There has always been a strong educational component within the framework of the Savannah Music Festival. Each year, groups of young musicians and high school bands attend week-long seminars focused on jazz and acoustic music. Last week, the Swing Central Jazz finalists had their evening in the spotlight. Last night, participants in the Acoustic Music Seminar stepped under the spotlights at the Lucas Theatre for the Arts to perform (some for the first time in public) before a nearly packed house.
Ranging in age from 14 to early 20-something, stoked by five days of tutelage and collaboration with Associate Director Mike Marshall and clinicians Julian Lage and Casey Driessen, the sixteen musicians offered a highly entertaining and emotionally affecting concert. In separate groups of four and more members, the “graduates” presented original compositions and cover arrangements demonstrating technical mastery and creative imagination that belied their youth.
Some pieces and performances were more successful and poised than others, but the overall quality was exceptional. Most of the music was rooted in bluegrass with elements of jazz, classical and world music present to one degree or another. In the middle of the student recitals, Marshall, Lage and Driessen stepped up and put on a master class of their own, trading mandolin, guitar and fiddle riffs back and forth to the delight of the crowd as the students shook their heads in amazement.
During the past two weeks, I was told by more than one veteran staffer that the ASM finale was one of the “don’t miss” events of the SMF. They were right. Witnessing the level of skill and sophistication and seeing the joy, sincerity and enthusiasm beaming from those young artists on stage was a profoundly moving experience. As Marshall put it at the conclusion of one of the student performances, “If you’re one of those people who’s always thinking, ‘What’s wrong with kids these days,’ that ought to give you hope.”
Secure in the knowledge that the youth may yet save the world (again), I walked out of the Lucas and made a quick trip around the corner to catch jazz diva Dianne Reeves at the Trustees Theater. At 58, Reeves sings like an artist half her age, but with the authority and control that only comes from decades of experience. Backed by her seasoned quartet, Reeves romped through standards (“Summertime”) and originals (“9”) with smooth agility and consummate professionalism.
A quick pedicab to the Charles H. Morris Center put me in the middle of a Cajun dance party with The Band Courtbouillon, which is a trio of Cajun all-stars: Wayne “Le Boss” Toups, Steve Riley (of the Mamou Playboys) and Wilson Savoy (of the Pine Leaf Boys) all of whom play guitar, fiddle and accordion, joined this night by Eric Frey thumping the upright bass. When I left an hour later, with almost the entire audience plus the crew from the AMS Finale on their feet, two-stepping the night away, the bontemps were truly rolling. (April 3 entry – DD)
Music journalist Doug DeLoach has been on the scene for all 17 days of the Savannah Music Festival, attending and reviewing performances and a blogging a bit about Savannah food and culture. Read all Doug’s insightful reviews here.
Saturday, April 4 lineup:
3:00 p.m. Chamber Music X: Passionate Piano Quartets with Daniel Hope, Paul Neubauer, David Finckel and Wu Han at Savannah Theatre
7:30 p.m. Rosanne Cash at Lucas Theatre for the Arts
9:00 p.m. Closing Night Party: DakhaBrakha at Ships of the Sea North Garden
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.