It was May 26th and the 31 Days of Jazz was a success for the city of Atlanta and the neighborhoods and communities that represented. The weekend ran through the 28th the the crowds of jazz fans, enthusiasts and aficionados laid blankets, pitched tents and sat in lawn chairs to enjoy another year in Piedmont Park. Jazz was in the air and the adoring throng waited with anticipation as each act that came to the stage.
The Kickoff Cabaret performers were Jennifer Freeman and Johnny O’Neal with Jason Orr hosting the Late Night Jazz Jam. The 2012 Youth Jazz Band Competition winners opened each day of the festival on two stages and were Benjamin E. Mays Jazz Orchestra taking 1st Place, Woodland High School Jazz Band in 2nd Place, Martin Luther King, Jr. High School Big Band held down 3rd Place, and J.C. Young Middle School Jazz Ensemble was the 4th Place.
Performing over the weekend and following each youth jazz band were Andre Rievers, Cyrus Chestnut Trio, Dwight Andrews, Edy Martinez Jazz Orchestra, Ernest EC3 Coleman, Grace Kelly Quintet, Grégoire Maret, Kathleen Bertrand, Laura Coyle Quintet, Lionel Loueke Trio, Mace Hibbard, Marea Alta, Mausiki Scales & the Common Ground Collective, Melvin Jones, Mushy Widmaier, Nadav Remez / Omer Avital Quintet, Ojeda Penn, Rialto Jazz for Kids, Robert Glasper Experiment, Roy Ayers, Russell Gunn and Elektrik Butterfly, Saunders Sermons, Son Jazzy Orchestra, Tito Puente, Jr. & Orchestra, Tropical Breeze Steel Band, and Yolanda Rabun. #AJF40
2011 had an increased emphasis on straight-ahead jazz was by design. The festival is one of the last free music festivals that celebrates jazz in its purest form and will continue to cultivate the legacy of classic jazz.
In Piedmont Park over the Memorial Day Weekend of May 28th to the 30th, the lineup was a good collection of straight-ahead and contemporary, both young and more established stars, as well as Atlanta representation. J.C. Young Middle School Jazz Band and North Atlanta High School Jazz Band represented the Youth Jazz Band Competition winners opening each day’s festivities along with Audrey Shakir, Gerald Clayton Trio, Infinite Sound Family, Marea Alta, Metropolitan Atlanta Youth Wind Ensemble Jazz Band, Myrna Clayton, Oliver Santana & Ellison Jazz, Neo 4, Ninety Miles featuring Stefon Harris, David Sanchez, and Christian Scott, Regina Carter’s Reverse Thread, Rialto Jazz for Kids, Rua 6, Sean Jones Quintet, Tropical Breeze, Warren Wolf Quintet and Wild Rice.
Saxophonist Mike Phillips was selected as the festival’s first-ever ambassador, Glory Foods came on as a sponsor and the GoGreen Initiative made available an iphone app allowing everyone to go paperless and get all festival information. 31 Days of Jazz continued to build its own tradition of community performances and educational workshops and neighborhood concerts were all a part of the festivities.
The two day jazz festival was once again upon the city of Atlanta and over the course of those days, thousands gathered from around the country and the world once again in Piedmont Park for the May 29th & 30th celebration of jazz. Walking through the entrance to the park at 10th & Charles Allen one felt the excitement of the gathering of fans in attendance.
This year the 31 Days of Jazz was created as a signature program of the Atlanta Jazz Festival and during the month of May, the festival partnered with restaurants and social establishments to celebrate this classic art form. The program implemented the 31 Days Passport Program to provide an interactive method for AJF fans to personally connect with the Festival and its partner venues.
Heralding this festival’s performances were local, national and international favorites Diane Schuur with Jason Marsalis, Groove Project, Hiromi & Stanley Clarke, Hudson on Bass, Jacob Deaton Trio, Jay Norem & Keith White Quartet, Joe Gransden Big Band, Julie Dexter, Kathleen Bertrand, Madoca & Co., Marcus Miller with Christian Scott, Metropolitan Atlanta Youth Wind Ensemble Jazz Band, Non-Movement Movement, Our New Dimensions, Rialto Jazz for Kids All Star Big Band, Spyro Gyra, Steven Charles Band, Swing Streets to Swing Beats with Esperanza Spalding and Raydar Ellis, Trombone Shorty, and William Green & the Magic Dream Band
The sponsors of the jazz festival were American Family Insurance, Anheuser Busch, Atlanta Fulton County Arts Council, Charles Loridans Foundation, Coca-Cola Company, Coca-Cola Enterprises, Fulton County Arts Council, Georgia Lottery, High Museum of Art Access Program, Kendeda Fund, Northern Trust, Publix, Smoothie King, Turner Broadcasting System and the Zeist Foundation. #AJF40
The Jazz Epistles were South Africa’s first important albeit short lived bebop band. Inspired by Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, its members included Dollar Brand (later known as Abdullah Ibrahim) on piano, Kippie Moeketsi on alto saxophone, Jonas Gwangwa on trombone, Hugh Masekela on trumpet, Johnny Gertze on bass, and Early Mabuza or Makaya Ntshoko on drums. The group became famous after performing in the jam sessions called Jazz at the Odin in the Odin Theater in Sophiatown.
In 1959 just before breaking up, the Jazz Epistles recorded the first album by a black South African band, Jazz Epistle, Verse 1. That same year, composer Todd Matshikiza’s musical King Kong became a hit in Johannesburg. It used a jazz score to tell the tragic story of South African heavyweight boxer Ezekial “King Kong” Dhlamini. Miriam Makeba, members of the Manhattan Brothers, and the Jazz Epistles musicians were involved in the production.
The 1960 Sharpeville Massacre marked the beginning of an era of vicious apartheid and greater repression of African culture. After Sharpeville, the government imposed a State of Emergency, made mass arrests, issued thousands of bannings, and put activists who challenged apartheid laws on trial. The repression extended to African arts. Jazz was an expressive force seeking musical and social equality. The apartheid system could not tolerate it. Performances were not allowed, jazz was prohibited from radio broadcasts, and prominent musicians were threatened.
When the producers of King Kong received invitations to perform in Europe, the South African government, believing the musical would be helpful propaganda, issued passports to African performers who otherwise would not have had opportunities to leave the country. Members of Jazz Epistles welcomed the opportunity. Most of them found the freedom and the contacts with other musicians in Europe irresistible and chose exile over returning. Thus many of the most adventurous strains in South African music were pursued outside its borders for several decades.
Following a 56-year hiatus, in June 2016 several members played two reunion concerts in Johannesburg. This year, on April 30th at Chastain Park, in honor of the International Day of Jazz and the 40th anniversary celebration of the Atlanta Jazz Festival, the Jazz Epistles will play one of seven reunion concerts schedule for North America and Europe, in remembrance of the 40th anniversary of the Soweto uprising is being celebrated in music. Original Jazz Epistle members Hugh Masekela and Abdullah Ibrahim will be performing along with a host of other performers. Tickets are only $40.00 for this historic reunion. #AJF40
It was 2009, the second year of the Piedmont Park Conservancy’s lawn restoration endeavor and it worked. However, the festival was still unable to return for the memorial Day Weekend festivities. The grasses had gone too long and the audiences had taken advantage of the pleasure it had given them over the years. But new rules were in the making for all future festival goers to have a great time. A new dog run was built to accommodate all owners, no charcoal grilling except in the designated park grills or on gas grills. Tents were designated to the hillsides or at the back of the field so everyone could see. Piedmont Park was looking forward to being spectacular and bringing back the festival again.
So on May 23rd and 24th jazz fans and enthusiasts turned their vehicles to Grant Park to enjoy the music. Unfortunately it was music as only Freddy Cole was the national jazz artist representing along with J. C. Young Middle School Jazz Ensemble and Rialto Jazz for Kids All Stars. Booked for the two-day event were other genres of jazz including former Lenny Kravitz drummer Cindy Blackman and her Quartet, Dionne Farris, Hiroshima, Madoca, Mausiki Scales and the Common Ground Collective, Russell Gunn & Elektrik Butterfly and VINX. #AJF40