The Coastal Jazz Association, which produces the annual Savannah Jazz Festival, is hosting its third annual — and only — fundraiser of the year this weekend.
The Savannah Jazz Festival Circle of Friends’ Rooftop Gig has several purposes, acting as both a fundraiser and a chance for Savannah jazz lovers to meet and mingle. Ahead of the 37th annual Savannah Jazz Festival, an entirely free week-long event in September, the fundraiser will also serve as a lineup announcement party.
“The reason that it’s important is the festival is entirely free,” CJA Executive Director Paula Fogarty said. “It’s a week-long free festival. We don’t charge for tickets. Everything we do for the festival comes from the sponsors, the donors and our friends.”
As one of Savannah’s most diverse and longest running music festivals, the Savannah Jazz Festival plays an integral role in community building. Over the years, the festival has acted as a unifying event, culling together thousands of Savannahians from all spectrums of life within the city.
“When I can stand up on that stage in Forsyth Park and look at 13,000 to 14,000 people from all walks of life getting together peacefully, without incident, that means that jazz is doing the job that it has always been doing, and that is uniting people,” Fogarty said. “Jazz is America’s art form and it is the first and only art form that has really had at its heart unifying people.
“That’s why it’s the mission of the Coastal Jazz Association to keep this festival open and free. There are a lot of really great festivals in Savannah. We have so much going on. A lot of people can’t afford tickets. This is an opportunity for us to serve underserved or impoverished people to come out and enjoy world-class jazz.”
The Savannah Jazz Festival remains free in large part because of its sponsors. Through grants and individual donors, the CJA is able to raise the necessary funds each year to stage the festival. Proceeds from the Circle of Friends fundraiser feed about 10 percent of the festival’s operating budget.
Tickets for the event are limited, as the unique rooftop garden at 300 Drayton St. only holds about 200 people. The four sponsorship packages range from $75 to $2,000. With each step, more incentives are added. The Lindy Hop package includes VIP tent access in Forsyth Park. The Boogie Woogie package includes CJA membership and VIP tent access. At the top, the Band Leader package has a slew of benefits, including seating for two at the bandshell in Forsyth with the option of a luxury dinner.
The Circle of Friends fundraiser will also include an auction with a jazz weekend getaway as the main prize. Gullah artist Gwendolyn Frazier is working up an original piece of artwork to act as this year’s festival poster. Her original painting will be on the auction block, as well.
Three of Savannah’s best restaurants, Rancho Alegre Cuban Restaurant, Husk and Collins Quarter, are catering the event. Music will be provided by the fabulous Howard Paul Quartet with several special guests.
“It’s becoming more and more important,” Fogarty said of the annual fundraiser. “First of which, this has become a family of jazz lovers, a circle of friends and has become a bunch of jazz fans that have gotten to know each other and forged really great friendships. In the spirit of the festival, it’s about community building and friend building.”