After a change of venue, the organizers praise the âsafe festivalâ format for the second year
Ask any self-described “hepcat” and they might say, “Jazz is love.” Jazz is life. Jazz allows you to get lost in the music.
The return of an old Savannah favorite prompted artists to tune their guitars, stretch their fingers over ivories, and prepare trumpets and saxophones. Live music is back.
For 40 years, the Savannah Jazz Festival has showcased some of the world’s best jazz musicians to help jazz thrive here in the host city. This lively and free celebration offers a musical tapestry of unique stories, veteran artists and the next generation of jazz influencers who pay her their mentors.
Organizers say that in response to the City of Savannah’s immediate moratorium on large outdoor events to mitigate the spread of COVID, the Savannah Jazz Festival is proud to comply by hosting the second consecutive âSafe Savannah Jazz Festivalâ.
The Alternative Savannah Station Venue is designed to serve the dual purpose of bringing world-class jazz and blues to the City of Savannah for free while adhering to guidelines for promoting the health and safety of musicians, attendees, sponsors and suppliers.
This year’s festival opens on Friday September 23 and continues until the last performance of the evening on Sunday September 26.
For a full schedule of events, visit savannahjazz.org
Here’s a look at some of the headliners at the 2021 Savannah Jazz Festival:
ROBERT LEE COLEMAN | FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 24
Robert Lee Coleman, 76, is a pioneer in two genres of American music: funk and soul, which are, most often, rooted in African-American gospel learned from an early age in church.
âMy father-in-law played the guitar and my mother was the preacher,â Coleman says of his childhood in Macon. “I listened to him play and I taught myself.” He laughed as he remembered once playing with his gospel band. âMy concerts would be where my mother preached. I was playing once and she jumped up like she was moved by the holy spirit and shouted, “Boy, play this thing!” “
âI wasn’t very attracted to the attention,â he said softly. âMost of the time I would sit alone strumming a few chords, and the next thing I knew was to draw a crowd. Just me and my guitar.
Coleman looks forward to an attentive and enthusiastic crowd when he performs at the Savannah Jazz Festival. One of the biggest things, according to Coleman, is connecting with the audience. In fact, that’s how he got one of his first big jobs.
âA lot of these famous musicians passed by Macon all the time. Percy (Sledge) came to our band in 1964 and liked the way we all played so much that we hit the road with him because he just made a connection with us and our music, âColeman said. Coleman would become a staple at Percy Sledge’s concerts, traveling the world with him for six years, even performing on the recording of the classic hit, When a Man Loves a Woman.
After his stint with Sledge, Coleman joined James Brown’s band, working on three of his albums. Coleman continues to have a thriving music lineup, saying, “I plan to do this until the good Lord calls me home.”
With the Savannah Jazz Festival the next for him to share his playlist, Coleman wants people to go out and enjoy the music and âsmellâ it.
âBeing completely self-taught, I am just me. I like to do things my way. I try to play with feelings and want to touch people’s hearts and souls with what I share.
âThis music makes you happy. It’s just. You can relax in it.
Coleman is happy to be back in Savannah and playing for a live crowd. âMusic must be played. You can’t just put it in your pocket, âhe says. Then, he adds, âThe best thing is to see the faces of the spectators and to know that they are feeling it too. I can’t wait to get there.
GREEN GRANT, JR. | SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 26
Savannah Jazz Festival debutant Grant Green, Jr., son of legendary guitarist Grant Green (Dec 1979), studied his musical art from an early age, emulating his father, as well as the many jazz greats in his neighborhood. who often visited the Green House for unscheduled jam sessions.
âI was very lucky,â says Green, Jr .. âI’ve always been drawn to a lot of different music, mainly the melodic stuff and the way it all mixes up to influence me.â Green also says his father was his best âunofficialâ teacher.
âHe (Green, Sr.) didn’t want to encourage me towards a music career, so he never taught me how to play. I would sit and watch him and imitate his play. Over time he realized how serious I was about music and knew it was in my blood.
Green states that he was heavily influenced by his Detroit neighborhood and his father’s friends, such as The Four Tops, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, and Gladys Knight, to name a few.
Green recalls one of his best memories of the neighborhood. âStevie (Wonder) was having a big party at his house rather than our house. I remember it because it was the first time I saw a champagne fountain.
âStevie had just come off a tour and was so happy to see everyone. He gave me a hug and the next thing I knew was he was wrestling with me, down to the ground. Stevie was a little older than me and really strong. People are screaming, âDon’t hurt Steve! and I beg, ‘Don’t hurt me!’
It was a lot of fun back then, says Green, pointing out that there was no way to avoid being influenced by so many amazing musicians all in the same field.
He has toured extensively for most of his life, including being a part of the Godfathers of Groove (also known as Masters of Groove.) Green is excited to share tracks from his new original album titled Soul Science, recorded with his Atlanta studio. group in tribute to Burt Bacharach.
âPeople should really appreciate this interpretation of Bacharach. We will do a lot. This is intended as a tribute to his father who once played with Bacharach.
“I am delighted to be in front of an audience again,” he said of his first official outing since the start of the pandemic. âEnergy flows back and forth from artist to audience. We feed each other. When you see they’re in it – clapping, rocking, singing – it envelops us all together in the soothing universal language of music.
âThe songs take you to the place,â he says. âIt’s kind of like a trip back in time. Music has the power to take you away.
Green invites people to âcome out, be yourself and be one with the musicâ.
BANKS KENNY, JR. | SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 26
Like so many other musical artists, Kenny Banks, Jr., 33, developed a love of music that began at home.
âI was brought up by two musicians. My father, a jazz pianist, taught me all the basics of music theory, jazz composition, etc. It was after literally using everything in the house to play on and with – pots and pans and my favorite chopsticks, âBanks recalls.
He started playing the drums, but didn’t switch to the piano until he was ten, playing for church with his mother at the age of 11. one of them had “pretty daughters … and I knew girls liked a guy who could play music.”
Kenny has traveled with the Columbus Youth Jazz Orchestra on tour in South America and parts of Italy. âIt was after that that I really started working for my passion. I had my first adult tour and realized what a wonderful world we live in.
This will be Banks’ first Savannah Jazz Festival. âIt’s an honor to be there,â he said. âI love Savannah and everything related to itâ¦ who doesn’t? I can’t wait to play my music.
Banks says he will share a different mix of genres. âThere are Negro Spirituals, a few standard hymns and my own twist to it all,â he says. âWe’re also going to do some of my original pieces. It’s one of my first shows in a while, so it’ll be nice to get my feet wet here, and I hope the audience gets the hang of it.
âIf something emotional happens, I want them to let it happen. I like to push the tradition, but I like all the nuances of jazz. Banks jokes about the reaction of the audience he’s looking for. “I want the listener to be affected … to grind their teeth the right way … the opposite of grind … an emotional jolt … you know, it’s easy, comfortable and pleasant.”
Festival-goers are guaranteed to be entertained, regardless of the varied musical offerings. Banks invites concert goers to “Come with a great atmosphere.” Relax and focus on the music, especially the compositions and rhythms. We play here for you and we couldn’t be happier.