The Coastal Jazz Association has launched a campaign to achieve support for their planned Savannah Jazz History Exhibit to be housed in the Savannah History Museum downtown. Savannah’s rich Jazz history has yet to be told, and is as old and significant as that of New Orleans. Members of the community and those with connections regionally and nationally are being urged to support the project through the donation or loan of artifacts including instruments by noted Savannah jazz musicians past and present, photos, posters, and other memorabilia that will help tell the story of Savannah’s role in the development of jazz music beginning in the early 20th century to the present. Financial donations, grants, and sponsorships are also being pursued to fund the exhibit.
“Now is the time for our friends and lovers of history and music to step forward by supporting the Savannah Jazz History Exhibit and enabling us to share this story with visitors and residents,” said Tom Glaser, a co-founder and first president of CJA who is chairing the initiative. For details and to make contributions, contact him at
404-694-4731 or [email protected]
Like its better known neighbor—New Orleans—Savannah was one of jazz’s birthplaces and has been a leading center of the art form through its noted composers, performers, venues, festivals, media, and businesses since the 1920s. Deeply rooted in African traditions, Savannah jazz has evolved through brass bands, vaudeville, blues, big band, combos, and orchestras to take its place in our nation’s jazz pantheon. Following its near demise in 1960 resulting from the ascendency of rhythm ‘n blues and rock ‘n roll, Savannah jazz was reborn in the late 1970s by the Coastal Jazz Association, and today, is one of the area’s most respected art forms enjoyed by visitors and residents, black and white, young and old, alike.
The exhibit will be housed in the Savannah History Museum, operated by the Coastal Heritage Society, behind the Visitor Center in downtown Savannah. Utilizing a combination of artifacts, displays, and interactive multimedia, it will illustrate Savannah’s storied jazz history from its inception to today. A key component is the Coastal Jazz Association’s Savannah Jazz Hall of Fame, now totaling 45 inductees who represent a who’s who in the jazz world. The biographies, visuals about their lives, music, and contributions to jazz will clearly establish Savannah’s place as a major center for the art form. From Joe “King” Oliver, Louis Armstrong’s mentor—to Johnny Mercer, Savannah’s famed composer and vocalist—to acclaimed bassist and composer Ben Tucker, who led the jazz revival from the 70s—the Jazz Hall of Fame will draw visitors into the main exhibit and give them an understanding of the legends of Savannah jazz.
The evolution of jazz in Savannah, from its earliest incarnations to the present, will be the main focus of the exhibit. Visuals of old West Broad Street (now MLK Blvd.) venues will include theaters and clubs that were meccas in the African-American musical tradition. Images and stories of Tybrisa Pavilion, the legendary dance hall on Tybee Island that hosted the top big bands of the day, black and white, will also be featured as well as highlights from the acclaimed Savannah Jazz Festivals from 1983 to the present. Artifacts on display will include Ben Tucker’s historic bass violin, Jabbo Smith’s trumpet mouthpiece, Johnny Mercer’s straw hat and other memorabilia, artifacts from the estate of James Moody including a Moody horn, a Benedetto Guitar jazz guitar display all handcrafted at its Savannah headquarters, mouthpieces from Savannah’s Jody Jazz company, a Gretsch drum kit, photos and posters from CJA’s acclaimed concerts and festivals, and news articles, recordings, and videos of the legends who performed in Savannah. Donations are being accepted online at www.coastaljazz.org/donate.