The Coastal Jazz Association on Sunday announced the lineup for the 37th annual Savannah Jazz Festival, which takes place from Sept. 23-29 in venues around the city, culminating with three days in Savannah’s historic Forsyth Park. Admission is free to all festival events.
“There is no greater community arts event in town than the Savannah Jazz Festival," says Howard Paul, Coastal Jazz Association president and CEO of Benedetto Guitars. "We do not charge for tickets to any events for a whole week of great jazz music. This is in the true spirit of jazz music; it is America’s unique art form that unifies all races and cultures."
This year’s featured headliners include pianist and keyboardist Chuck Leavell, who has performed with bands and musicians such as The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, and The Allman Brothers Band, to name a few. This performance will be the debut of Leavell’s newest album, “Chuck Gets Big,” and will be accompanied by the Savannah Jazz Orchestra.
Jazz and baseball meet when Bernie Williams headlines the Friday evening performances in Forsyth Park. Transitioning from centerfielder for the New York Yankees to center stage after a 16-year career in baseball and four World Series rings, Williams (on a Savannah-made Benedetto guitar) will entertain concert-goers with his own style of jazz and tropical rhythms.
Multiple Juno Award (Canada's version of the Grammy)-winning and Grammy-nominated soprano saxophonist and flutist, Jane Bunnett & Maqueque, will exude girl power with their Afro-Cuban melodies. Bunnett and Maqueque’s music earned the group a standing ovation at the Kennedy Center, a rare encore at the Chicago Jazz Festival, and four sold-out nights at Chicago’s legendary Jazz Showcase.
“We are seeing solid year-over-year growth for this amazing, free festival and anticipate roughly 30,000 attendees this year ... Our aim is to continue to unite people of all walks of life peacefully through jazz music, improving the quality of life for all who attend and for the long-term benefit of life in Savannah,” says Coastal Jazz Association Interim Executive Director Paula Fogarty.
“This year is really ambitiously diverse," she adds.
Savannah Jazz Fest’s 2018 lineup also includes six-time Emmy winning composer and keyboardist extraordinaire Peter Fish. Up-and-coming blues guitarist Christone “Kingfish” Ingram will perform Delta and electric blues, and Eric Gales, hailed as a child prodigy who has performed with Lauren Hill, Carlos Santana and Three 6 Mafia, with his blues-rock electric guitar.
Other artists slated to perform include Latin People Time Salsa Band, which will play at The Stage on Bay for a night of dancing to Latin jazz and salsa, as well as Robin Sherman, Brian Miller and the Ben Tucker Alumni Band. Regional greats, including Teddy Adams, Howard Paul, Jody Espina, and Quentin Baxter, will make appearances alongside festival’s acts.
A special treat this year on the traditional Monday evening movie night features "Clint Eastwood presents: Johnny Mercer, The Dream’s on Me" with an opening performance by the Johnny Mercer Tribute Band at the Savannah College of Art and Design’s historic Lucas Theatre.
The Parris Island Marine Band will feature military performances. Students from regional schools and universities such as Georgia Southern University, Armstrong State University, Savannah Arts Academy and Savannah Country Day are also scheduled to perform. And traditional late-night jam sessions on three nights carry on the tradition of after-hours experiences when musicians engage in freestyle jazz.
Additional venues featured this year include the Mansion on Forsyth Park, the De Soto Hotel and Rancho Alegre.
"Savannah’s long history in jazz music, from hosting Duke Ellington to being the home of Johnny Mercer and Ben Tucker, puts the Savannah Jazz Festival on the map of being a tradition that should carry on forever," Benedetto says.