their 39th festival. But in true Savannah Jazz fashion, the show must go on.

“The pandemic didn’t stop the festival last year because it aired and it won’t stop the festival this year because it is going to air,” Johnson said. “It shows the resilience and tenacity of the people in this community who love jazz that we will not be dissuaded from being able to listen to good live jazz often in this community.”

Random winners will be chosen through a ticket lottery to attend the festival live. Participants will be encouraged to wear masks and respect social distance.

Laura Nwogu is the Quality of Life reporter for Savannah Morning News. Contact her at Twitter: @lauranwogu_

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What: Savannah Jazz Festival

When: 23-26 Sep.

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