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Savannah Music Festival announces 2018 lineup with free concert by Sammy Miller and The Congregation


Savannah Music Festival announces 2018 lineup with free concert by Sammy Miller and The Congregation

01 Nov 2017

The 29th annual Savannah Music Festival is just around a wintery corner.

Every year, the 17-day spring festival celebrates the gamut of global and American music, from roots to jazz and classical to rock ’n’ roll, in one of the nation’s most expansive and varied live music experiences.

The 2018 festival, set for March 29 through April 14, is gearing up with a free concert Nov. 9 at Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum, where next year’s lineup will be announced. They will also announce two new venues for next year’s festival, in addition to the venues already in use.

“We’re always thrilled to get festival patrons, donors, sponsors, volunteers and contractors back together for this season announcement event,” Savannah Music Festival spokesperson Ryan McMaken said.

“On the education front, we are presenting at least four ensembles as 2018 festival performers that contain former student participants in our Acoustic Music Seminar, the week-long workshop and mentorship program led by mandolinist Mike Marshall. It is incredible to see participants in SMF education programs becoming professional musicians.”

Savannah Music Festival will get patrons excited about the next season with a free showcase by Sammy Miller and The Congregation, a band that personifies in many respects the mission of the festival itself, both of which seek unity through music. The uplifting jazz ensemble has yet to play Savannah, but does have a connection with the music festival.

Since 2014, trumpet player Alphonso Horne has been involved with the Swing Central Jazz program as a clinician. Swing Central Jazz, along with the Acoustic Music Seminar, is part of the SMF’s educational and mentorship programs geared toward encouraging and training young musicians.

Sammy Miller and The Congregation began during Miller’s tenure at the renowned Juilliard School in New York City. Miller, a Grammy-nominated drummer, went in search of a particular kind of jazz music, but was having some trouble finding what he wanted.

“I honestly was trying to find jazz that was in the spirit of inclusivity and about bringing people together,” Miller said. “I wasn’t seeing it. So I said if I am not seeing it, I’ll just create it. I try to create music I would want to listen to and would invite people into our world.”

Although the band has shifted through different iterations, the majority of the musicians around Miller came from Juilliard and New York. Currently, Miller plays with the aforementioned Horne on trumpet, Sam Crittenden on trombone, Ben Flocks on tenor saxophone, David Linard on piano and John Snow on bass. Outside of their work in the Congregation, members of the ensemble have played and recorded with Wynton Marsalis, Iron and Wine and Jason Mraz.

Miller and his Congregation draw from both common and esoteric musical influences. From New Orleans jazz, spirituals, gospel music, big band, swing jazz and even early American parlor music, Miller and company create a large and soulful, truly American sound. Over the years, they’ve developed a style of “joyful” jazz music that in concert is uplifting and even educational.

“The concept is sort of to bridge the gap of the greater American canon,” Miller said. “We’re playing music as early as Stephen Foster and Louis Moreau Gottschalk — pre-jazz music up to what we’re writing now. We’re trying to deal with the same concepts of American art, just American spirituality in general, which has always been about hope. Old spirituals are a huge influence. It’s become more and more originals, but … the history is so important to what is going on now.”

The group’s live show is where it properly earns its “joyful” moniker. Each concert is an arrangement of original and standard tunes delivered in an upbeat and even rowdy performance that denotes the early days of jazz music in New Orleans’ squares, and the gospel still heard in some churches.

“Like any group activity we do in our lives, we hope that by going there, when we leave we feel better than when we showed up,” Miller said. “That can be church, it can be team bowling, yoga class — it’s trying to get people away from all of their daily grinds and give them an escape. Give them a place to be uplifted and uplift the people around them.

“We’re always shifting and changing [the setlist] based on the mood of the crowd,” Miller continued. “… People show up, they have the best show they’ve ever seen in their life, and they feel better than they came. Those are our two objectives.”


What: Savannah Music Festival 2018 lineup party with Sammy Miller & The Congregation

When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 9

Where: Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum, 41 Martin Luther King Jr.

Cost: Free