40th annual Savannah Jazz Festival to return with live performances in Forsyth Park

Savannah Jazz Festival

FILE – Savannah Jazz Festival in Forsyth Park

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — The 40th annual Savannah Jazz Festival is returning to the Hostess City in late September. Organizers announced Friday the festival will return this year with live performances in Forsyth Park.

This comes after Savannah Mayor Van Johnson’s announcement that effective July 1, no capacity limits would be placed on large-scale events.

Savannah Jazz, in partnership with the City of Savannah and WSAV, will host the free festival from Sept. 23 through 26.

“We are beyond grateful that the City and WSAV will continue their lead partnerships to deliver the 40th Savannah Jazz Festival, poised to reach our biggest audience ever,” says Paula Fogarty, Interim Executive Director.

Last year, WSAV streamed all of the festival performances live from Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum, reaching 175,000 people around the world. This year, Savannah Jazz’s goal is to reach the largest audience in the festival’s history.

Audiences can expect free world-class music from 15 live performances, a movie and digital Master Classes for local school classrooms.

Check out the lineup below:

Ranky Tanky, a jazz band from Charleston, S.C. will headline the festival. The band’s music celebrates the Gullah culture of the region’s Sea Islands. Drummer Quentin Baxter, Savannah Jazz Hall of Fame Member, will accompany the band. The band’s self-titled album debuted at #1 on the Billboard, Amazon and iTunes Jazz charts.

The Savannah Divas backed by the Savannah Jazz Orchestra will headline Saturday night to showcase the region’s jazz superstars. Some of the stars include:

• Priscilla Albergottie Williams has headlined in Berlin, Frankfurt, and Stuttgart, Germany and performed across the United States.
• Cynthia Utterbach, New Jersey native, performed around the world in the musical production “The Buddy Holly Story” and across Europe as a jazz vocalist at festivals and clubs.
• Stephanie Nakasian, who recently adopted Savannah as her hometown, is listed in the Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz as one of the world’s leading singers.

The 17-piece Savannah Jazz Orchestra will follow those performers for the first time since the 2019 festival. John Lee, jazz base legend, and Lawrence Hobgood, Grammy-award-winning pianist will also perform. Lee started his career in the ’70s and has worked with jazz legends as a bassist and Grammy-award-winning producer. Hobgood’s duet album with bassist Charlie Haden, When the Heart Dances, received worldwide 4-star reviews.

Grant Green Jr., son of legendary jazz guitarist Grant Green, will appear in his first Savannah performance. Green played with the Godfathers of Groove with Bernard Purdie in NYC and toured the world from an early age.

Robert Lee Coleman, Georgia bluesman, will bring his southern take on the blues to the Hostess City. Coleman was Percy Sledge’s guitarist for five years. James Brown hired Coleman for his new band, “the JBs,” in 1970. Brown’s album, Hot Pants, features Robert’s guitar on the song, Revolution of the Mind.

Pianist Kenny Banks Jr.’s music was described as “gospel and blues-infused” by Downbeat Magazine. Kenny joined the Columbus Youth Jazz Orchestra on tours of Peru, Canada and across Europe in 2003. Banks toured with Theo Croker Quintet, Jennifer Holiday, Jazzmeia Horn and India Arie across the states.

The U.S. Navy Band Commodores’ 18-piece band has been entertaining military members and audiences for 50 years. Ray Charles, Brandford Marsalis, Clark Terry, Grover Washington Jr. and James Moody, Savannah Jazz Hall of Fame Member are some of the legends who have performed with the band.

Ana Popovic, guitar and vocal sensation will headline the Blues night. The Serbian-born blues lady has shared the stage with B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Jeff Beck, Joe Bonamassa among others. She’s toured the Americas and Europe for 20 years and was called “one helluva guitar player,” by Bruce Springsteen.

Rhythm & Blues, Jazz and Latin Jazz percussionist, Terry “Doc” Handy will bring his diverse grasp of genres to the festival. Handy has opened for James Brown, Aaron Neville, Macy Gray, Kool and the Gang, Kirk Whalum and more. Handy finds his inspiration from Ralph McDonald, Giovanni Hidalgo and Bill Summers.

Don Braden, saxophone and flutist, returns with his soulful and swinging music. Braden has been part of the Harvard Monday Jazz band and the Director of Litchfield jazz camp for more than two decades. Braden has also performed with Betty Carter, Wynton Marsalis, Freddie Hubbard and more.

Regional performers include:
• Bluesman Eric Culberson
• Savannah Jazz Hall of Fame Band
• Georgia Southern’s Jazz Ensemble
• Savannah State’s Gospel Choir, and others. 

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