Accomplished pianist Sullivan Fortner will stay busy during his upcoming visit to Savannah.

Winner of the prestigious Leonore Annenberg Arts Fellowship, the 2015 Cole Porter Fellowship from the American Pianists Association, and the 2016 Lincoln Center Award for Emerging Artists, Fortner says he last visited the city in 2006, during his college years.


But he won't have much time for sight-seeing upon his return, with several show dates planned during the Savannah Music Festival, including a solo performance April 2 as well as a concert with his trio April 6. He will also be part of the April 6 Late Night Jazz Jam along with Wycliffe Gordon, Marcus Roberts and more masters of jazz. In addition, he is looking forward to collaborating with his longtime friend Lonnie Smith as their trios share a double bill for two shows April 5.

Fortner plans to showcase some of his forthcoming, yet-unnamed second album at the festival, along with fan favorites from his critically acclaimed first album, “Aria.”

One of "Aria's" most meaningful songs to Fortner is “You Are Special," which holds a connection to his family.

“This song came while my sister had her first daughter, my niece," he told Do Savannah. "Both my sister’s children are very special in my heart.”


The New Orleans native has been playing piano since the age of 7 and earned a bachelor of music in jazz studies from Oberlin Conservatory and a master of music in jazz performance from Manhattan School of Music. Today, Fortner leads master classes at music institutions around the country.

Along with creating his own music, Fortner can be heard on recordings by Etienne Charles (who is also playing this year's SMF), Donald Harrison and Theo Croker. Most recently, he has recorded with Grammy Award-winning artists Roy Hargrove and Cecile McLorin Salvant.

"Jazz is a paradox," Fortner says on his website. "It's inclusive and noninclusive at the same time. It's ugly and it's beautiful. It's raw and it's refined."

Following his whirlwind week at the Savannah Music Festival, Fortner once again takes the stage at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., after playing its "Discovery Artist" series in 2015.

— Casey Nash contributed to this article.