Savannah Jazz launched a campaign two years ago to achieve support for our planned Savannah Jazz History Exhibit to be housed in the Savannah History Museum downtown. Savannah’s rich Jazz history has is as old and significant as that of New Orleans, but the story has yet to be told. The organization is planning to open the exhibit in February of 2022 and has raised over $130,000 to date but needs to raise and additional $40,000.
Like 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 through the efforts of Teddy Adams and the legendary Ben Tucker. The Coastal Jazz Association, now known as Savannah Jazz, was founded in 1982 and today continues to be the custodian of Savannah’s jazz legacy with our Annual Savannah Jazz Festival, Monthly Concerts, The Ben Tucker Memorial Concert, and Educational programs.
“This exhibit project will not only be a legacy project for our organization, but for the City of Savannah itself. It will serve as the keystone for our educational programs enlightening strangers to jazz, jazz scholars and musicians, both young and old. We are thrilled to collaborate with the Coastal Heritage Society to bring the history of jazz in Savannah to life for the first time,” said Paula Fogarty, Interim Executive Director of Savannah Jazz.
Utilizing a combination of artifacts, displays, and interactive multimedia, the exhibit will illustrate Savannah’s storied jazz history from its inception to today. A key component is the Savannah Jazz Hall of Fame, now totaling over 50 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 give visitors 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 and stories of the vibrant old West Broad Street (now MLK Blvd.) scene will illustrate the importance of this once-great jazz mecca. 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 bring this big band and swing scene to life. Artifacts on display will include Ben Tucker’s historic bass violin, Johnny Mercer’s Oscar award for “Moon River” and other memorabilia, artifacts from the estate of James Moody including his favorite horn, photos and posters from Savannah Jazz Festival and acclaimed concerts with the top jazz performers in the world, and recordings, and videos of the legends who performed in Savannah.
World-class exhibit designers, Doug Mund and Hillary Schmidt of dmdg2 have been engaged to bring the project to life. They designed and executed the recently renovated Owens Thomas House here and are nationally known for their work on the Grand Rapids Public Museum, Smithsonian Institution, The Ringling Art Museum, The Boston Museum of Science, the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace, and many other prestigious cultural institutions.
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 the Coastal Jazz Association (Savannah Jazz) who is chairing the initiative. For details and to make contributions, contact Paula Fogarty [email protected] or visit www.savannahjazz.org/exhibit.