Needless to say, a good time is had by all.
“This is the 41st concert,” says trombonist Teddy Adams, who co-founded the event with the late bassist Ben Tucker. “As usual, the proceeds go to scholarships for deserving students going to colleges that have some kind of jazz program, like Georgia Southern and Armstrong.”
The first event took place more than 50 years ago. It serves two purposes.
“It’s an ideal time at Christmas to get musicians together for camaraderie and playing,” Adams says. “Guys who are coming home for Christmas look forward to this concert.
“They know that the concert is going to be held and they look forward to playing,” he says. “For some, this has been going on for their whole lives.”
Adams was a charter member of Local 407, the first black musicians’ union in Savannah, which held a Christmas Day fundraiser at a venue called The Flamingo.
“In the beginning, the music unions were separate,” Adams says. “We had a black union and a white union.
“The concert was a way of honoring the black musicians. They’d get together and the bands would play and then there would be a jam session.
“It started out as a fundraiser for the union,” he says. “After a few consecutive years, it was so successful, people put it on their agenda for something to do on Christmas Day.”
Then, as now, the event began as a concert that became a jam session. House bands from the many venues where musicians played would join in. The jam sessions would go late into the night.
Adams left Savannah in the 1960s, returning years later. When he realized the Christmas concert had been discontinued, he and Tucker reinstated it.
Today, the concert is sponsored by the Coastal Jazz Association, which also was founded by Adams and Tucker. It is still a fundraiser to benefit the CJA’s student scholarship fund.
At least two scholarships are given every year to local college music majors who are part of jazz programs.
The concert is always held on Christmas Day. Always.
“Since this year, it’s on Sunday, some people thought maybe we needed to change it,” Adams says. “We’ve never changed it, so we’re not going to change it now.
“At first, when people hear it’s going to be on Christmas Day, they think family. But it starts at 5 p.m. and it normally doesn’t interfere with family time.
“People come out to a concert and it’s over no later than 9 p.m.,” Adams says. “There’s still time to go home and do something as a family. We just squeeze our thing in between.”
Several families attend, even with small children.
“My grandchildren come,” Adams says. “We’ve had people come in from North Carolina and Florida every year.
“We expect a lot of guest musicians. Gina Rene is our featured vocalist this year.
“The first half of the evening is divided into prepared songs for the musicians,” he says. “The second half is open to the jazz sessions, where anybody can come up.”
While the last part of the concert is open to others, that doesn’t mean just anybody can play.
“A certain level of musicianship has to be in place,” Adams says. “People with common sense who hear ‘level of musicianship’ know what that is.”
IF YOU GO
What: 41st annual Christmas Jazz Concert & Jam Session
When: 5 p.m. Dec. 25
Where: The Mansion on Forsyth Park, 700 Drayton St.
Cost: $25 in advance, $30 at the door
Info: Tickets available at Portman’s Music Superstore, Rody’s Audio Warehouse and Rancho Alegre Cuban Restaurant, and online at eventbrite.com.