All I want for Christmas is... a revitalized Coastal Jazz Association.
As Savannah jazz legend Teddy Adams prepares for the non–profit organization’s annual holiday concert and all–star jam, he’s making a list and checking it twice.
At the very top is an infusion of hot blood for the CJA, which trombonist Adams, bass player Ben Tucker and others put together in the ‘80s.
“A few years ago, about 10 years after we started the organization, Coastal Jazz was pretty solid,” says Adams, who also gives private trombone lessons. “We had a lot of sponsors, a lot of backings. The money is really the problem now. So we’re not doing very good.”
Adams plays part–time with the Charleston Jazz Orchestra – in fact, he just returned from four days of shows in Russia with the South Carolina group — and he’s been carefully observing the inner workings of its support organiztion, Jazz Artists of Charleston.
“I’d like to see Savannah culturally, and artistically, where Charleston is,” he explains. “People there are very, very supportive. They have venues for jazz, and all the musicians are working there. And I can’t say the same about the guys here.”
Adams is quick to explain that the City of Savannah keeps the CJA going year after year, despite the miserable economy. “I have no complaints with the city,” he stresses, “even though we’re getting about half the money we used to get.”
The cornerstone of the CJA is the Savannah Jazz Orchestra, spotlighted every summer at the eight–day Savannah Jazz Festival.
This year, because inclement weather kept a lot of people away from the outdoor concert, the festival lost money. Not much, but enough to feel the pinch.
“The Jazz Artists of Charleston is the equivalent of the Coastal Jazz Association,” Adams says. “They’ve taken the Charleston Jazz Orchestra and they’re behind them all the way.
“I’ve been kicking around some ideas, and I’ve been talking to the guys in the group. If we could just get a faction of support, a group from the CJA just dedicated to the Savannah Jazz Orchestra ... the CJA as a whole is so busy with the festival.”
The key, he believes, is to hire a paid director. “Everything here is voluntary, and that does make a difference,” Adams says.
“When you talk about a voluntary organization, you’re at the whim of the volunteers. And that’s not a good thing. In other places that I’ve seen, you get a director with some savvy, and some energy, to come in. And the director earns his or her salary. The director generates his salary. And that concept works if you can find the right person.”
One of the chief problems is visibility — while the association’s monthly shows at the Westin Harbor Resort are well–attended, the same jazz fans pretty much show up every time.
“The patronage is a predominantly older, middle–class white audience,” says Adams. “The blacks come, but they’re older people. We don’t have any young people supporting the music. And with SCAD here, and two other universities, the people are here. We just don’t know how to get their interest.”
A focused director — like the one at Jazz Artists of Charleston — could be the answer, he believes.
Adams dismisses the notion that the nine–year–old Savannah Music Festival might have taken some of the luster off his organization.
“We have never viewed the Savannah Music Festival as being a competitive problem,” he explains. “The Coastal Jazz Association was formed for preserving, applying and supporting jazz in Savannah and the lowcountry area. And from the very beginning, all of our endeavors have been free. Our festival is still eight days of free music.
“Our thing is geared mainly towards Savannah and its citizens. We get a lot of tourists in because it’s free, but that’s not our focus. Savannah has a very, very strong jazz legacy. And we’re trying to perpetuate that.”
Planned for Jan. 22 is a free concert featuring Adams, Tucker and several other musicians who started the CJA, originally known as the Telfair Jazz Society. It’s a reunion show, and it’s being billed as a “Rent Party.”
The holiday show — Jazz Yule Love — has always been held on Christmas Day (in fact, it started at the old Flamingo Club, a jazz hotspot, in the 1950s. When he returned to his hometown in 1976, after a stint in the Air Force, Adams was instrumental in getting it cranked up again).
The first half of the show will feature Adams’ hand–picked jazz combo, playing Christmas tunes and more.
On vocals will be L.C. Quarterman, of the Darien area. “He’s a unique blues singer in that he has a voice similar to that of Nat ‘King’ Cole,” Adams says. “So L.C. has a very unique way of presenting the blues, and he also sings standards. He’s my favorite singer.”
For the second part, Adams will lead a jam, with Tucker and a collection of the area’s top players. All of them have either been invited, or know they’re welcome to play.
“They know it’s going to be a good session on Christmas Day, so they’re gonna be there,” Adams enthuses. “Guys are lined up waiting to play.”
And there’s a strong flicker of hope from the next generation. “Normally, the jam has been a vehicle, and good experience, for kids out of the Savannah Arts Skylite Band.
“I get a lot of students from that band who are doing very well. Most of the students I’ve taught will be there for Christmas and wanting to play.
“The kids we allow to sit in were precocious or have shown some kind of promise. And it’s been an inspiration to them.”
Jazz Yule Love
Where: Westin Harbor Resort, 1 Resort Drive, Hutchinson Island
When: At 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 25
Tickets: $15 advance, $20 at the door