Written by David Dufour, Illustration by Halle Garrett
Without the intensity of a live performance, this year’s Savannah Jazz Festival still hosted some excellent performers whose talent certainly makes up for the virtual setting.
Organized last weekend, from September 23 to 26, it was the 40e Annual Savannah Jazz Festival. It was also its second year as a virtual event, which was filmed from the Savannah Station live stage. In-person seating was available, but only for a limited number of guests.
The Savannah Jazz Foundation has also launched a COVID-19 relief fund for musicians who have lost concerts due to the pandemic. Their website now has links to resources for self-employed people facing financial challenges.
Remarkable at the festival is the dedication of the performers. Many of them have been inducted into the Savannah Jazz Hall of Fame and continue to perform every year.
Some performers include the Savannah Jazz Hall of Fame All-Stars with the Savannah Divas, Robert Lee Coleman (former member of live bands James Brown and Percy Sledge), US Navy Commodores Band (an 18-piece band that has performed for 50 years ). The artists came from all over the East Coast, from Pennsylvania to Jacksonville, Florida.
A lot of the fun of live music comes from being there, with the actual performers, but the livestream gave us a lot of great sounds. Soul, southern blues, big band jazz; some of the varied styles unique to each artist.
The US Navy Band had a mind-blowing big band jazz performance. Robert Lee Coleman and his band performed an excellent blues set. The Savannah All-Stars group performed with singer Huxsie Scott.
Each year, important jazz players are honored at the Savannah Jazz Hall of Fame ceremony. This year took place on September 25. Inductees are chosen if they have had an impact nationally or internationally. The induction ceremony began with Howard Palm thanking the audience. He announced that there will be a new Savannah Jazz Museum, currently under construction.
Inductee Kirk Lee, principal trumpeter of the Savannah Jazz and Bugle Orchestra, has performed in Savannah for 32 years. Former Savannah Mayor Otis Johnson and current Savannah Mayor Van Johnson joined them on stage. Mayor Van Johnson on stage thanked the audience, announcing Dr. Teddy Adams as Savannah Jazz Ambassador.
Former Mayor Otis Johnson said in an interview: “Savannah has a history of producing jazz musicians.” He went on to say, “This is our way of paying homage, of keeping their memories alive and for those who still live to honor their contributions for their work in savannah jazz as well as the jazz realm.”