The 35th Savannah Jazz Festival is going to be bigger and better than ever.
This year’s festival is set for Sept. 18-24. It will be held in venues throughout the city, culminating in three days at Forsyth Park.
This year’s lineup includes internationally acclaimed artists, regional bands, local musicians and military bands. Produced and orchestrated by the Coastal Jazz Association, the festival is sponsored in part by the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs, so admission is free to all events.
“We really provide a community service with this festival because it unites people of all color and class, improving our quality of life,” says Howard Paul, CJA president. “Bringing diverse peoples together is a service we need now more than ever in these culturally divisive times.”
The fun begins Sunday at Hotel Indigo.
“There’s always a grand kickoff with the area’s best music,” says Teddy Adams, the festival’s co-founder and a renowned trombonist. “Especially the city’s very best musicians.
“This is the 34th year, but the 35th festival. In 1996, the year of the Olympics, they had the regatta here, so we did two festivals, one during that time and one during the regular time.”
There are some top-notch headliners this year, Adams says.
“One of the top acts is the Dave Stryker Trio,” Adams says. “He’s an outstanding guitarist.
“We have the University of North Florida Jazz Ensemble featuring Don Braden, a fine saxophonist. The Savannah Jazz Orchestra will feature Audrey Shakir, one of the best vocalists.
“The Sonny Fortune Quartet has another great saxophonist,” Adams says. “And we have a very young sensation, a blues singer, in King Solomon Hicks, who is 21 years old and works at the Cotton Club. He is a consummate performer.”
The Yotam Silberstein Trio will appear at the festival for the first time.
“He’s definitely a headliner,” Adams says. “Every year, we do the Coastal Jazz Hall of Fame All Stars. Those are all local people.”
One of the most highly anticipated concerts will feature future stars of jazz.
“For the last 12 years, I have been doing a Teddy Adams Presents the Future of Jazz concert during Black History Month at the JEA [Jewish Educational Alliance],” Adams says. “It has the very best young musicians.
“We do an intense rehearsal and then a concert. We’re doing it this year at the festival on Tuesday night at the Jazz’d Tapas with all local musicians.
“These guys have gotten degrees in jazz studies and are making their way out into the professional world,” he says. “Some of them happen to be here during the festival.”
Not only are the musicians up-and-coming, they’re also good at what they do.
“I don’t think anybody in the group is over 25 years old,” Adams says. “They’ve started on a definite path to success, proof positive the future of jazz is in good hands.”
Jazz Festival Movie Monday will feature the film “The Case of the Three Sided Dream” at Temple Mickve Israel.
“Rahsaan Roland Kirk was a phenomenal musician,” Adams says. “He was born blind, but played up to three instruments at one time and invented two instruments.
“He had a massive stroke while in his early 30s, but it didn’t stop him from playing,” Adams says. “He was a phenomenal musician.”
On Thursday, a blues jam session will follow the concert at The Mansion on Forsyth Park. Jazz jam sessions will take place Friday and Saturday at Rancho Alegre after the lineup in the park.
“Most of the guys who have performed at the festival show up,” Adams says. “The musicians are literally waiting in line to play.
“It is a friendly, challenging competition. Everyone is friends, but deep down they are challenging each other to see who outplays whom. It is a fun event.”
All in all, the festival is shaping up to be memorable.
“It promises to be a week of great music, high energy and lots of fun,” Adams says. “For the 35th time, there is not a charge for any event.
“We want to make the festival bigger and better. Most festivals charge admission, but this is for the community.
“I don’t think people realize how many tourists we bring in,” he says. “If everything is free, they can come in not having to sweat the money by having to pay admission. That’s a very, very good draw.”
Like Adams, Paul, a jazz guitarist, will perform in the festival.
“I’ll be performing with the Jazz Hall of Fame band,” he says. “I’m performing with the Savannah Jazz Orchestra, which I’m not a regular part of. I’ll also play in the jam sessions.”
This has been a big recovery year for the festival, Paul says.
“Last year, we scaled back to get our finances back in order and overcome some pretty significant changes in board members,” he says. “Some very experienced board members retired from the board and took a lot of institutional knowledge with them.
“This has been a rebuilding year for us. We’ve been pretty enthusiastic about how this particular festival has shaped up.
“It’s back to three days in Forsyth Park,” Paul says. “The number of sponsors is up pretty dramatically from last year.”
The results are dramatic, too.
“Our program is probably twice the size as last year,” Paul says. “The music is better quality.
“The early part of the festival traditionally has been our children’s jazz festival. This year we have the Southeast Bulloch County Jazz Band and the Savannah Arts Skylite Band.”
There is a notable addition in the military presence at this year’s festival, too.
“We’ve always tried to get a military band to become involved,” Paul says. “We invited both the Parris Island band and Fort Benning’s big jazz orchestra.
“This year, they both accepted and agreed to perform on Saturday. We’re opening the program at 3 p.m. with the Marine Corps band followed by the Army band. We think they see it as a bit of a competition because they very rarely perform at the same events,
“They’re really excited about coming in,” Paul says. “I think they’re especially looking forward to Saturday night when all the military members converge at the after-hours jam session.”
Being able to focus more on raising money has resulted in a bigger and better festival, Paul says.
“It’s all because we have some new blood in the organization and some very active board members,” he says. “I’d like to recognize Paula Fogarty, our first-time festival chair. She has really changed the energy level and the course of the festival through her expertise and organizational skills.”
IF YOU GO
What: 35th Savannah Jazz Festival
When: Sept. 18-24
Where: Venues throughout the city culminating in three days in Forsyth Park
Sunday, Sept. 18
Hotel Indigo, 201 W. Bay St.
3 p.m. Southeast Bulloch County Jazz Band
4 p.m. Savannah Country Day School Jazz Band
5 p.m. Savannah Arts Academy Jazz Band
6 p.m. Teddy Adams All Star Opening Jazz Jam Session
Monday, Sept. 19
Temple Mickve Israel, 20 E. Gordon St.
7 p.m. Savannah Jazz Festival Movie Monday, “The Case of the Three Sided Dream”
Tuesday, Sept. 20
Jazz’d, 52 Barnard St.
7-10 p.m. Future of Jazz Band
Wednesday, Sept. 21
Rancho Alegre Cuban Restaurant, 402 MLK Jr. Blvd.
7-10 p.m. Charleston Latin Jazz Collective
Thursday, Sept. 22
7 p.m. Savannah State University Wesleyan Choir
8 p.m. Eric Culberson Trio
9:30 p.m. King Solomon Hicks Trio
11 p.m. Blues Jam Session at The Mansion on Forsyth Park, Casimir’s Lounge, 700 Drayton St.
Friday, Sept. 23
6 p.m. Barry Greene Quartet
7 p.m. Yotam Silberstein Trio
8:15 p.m. Don Braden with the University of North Florida Jazz Ensemble No. 1
9:30 p.m. Peter Fish Group
11 p.m. Jazz Jam Session with Teddy Adams at Rancho Alegre, 402 MLK Jr. Blvd.
Saturday, Sept. 24
4 p.m. Parris Island presents the U.S. Marine Corps Jazz Band
5 p.m. U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence Stage Band
6:15 p.m. Savannah Hall of Fame Jazz Ensemble
7:15 p.m. Sonny Fortune Quartet
8:30 p.m. Dave Stryker Trio
9:45 p.m. Audrey Shakir with Savannah Jazz Orchestra
11 p.m. Jam Session with Teddy Adams at Rancho Alegre, 402 MLK Jr. Blvd.