Grand Opening of the Savannah Jazz History and Hall of Fame Exhibit

Photo of a previous year's Savannah Jazz Festival.
Photo of a previous year's Savannah Jazz Festival.

After three years of fundraising and planning, Savannah Jazz has set the grand opening date for its Savannah Jazz History and Hall of Fame Exhibit for September 17 in the Savannah History Museum. 

Raising over $140,000 for the project not including in-kind donations the organization is bringing Savannah’s rich jazz history to life. 

The event will feature the Savannah Jazz Hall of Fame Band, a ribbon cutting, a tour, and a reception.

 Executive Director of Savannah Jazz, Paula Fogarty, said, “Our City’s jazz history is as old and significant as that of New Orleans, but the story has yet to be told. This exhibit 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 newcomers to jazz and aficionados about this history. We are thrilled to collaborate with the Coastal Heritage Society and the Savannah History Museum.”

“40 years ago was the rebirth of jazz in Savannah. Ben Tucker and Teddy Adams would be some of the biggest icons of that revival and that movement. Then we go to the Savannah Jazz Festivals, which have been occurring for 40 years, and we highlight the Savannah Jazz Hall of Fame,” said Fogarty.  “We have about over 48 amazing world-renowned stars that had roots and ties to Savannah, they either were born here, lived here, or played here.”

The design firm Riggs-Ward was engaged to help create the exhibit; they were selected based on their excellent work for the Library of Congress, New Orleans Jazz Museum, Black History Museum and Cultural Center, and the Smithsonian. The content was developed in consultation with jazz historian, Dr. Charles Elmore and with Teddy Adams and Dr. Otis Johnson.

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. 

“It’s interesting because the origins of jazz in both Savannah and New Orleans were parallel, they were happening at the same time, but in different ways. New Orleans had more of a European population, Creole population, French and Spanish, and so forth. Savannah had more of the Gullah Geechee and Sea Island, African population,” said Fogarty.  “So the sounds are completely different. So our interactive components are going to introduce people a little bit too, to those sounds. We want to educate people.”

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 the Annual Savannah Jazz Festival, Monthly Concerts, The Ben Tucker Memorial Concert, and Educational programs.

Using 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 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 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 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 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.

Tickets are available at savannahjazz.org.

- Staff Reports

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