Five years into his gig as Savannah’s go–to guy for Independence Day jazz, Jeremy Davis figures he’s got things fine–tuned. His Big Band, the Equinox Jazz Orchestra, has been inked to do one show every month – on Monday nights – at the Savannah Theatre.
It’s a new partnership, but one that makes total sense. After all, the Savannah Theatre’s reputation was built around its big, bright stage musicals, and Equinox – a 20–member group straight out of the 1940s, with swingin’ horns and a couple of finger–poppin’ vocalists with allusions to the Rat Pack – should fit right in.
“It’s so not a jazz concert,” enthuses Davis, a tenor saxophonist. “We do our very best to entertain, and interact with the audience. We tell jokes. It is in every sense of the word a show.”
The New Deal gets started Sunday – the actual Fourth O’July – with Savannah Swings!, the band’s annual full–tilt salute to America.
There are two performances this year, at 3 and 6 p.m. Davis, a New Orleans native who relocated to Savannah in 2005, traditionally followed these shows (when they were at the Lucas Theatre) with a NOLA–style street parade – the band, and the audience, would jive and swing out of the venue and down to River Street to watch the evening’s fireworks display.
Because of the new venue – the Savannah Theatre is on Chippewa Square, not all that close to the river – the full parade ain’t happening. Instead, Equinox will lead the crowd, after each show, into Chippewa. There, the music will continue.
The first 800 ticket–holders will receive VIP seating in the River Street grandstands.
The majority of the music comes from the golden age of swing: “Night and Day,” “Come Fly With Me,” that sort of thing. Clean–cut vocalists Clay Johnson, Trae Gurley and Adam Jones keep things moving.
“Clay is the featured vocalist with Equinox,” says Davis. “No matter where I go, no matter what I do. If it’s the quintet, he’s the singer. If it’s the full Big Band, and we’re in Minneapolis, or New York or Florida, Clay’s the singer.
“Not to diminish the other guys, at all. It’s Clay’s gig, and the other guys are like these two home run hitters that come in and take up an equal portion of the slack.”
As always, the “Armed Forces Salute” – proud and patriotic – is a key part of the Independence Day show.
Davis and the band’s arranger, Hoppy Hallman, go to great lengths to keep their presentation exciting – Davis uses the astonishing success of contemporary singer Michael Buble as his template. “Our basic mission is to take these old, beautiful songs – some of the greatest songs that were ever written – and have Hoppy arrange them in a still–classic style,” he says.
“But fresh and hip so it doesn’t sound dated. And that’s difficult to do.”
Savannah vocal legend Huxie Scott will also perform with the band Sunday.
“Since we’ve been working with her, on various shows over the last three years, we’ve come to love her and accept her as part of the show,” says Davis. “So now, we do what she does. I’ll ask her what she wants to do, and then I’ll have Hoppy arrange it for her, in her key, for my band. So it’ll be kind of a custom performance.
“The crowd loves when she does ‘Midnight Train to Georgia,’ and all the guys do the Pips part. Brings the house down every time.”
The other part of Davis’ new arrangement for 2010: All proceeds from the July 4 shows will go to USO Savannah.
“It’s a hard partnership to get,” he explains. “People think USO is like public domain: ‘We’re gonna have a USO show!’ And they all get dressed up in World War II clothing. Because of that, when they get ready to raise funds, they have to be very selective on who they choose – if not, the brand gets confused.
“They do such great work in this area, where we have so many troops. They do so much for them out at the bases and everything.”
Where: Savannah Theatre, 222 Bull Street
When: At 3 and 6 p.m. Sunday, July 4
Tickets: $35 adults, $16 age 12 and under
Phone: (912) 233–7764