Kevin Bales knows the Savannah music scene very well.

"I played at The Pirates' House every weekend for 10 years," Bales says. "I tell people I went to the University of Ben Tucker."

Tucker, the world-renowned jazz musician who died June 4, was a wonderful mentor, Bales says. "Ben was exuberant to all ends," he says.

"He was delightful, one of a kind, but really an unbelievable giver. The more I got to know him, the more cool stuff I saw he was doing for people. He played life just the way he played bass, with lots of love."

On June 16, Bales will headline the annual Coastal Jazz Society's Father's Day Concert, "Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar." The concert also will be a tribute to Tucker.

Bales came to jazz somewhat late.

"I didn't make the decision - the jazz community pulled me into it," he says.

"Most people I know started in high school. I didn't fall in love with music until college.

"The jazz community was so embracing. It's a level of kinship that crosses all ages, races and backgrounds. It's really a beautiful, powerful way to learn something."

In high school, Bales studied classical piano and played in rock bands, and was good enough to be invited to audition for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

"It was the typical things kids do, and I played trumpet at a young age," he says.

"I did it as a way to get out of class work. If anyone had asked me if I was going to make a living of music, I'd be quick to say no. I thought it would be difficult, which I don't think is true at all any more."

Bales' first job was as a computer programmer.

"I did that all the way up to the moment I decided to be a jazz musician," he says.

"I walked into the office and told my boss I was going to quit and be a jazz musician. He looked at me as if I'd lost my mind."

It was having a background in computers that gave Bales the incentive to play jazz professionally.

"It gave me a background of bravery to do this," he says.

When Bales made his fateful decision, he was living in Jacksonville.

"I said, 'I'm going to play jazz, that's it,'" he says. "When Ben called me to play with him, it took me two hours and 15 minutes to get to the club."

Why jazz? "I like to blame it on a woman who broke my heart," Bales says. "I was sitting at home listening to pop songs, some by Johnny Mercer, and at night going to jam sessions where older musicians were mentoring me.

"One night I was trying to play, this one musician came up to me and said, 'What was her name?' I was so quiet and shy and private. Really, it was just about being a young man and discovering l loved it so much.

"I had to keep doing music," Bales says. "It was making me a better person."

The magic has never dimmed for Bales.

"I just recently played the Harlem Jazz Festival in New York and there were thousands of people," he says.

"We were playing an old song and the audience started hooting and hollering at us. Turns out this couple down on the front row, who were probably in their 90s, stood up and started dancing and the audience was applauding them.

"We channeled our music toward what they were doing," Bales says. "It was exhilarating, a great moment."

In addition to playing music, Bales teaches it. "I love teaching," he says. "I fell into that when I was at the University of North Florida and was working on a jazz degree when they offered me a job teaching there."

"I love helping people find their own way of enjoying music," Bales says. "I'm the coach."

In Savannah, Bales plans to play some of Tucker's songs.

"I produced Ben's last album, so we're going to play songs off that. The first song I wrote as a jazz musician, I played on the very first night I played with Ben," Bales says. "He loved that song and asked for it often, so I'm going to play that, as well.

"Every time I play is kind of a tribute to Ben and those other people who helped me," Bales says. "It seems like a natural thing to do."

Accompanying Bales will be musicians Billy Thornton, John Lumpkin and Rick Lollar.

"They're part of this jazz community that goes from Charleston down to central Florida that Ben was part of," Bales says.

"I mentored them, as Ben mentored me. It's going to be great to have these three. They're such individualists who at various times have been my students."

Improvisation is certain to be part of the evening, Bales says.

"It's going to be cool jazz experience with the opportunity for real magic to happen. The CJA has been a big supporter of me since the beginning of my performing career, and it's great to come down and support them.

"I am a product of the Lowcountry - Savannah, Charleston and Jacksonville and the musicians here," Bales says. "Savannah is part of my home."


What: The Coastal Jazz Association of Savannah presents its annual Fathers' Day Concert, "Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar" with pianist Kevin Bales

When: 5 p.m. June 16

Where: Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa, 1 Resort Drive

Cost: $10