Drummer with strong local ties returns for Savannah-Safe Jazz Festival performance

Savannah Jazz Festival

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — One Savannah-Safe Jazz Festival favorite says returning to the Coastal Empire feels like visiting his second home. 

Jazz performer Sean Bolden performed at the 2020 virtual festival as drummer for the Savannah Jazz Veterans Band.

“I’ve missed this city a lot,” he told WSAV NOW.

A native of Wichita, Kansas, the jazz musician says he’s been involved with the Savannah Jazz Festival numerous times over the past 14 years, and adds that it’s good to be back.

“I did a lot of growing here as far as musically,” Bolden said.

Serving in the United States Army initially brought him to Savannah in 2004.

“Anytime they call or they want to bring me in to do something, I’m always like, ‘yeah!’” Bolden said.

During his years in Savannah, the successful musician also studied music performance at Armstrong Atlantic State University and worked as a police officer in Rincon.

“I worked as a K-9 officer and drug resource officer at Savannah State University, so I have a lot of history here,” said Bolden, who now lives in Atlanta. “It’s always music that brings me back here.”

Bolden says he got his start in music as a 4-year-old banging on pots and pans, and also through participating in music performances at his childhood church.

He’s now been working in the music industry for the past decade, and has worked with artists including Estelle, Jussie Smollett and Esperanza Spalding during his career.

“Jazz has always been my first love outside of gospel,” he shared, adding that he’s also explored Latin jazz, hard rock, pop, techno and Afro-Cuban styles of music.

“Pretty much wherever the beat goes, I’m with it,” Bolden said.

He cites John Coltrane, the Beatles, Michael Jackson and James Brown as major influences.

During his time in Savannah, he also shared his knowledge and love of music with the youth as a part-time instructor at Savannah Country Day School as well as Savannah Arts Academy.

“For them to start at a young age, it molds them into this musician and an artist that they want to be, so I think the earlier you start, the better,” Bolden said. 

He adds that he’s always been an advocate for pushing youth to strive for their full potential.

“Sometimes they’re kind of shy and don’t want to perform in front of people and things like that, so I like to be that avenue that I can bring to that,” Bolden said.

His virtual performance at the Savannah-Safe Jazz Festival was a new experience for Bolden, who says he typically feeds off of a live audience’s energy while on stage. 

“I want to make you feel good when I’m playing, so if I’m playing, you feel good and you’re exerting that energy, it just pushes the energy back for me, and when I get on stage playing for thousands of people, it’s like an adrenaline rush,” Bolden said.

He says although he played to a much smaller crowd this year, he still hoped to connect with the audience tuning in virtually.

“I’ll bring out that energy as if they’re here so they can feel it from their couch, from their car,” Bolden shared before taking the stage.

“I’ve been playing for 30 years, so I’m at the point where it could be 20,000 people or it could be five people, I’m still going to have that same energy and that same music ability to perform when it’s time,” he said. “I’m a natural performer.”

Watch Bolden’s full performance with the Savannah Jazz Veterans Band in the video at the top of this story.

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