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Review: The Savannah Music Festival, March 22-April 7

An all-star galaxy at a festival within a festival

Brian Blade, Savannah Music Festival 2012
Anat Cohen, Savannah Music Festival 2012
L. to R.: Aaron Diehl, Wycliffe Gordon, Yasushi Nakamura, Anat Cohen & Herlin Riley at the Savannah Music Festival, 2012
Bass-off at Savannah Music Festival, 2012 (L. to R.): Jeffry Eckels, Rodney Jordan, and Rodney Whitaker

While Béla Fleck & the Original Flecktones, Pink Martini, Freddy Cole and the Joshua Redman/Brad Mehldau Duo were the headliners at the larger Savannah Music Festival venues, an all-star galaxy of performer/clinicians kept the annual Jazz Party humming on a more intimate scale, a festival-within-the-festival. Party central was the Charles H. Morris Center, where there were two jazz sets every evening from March 26 through March 29, with a minimum of four musicians on the bandstand each night. At the noon hour, there were three more concerts during that span featuring Cedar Walton, Kenny Barron and the Jeff Clayton Quartet.

Numerous notables didn’t perform at the Morris Center, surfacing only at the Lucas Theatre for cameo performances at “Swingin’ & Wailin’,” the Swing Central finale after the top three high school bands competing for first prize had been awarded their first, second and third place checks. Until then, these musicians had spent their working moments at SMF tutoring members of the 12 bands that had been invited from across the country-from Atlanta to Seattle-to compete in the finals. So in terms of solos for public consumption, it was one-and-done for guitarist Dave Stryker, trumpeter Jim Ketch, saxophonists Bill Kennedy and Jack Wilkins, and trombonists Paul McKee and Ron Westray.

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