Talking with... Teddy Adams

Savannah Jazz Fest honoree performs Saturday night

SAVANNAH TROMBONIST Teddy Adams just finished the first draft of a book chronicling his career in jazz. And there's a chapter in it called "Conversations."

“There’s a lot of trivia in there that I’ve gotten from guys who really knew what they were talking about,” Adams says. “I have no reason to doubt what they were telling me.”

Can you call that a tease?

Adams is one of the city’s leading lights of jazz. And his stories about his times playing with Art Blakey, Abbey Lincoln, Clark Terry and many other jazz legends will fill a volume, no doubt.

But, when I talked with him recently about this year’s Savannah Jazz Festival, I found that he’s most passionate when he talks about things closer to home.

Musicians here today. West Broad Street when it was the hotbed of the city’s African-American culture. And that long stretch of time when he was in the Air Force, away from Savannah, and the jazz here just died.

Many jazz clubs closed in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

“I never understood the demise of the music,” Adams says. “A lot of the same people that I grew up with that appreciated jazz were still living here.”

But thanks to his persistence and that of the late, great Savannah icon Ben Tucker, jazz music started returning to local stages in the 1980’s.

The revival began with conversations Adams and Tucker had when Adams returned from a long military stint in Japan and Tucker was running WSOK radio.

“The musicians were here,” Adams says. “All we had to do was arouse or tweak the support of the people who were already here.”

Of course, jazz clubs will come and go. There’s apparently a new one coming (again) to Broughton Street, “Good Times.” I saw the sign being raised last week.

But the festival is constant.

This year’s 33rd annual festival will feature a Friday performance by Rene Marie, one of the most original singers in jazz today.

“She found her own voice,” Adams says.  “Even when she does standards or songs you’ve heard before, she has a way of rendering them a little differently.”

John Faddis, the trumpeter, educator and protégé of Dizzy Gillespie, will play with the Savannah Jazz Orchestra on Saturday night.

And Thursday blues night will host a vocalist who’s been showing up on shortlists of the best blues musicians out there today, Shemekia Copeland.

Adams praised the singers scheduled to get up on the Forsyth Park stage. But his attitude toward singers more generally is typical of many instrumentalists.

“I’m tolerant of them,” Adams says. “Musicians like instruments and like playing. Therefore, when I tell you I like a singer, that singer is very, very special.”

His favorite singer is Aretha Franklin. I wasn’t expecting that answer.

And I wasn’t expecting his response when we were wrapping up and I suggested listeners “have fun” at the festival because “jazz is not serious, jazz is not a public television education series.”

Those were inelegant words. Of course, Adams takes his art very seriously. And actually, “Jazz” is a PBS series, by Ken Burns.

But my offhand remark led us into a conversation about the relative ease or difficulty of liking jazz, something that’s been a joy in my life since I started my radio career in 1995 at jazz radio WUCF in Orlando, Fla.

“Serious jazz requires an effort. And that’s an effort that a lot of people don’t want to put forth. And I’m sorry about that,” Adams says. “But the musicians are not going to sacrifice the artistry and the creativity of the music for the sake of the listener.”

I appreciate that. And you appreciate that. But I’m telling you anyway, have fun!


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