On Christmas Day over 50 years ago, a few Savannah jazz musicians started a potluck and jam session.
The simple gathering has evolved over the decades into one of Savannah’s oldest annual traditions.
The Christmas Day Concert & Jam Session, presented by the Coastal Jazz Association, will again be held at The Westin Savannah Harbor, a new, possibly permanent, home. Historically, the concert has moved through several locations.
Each year, the concert and jam has grown as new players show up and the stalwarts return.
“We know for sure of some people that will be coming, but we never know who else. Some people just hear about it and show up,” CJA co-founder and Hall of Fame trombonist Teddy Adams told Do Savannah. “We have people drive in from Florida or North Carolina because they know about the history of this event and that it’s always a very, very good musical event.
“Sometimes, the surprises are enjoyed more than the regulars,” Adams continued. “You never know who’s going to be there. One year, Fred Wesley, who was James Brown’s trombone player, showed up with two or three guys out of North Carolina. We had no idea that he was coming.”
The opening concert will feature vocalist Gina Rene, as well as Savannah jazz musicians Howard Paul, Eric Jones, Robert Saunders, Kirk Lee, Calvin Barnes, Mitch Hennes and Adams. The second portion of the event is a jam session, featuring whomever might show up to show off — Adams' favorite part of the night.
“I think, to me, it’s the camaraderie, the combat, and it’s nothing but fun competition,” Adams said. "Everyone is trying to out-do another, but it’s all in fun. I like it because I see guys I haven’t seen in a while. And the entire music pride is just great.”
In 1955, Savannah’s African American unionized jazz musicians would gather on Christmas Day for a potluck that naturally evolved into the late-night jam. The musicians were part of American Federation of Musicians Local 704, which in segregated Savannah was the all-black musicians union. The annual jam was a chance for musicians who wanted to be in the union to show off their chops in an informal audition.
After desegregation, AFM Local 704 joined the all-white union, 447, which is still in existence today and serves southeast Georgia and coastal South Carolina. The jams became widely known and popular each year until they were discontinued in 1966.
When Adams and the late Ben Tucker moved back to Savannah in 1976, they decided to revive the annual holiday jam. Adams has been doing it ever since. Once Adams and Tucker started the CJA, the annual concert became a benefit to help boost funding for the nonprofit. That tradition continues this year. There will be a silent auction with art, dinners, spa packages and more. All proceeds will benefit the CJA, which funds concerts each year, including the Savannah Jazz Festival.
IF YOU GO
What: Christmas Concert & Jam Session
When: 5 p.m. Dec. 25
Where: The Westin Savannah Harbor, 1 Resort Drive
Cost: $25 in advance, $35 at the door