BEN TUCKER'S impact on Savannah is undeniable. Not only did the legendary musician and philanthropist make a huge mark on the world of jazz, he contributed greatly to the evolution and growth of our city through his work with various committees, task forces, and youth organizations.
His passing in 2013 massively affected the city and the great many people who knew him - leading to the Friends of Ben Tucker nonprofit, which formed in late 2013.
One of the organization’s regular events is the annual Ben Tucker Memorial Jazz Fun Raiser, which features a group of acclaimed local musicians coming together in honor of the late legend.
One of those is Eric Jones, local jazz pianist extraordinaire who knew Tucker prior to his death. Jones has participated in the event in years past, and this year’s concert on June 2 is no exception.
Jones, who recently released a stellar album with his group—titled Azubuike—will be joined at the event by a cast of musicians that includes Teddy Adams, Howard Paul, Randy Reese, Bruce Spradley, Robert Saunders, Kirk Lee, and Claire Frazier. It’s free, and is set to take place outside in Wright Square. In the event of inclement weather, the show will move to Lutheran Church of the Ascension.
We spoke with Jones ahead of the concert to talk about all things Ben Tucker.
Did you know Ben personally?
Jones: Yeah. I started working with him years prior to his passing, but even before then I’d run into him at events. He was involved in the Jazz Festival and things like that. And obviously he was one of the top jazz guys in Savannah, so I was already aware of him before that.
He left this huge legacy that’s carried on with Friends of Ben Tucker, this concert, etc. He was such a big part of the history of jazz, of Savannah music, and of our city as a whole. How do you view the impact he had on our city?
Jones: I think part of it is that he helped put Savannah on the map, or made it more preeminent, because of what he did prior to moving to Savannah. He was already a star in his own right. His music was recorded by some of the best people in the history of jazz, and he played with a lot of the big artists. And then everything he did from a philanthropic standpoint, having a radio station, having a jazz club - he transcended just music. He probably could’ve ran for mayor and won [laughs].
It’s certainly no wonder that he made as much of an impact as he did here. So tell me about this concert - for people who haven’t attended before, what should they expect?
Jones: Well the first thing they should definitely expect is that it’s outdoors [laughs]. Usually, if the weather’s permitting, we’ll have it outside in Wright Square right across from his church. It’s really open to the public. I think a lot of people stumble upon it, and it’s a pleasant surprise for people who come across it.
It’s pretty fun. A lot of the people that knew him play, and there’s singing of course. We’re also playing a lot of the music he wrote, which is awesome. His lovely wife will be there, and it’s kind of like friends and family of Ben Tucker celebrating his legacy.
I’d imagine, with the kind of people who are playing, that there’s some level of improvisation and jamming?
Jones: Oh yeah. It really is a jam session, like if you were in a club. It’s a lot of fun. And with the jam session, you get a variety of different players - some from all over.