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Acclaimed trombonist Wycliffe Gordon returns to close out Savannah Jazz Fest

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Acclaimed trombonist Wycliffe Gordon returns to close out Savannah Jazz Fest

19 Sep 2017

Wycliffe Gordon has traveled the world as an acclaimed trombonist, but throughout his career he’s always come home to Georgia.

This time, he’ll be in town for a headlining performance to close the free annual Savannah Jazz Festival on Sept. 23 in Forsyth Park.

See the festival lineup.

Gordon, who studied at Florida A&M, began his professional career playing with the great New Orleans trumpet player Wynton Marsalis. In the mid-’90s, he arranged the new theme song for NPR’s “All Things Considered.” As a bandleader, Gordon has credit on over 20 albums. While rooted in traditional jazz, Gordon has stretched into a variety of styles in his career, influenced by his upbringing.

Born in Waynesboro and raised in Augusta, Gordon traveled as a high schooler to Savannah to play in the Georgia Music Educators Association all-star concerts. His father was a classically trained musician who played classical and gospel music, which has filtered into Gordon’s own anthology. It was the music of Louis Armstrong, however, that piqued Gordon’s interest in jazz.

“When I was 13 or 14, there was a record collection that wound up at our house from a great aunt that passed,” Gordon recalled. “I used to listen to the anthology of jazz, a collection of music from the early slave chants to the modern jazz at that time, which was Sonny Rollins Quartet, Count Basie and big band. That was my first exposure to that type of jazz. The music from the record collection turned me onto traditional jazz.

“At the root of who I am as a person and musician is probably good gospel and classical music. I’ve always loved jazz. As a teenager, I loved the popular music, like Kool and the Gang, Parliament Funkadelic, Chicago, things like that. I like many different types of music. I just love good music. Like Duke Ellington said, ‘There’s two types of music — there’s the good kind and then there’s that other kind.’”

Gordon’s most notable connection to Savannah was made last year. During the 2016 Savannah Music Festival, Gordon conducted a 20-piece jazz orchestra for a rare screening of a the 1920 Oscar Micheaux silent film, “Within Our Gates.” Gordon composed an original score for the film.

His stretch into film score composition is one facet of his expansive musical life. He once learned and recorded covers of Thelonious Monk tunes on a didgeridoo, a traditional Australian instrument.

“I first heard that when I went to Australia in January of 1990,” Gordon said. “I heard that, and thought, ‘Wow, what a great sound.’ It was very guttural and earthy. When I first tried to play it, I couldn’t play it. But the sounds stuck with me and I figured out a way to somewhat simulate it on the trombone.

“I’ve always been interested in making music, whether that’s on a trombone or a didgeridoo. It didn’t matter. If you can make music on it, I was interested in it.”

Gordon’s prolific career continues with several new pieces of music coming in the near future. He’s written music for symphony and choirs, and is working to get them published. He continues to write and record jazz, as well. For the Savannah Jazz Festival appearance, Gordon will indubitably delight the audience with a range of great jazz. He just doesn’t know exactly what he’ll play.

“It will probably be a combination of things,” Gordon said. “The great thing about jazz is, within the first couple of songs, I am trying to feel out the audience. We’ll play things from many different eras. We’ll play early jazz, modern jazz, and we’ll play be-bop. Depending, we might play something that’s just kind of groovy. I am not sure. I don’t have a setlist.

“But I have a framework. We’ll do something from swing, early jazz, be-bop. That’s kind of how I do like to perform. To show the link and connection, through our performance, to the history of jazz.”

IF YOU GO

What: Savannah Jazz Fest: Wycliffe Gordon & His International All Stars

When: 9:30 p.m. Sept. 23

Where: Forsyth Park

Cost: Free

Info: savannahjazzfest.com

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