Trombonist and Savannah jazz legend Teddy Adams is turning 78 this month and to celebrate, Good Times Jazz Bar & Restaurant is throwing a two-night birthday bash in his honor.
Adams has played with jazz greats across the globe, but his biggest contribution to America’s great art form was reviving Savannah’s jazz scene by co-founding the Coastal Jazz Association and Savannah Jazz Festival with Ben Tucker.
As an educator, Adams taught Jazz History at Savannah State University and led the SSU band. Adams is one of the first inductees of the Savannah/Coastal Jazz Hall of Fame, has an official holiday in his name, and published a memoir, “The Up of the Downbeat: A Musical Journey,” in 2017.
The celebrating begins on Friday night with the Eric Jones Trio and some special guests.
“I’m bringing in some of my students who have done very well,” said Adams. “They are pursuing very, very promising careers. They are living in New York. They all have their master’s in Jazz Studies and they’re all going to come and play some of my music on Friday night.”
On Saturday night, the Teddy Adams Sextet will take the stage for a birthday performance. The sextet have been playing on and off for 15 years, but can now get together regularly thanks to Good Times Jazz Bar.
“Since the club opened, we’ve played pretty regularly because we have an outlet and a venue to perform,” said Adams. “Working with six people in Savannah, or really anywhere, is kind of hard because of the number of people in the group. But, since I’ve been booking Good Times... we play there about twice a month and that’s pretty good.”
Adams adds, “I’m very proud of this sextet. I have six superb players.”
When Adams returned to Savannah in the 1970s, after his time in the Air Force, he became integral to bringing jazz back to Savannah. Even today, Adams is continuing that work through Good Times Jazz by booking quality local and international acts.
“What Good Times is trying to do is revitalize the jazz essence in Savannah,” Adams explained. “When I was learning to play, coming up, there were several venues in Savannah. You could go have jam sessions or hear music almost any night of the week, especially on MLK which was, at that time, West Broad Street. What Good Times is attempting to do is revitalize that atmosphere. Not since Ben Tucker’s Hard-Hearted Hannah’s have we had a venue here that gave a consistency of live jazz several nights a week. Even Hannah’s didn’t do it six nights a week.”
Between Good Times Jazz, the Savannah Jazz Festival, the Savannah Music Festival, and the Black Heritage Festival, Adams sees the local jazz culture thriving.
"It’s definitely improved and still growing,” said Adams. “It’s not where I’d like it to be, but I can see a difference. There is a positive difference since 1976 and what is happening now... All of that goes to trying to restore the Savannah that has the legacy for jazz in the past.”
After all of his great accomplishments, Adams, and the Savannah music community, have a lot to celebrate, but this year Adams is particularly thankful for one thing.
“Life,” said Adams. “Unquestionably. In the last two years I lost two brothers. I lost my younger brother and last week I lost my oldest brother. So, I’m the last man standing and I’m celebrating life and being blessed for being able to do what I want to do, what I love to do, what I have a passion for, and seeing results. When I see the way Savannah has changed musically, when I see several students that I pointed in the right direction come back and they’re doing well, ...I take nothing for granted. Tomorrow is not promised. It’s my 78th birthday, but 79 is not promised; 78 is a pretty good number. I think I’m going to try to do this every year until I can’t do it anymore.”