Savannah’s rich jazz history got a little richer last week.


The 39th annual Savannah Jazz Festival was before a limited live audience in the North Garden at the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum.


The covered open-air venue guaranteed good ventilation and ample space for distancing for what was dubbed the Savannah-Safe Jazz Festival.


The venue at the Ships of the Sea can also have stellar sound. The Savannah Music Festival has typically placed acts on the long side of the rectangular space to create a lounge atmosphere, while Savannah Stopover and now the SJF have produced shows with the band on the short side, which gives the feel of a larger club.


In partnership with WSAV , the Savannah Jazz Festival’s 16 performances were streamed and are available for on-demand viewing. The metrics on SJF’s Facebook page suggest that the performance videos have been watched more than 100 thousand times.


And those videos will likely continue to rack up views – because they’re awesome.



Just check out Wycliffe Gordon’s performance, which capped the excellent Saturday lineup.


Gordon and the strong backing band would have been wonderful in Forsyth Park, but spectators can’t get very close to the stage, and subtleties of the performances get lost amidst the audience chatter and other distractions.


Via the streaming video, however, we can appreciate the grace, power and beauty of Gordon’s performance in different ways. We get to see close-up shots when he is playing trombone and see how the ensemble communicates.


I have seen Gordon perform numerous times over the years, but I enjoyed his vocals more at this year’s SJF than ever before.


And that’s just one of the many excellent sets now available for viewing.


Savannah’s jazz history also got richer in other ways too. Savannah Jazz President Howard Paul and Mayor Van Johnson inducted three men into the Savannah Jazz Hall of Fame.


Tom Glaser was the co-founder and first president of the Coastal Jazz Association, now Savannah Jazz. After moving back to Savannah relatively recently, Glaser is leading the effort to create an exhibition devoted to local jazz history, which will open in the spring at the Savannah History Museum.


Dr. Charles J. Elmore, Sr., emeritus professor at Savannah State University, has written seven books, including "All That Savannah Jazz...From Brass Bands, Vaudeville, to Rhythm and Blues."


Eric Jones, one of the leading jazz pianists in the region, recently completed his masters in music composition at Georgia Southern University and has worked with myriad big names. His debut album "Azubuike" was released in 2019.


"Savannah was supposed to be like a pit stop to New York," Jones said during his hall of fame induction. "But it turned into close to 20 years of being in this city, and it’s been a wonderful experience.


"Savannah has treated me really well."


Glaser, Elmore and Jones represent several key elements necessary for jazz to thrive – community organizers, keepers of memory and, of course, the talent that makes the music come alive.


Bill Dawers writes the City Talk column for the Savannah Morning News.