Now that was a full day (Friday, March 27). It started out with a trip to the radio studios of GPB Savannah where Lisa Love and I were scheduled to do an interview about the Savannah Music Festival with Celestine Headlee, host of “On Second Thought,” in Atlanta. Everything was proceeding smoothly when, just as I was about to make another brilliantly insightful comment, the ISDN line went down. Despite heroic efforts by the engineer and station manager Cindy Hill, we couldn’t reestablish the connection in time to carry on.
Plan B consisted of a very nice young fellow whose name I cannot recall interviewing me for a filler segment in which the interviewee is asked to name his or her two favorite songs either written or performed by a Georgian. You might be surprised how difficult answering that question becomes when it’s not just you and a few buddies sitting around a table drinking responsibly at your friendly neighborhood tavern. Anyway, I came up with “Whipping Post” and “Georgia On My Mind.”
I got to ramble a bit about the Allman Brothers and gave a synopsis of “Whipping Post” (Gal cheats on guy with his best friend. Guy feels bad and complains). When I was asked to sing a couple of lines from the song, I politely declined to even hum a few bars, thinking enough malfunctions had already transpired. But I did recite the lines, “Sometimes I feel like I’ve been tied to the whipping post/Good lord, I feel like I’m dying.”
There was an extended pause on the other end of the line, and then the young man said, with genuine amazement in his voice, “Wow. That’s amazing.” I think it’s possible he had never heard the words to a blues song before.
A couple of hours later, trumpeter Sean Jones was leading his quartet through its paces on the Charles H. Morris Center stage. Jones is one serious cat, a composer, educator, and former lead trumpet of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra who currently holds the Brass Department Chair at Berklee College of Music.
A very personable performer, Jones entertained the audience with backstories about a number of the songs he and his quartet played. One was a touching tribute to his brother’s first child; another was inspired by imagining what would have happened had John Coltrane continued playing with Art Blakey’s band. All the tunes were solid, straight ahead and delivered with swinging authority.
Commander of the British Empire and pianist Stephen Hough was the featured artist in the third installment of the SMF’s recital series at the Trinity United Methodist Church. The program opened with two compositions by Claude Debussy: La plus que lente, a warm-hearted pastiche of a particular waltz form, which was popular in France when the piece was written in 1910 and known today for its playful elements and difficult passages, followed by Estampes, a mellifluous three-movement work tinged with Oriental and Latin themes. Throughout both works Hough’s deftly controlled technique was mesmerizing and his creative interpretations carried the mark of a highly original mind.
After the piano recital we hustled over to the Lucas Theater to catch the Swing Central Jazz Finale, which included performances by and an announcement of the winners of the Swing Central Band competition, which is open to high school band programs across the country. The top three bands chosen by a panel of judges are (in descending order): Agoura High School Studio Jazz (Agoura Hills, CA), directed by Chad Bloom; Byron Center Jazz Orchestra (Byron Center, MI), conducted by Marc Townley; Tarpon Springs Conservatory Jazz Ensemble I (Tarpon Springs, FL), conducted by Chris De León.
Following the awards presentation, trombonist, trumpeter, arranger, composer and Waynesboro, Georgia native Wycliffe Gordon presided over a posse of players paying tribute to the world’s greatest jazz musician under the moniker The Louis Armstrong Continuum. With Gordon doing a fine Satchmo imitation and everyone throwing down their best Basin Street licks, the effect was a worthy evocation of an unparalleled legacy.
We had to scoot out early from the Armstrong tribute to catch the Lucinda Williams show at the Trustees Theater around the corner. Unquestionably, Williams is one of the finest singer-songwriters of our time, gifted with a poet’s ear for the grittier side of life and the perfect outlaw balladeer’s voice, which sounds like it was cast in an iron foundry. An uncompromising artist’s artist, she deserves every bit of the success and praise engendered by her latest album, Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone. That said, Williams seemed dispirited onstage in Savannah, and there was an off-putting, rote quality to the band’s performance. Maybe it was just me because the sold out audience seemed pleased enough with the proceedings. Maybe we misinterpreted badass cool as a lack of focus and enthusiasm. Whatever the case, we bailed after six or seven songs.
Our spirits were lifted at the Charles H. Morris Center where the Sean Jones Quartet presided over a late night jam session featuring an all-star cast from the SMF jazz series lineup. Among the players taking part were Marcus Roberts, Jason Marsalis, Houston Person, Tardo Hammer, Dave Stryker, Nicki Parrott, Wycliffe Gordon, Brian Hogans, Kris Funn and Mark Whitfield. A 15-minute improv on “Autumn Leaves” got our vote for highlight of the session. (Friday, March 27 entry – DD)
Music journalist Doug DeLoach is on hand for all 17 days of Savannah Music Festival and is posting daily reviews of performances and his experiences in Savannah.
Saturday, March 28, 2015
12:30 p.m. Marcus Roberts Trio – Charles H. Morris Center
3:00 p.m. Pianist Murray Perahia – Trinity United Methodist Church
5 & 8:30 p.m. New Orleans Soul & Brass Party: Irma Thomas & the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Ships of the Sea North Garden
7:30 p.m. Hot Rize – Trustees Theater
8:00 p.m. Atlanta Symphony Orchestra with Robert Spano, Music Director & Lynn Harrell, Cello – Lucas Theatre for the Arts
8 & 10:30 p.m. Latin Dance Party: Adonis Puentes & The Voice of Cuba Orchestra – Charles H. Morris Center
About the Savannah Music Festival
The historic district of downtown Savannah plays host to more than 100 performances during the annual Savannah Music Festival (SMF), which celebrates exceptional artistry in jazz, classical and a variety of American and international musical traditions. Now through April 4, more than 100 programs will be staged in SMF’s most international festival to date. A full schedule and tickets are available at savannahmusicfestival.org. Tickets can also be purchased by phone at 912-525-5050 or at 216 E. Broughton Street in Savannah. For information on lodging, attractions, places to eat and tours, check out VisitSavannah.org.