May-27th-2010, 03:33 PM
Atlanta Jazz Fest - May 29-30
Jazz festival is part of a healthier Atlanta sceneBy Jamie Gumbrecht
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
6:00 p.m. Friday, May 21, 2010
Even as the Atlanta Jazz Festival was ousted from Piedmont Park for two years and lost financial support from the cash-strapped city, it wasn’t because the city's jazz scene was fading.
In fact, when the festival returns this weekend for its 33rd edition, it comes back to a crowd hungry for free music on Piedmont Park’s meadow and a scene bolstered by good venues and better musicians.
“It’s a pretty strong scene right now,” said musician Joe Gransden, who lives in Atlanta and plays the festival on Sunday with his 16-piece big band. “It’s slowly gotten better. Now you’re running into players every day that live here. Great, great players.”
Gransden, who moved from Atlanta to New York, and returned here in 2002, said it's an affordable place to live with enough jazz clubs, restaurants and private gigs to keep him singing and trumpeting for most of the 330 gigs he plays every year. When the recession hit, the number of private gigs decreased, musicians said, but audiences for club shows and jazz-at-the-museum nights spiked.
“In every city, there’s good people, nice guys and good players, and there’s the opposite,” Gransden said. “Maybe because I’ve lived here the longest, I feel Atlanta is more welcoming. There’s enough work and enough good people, the more the merrier.”
That attitude helped in the months after Hurricane Katrina, when New Orleans jazz musicians spread across the country. Many of them came to Atlanta for relief, and some chose to stay, bringing a new style and sensibility with them.
“We benefited from that exodus. They brought so much wonderful music to the city,” said Sam Skelton, Kennesaw State University’s director of jazz studies.
That level of experience is helping Skelton’s students, too, he said. Students already come into Kennesaw State’s program with a deeper knowledge of artists and styles – courtesy of iTunes and YouTube, he said – but they learn more by showing up at jam sessions and building relationships with older players.
“The level of playing from when I was 18 to now, when I’m 42, is through the roof,” Skelton said. “I can benefit and learn from all the younger cats. It’s got to be more than just the water. There’s some good education going on.”
There’s an education for the audiences, too. In Atlanta, there's live jazz over dinner, jazz at the High Museum of Art and Georgia Aquarium, jazz at big venues like Chastain Park, the Rialto Center for the Arts and Variety Playhouse, and youth jazz groups playing for kids and adults. There's the jazz festival's 31 Days of Jazz series that hits venues all over town and the festival itself, two days of free performances by critically acclaimed and popular artists.
“We’re not smooth jazz or cool jazz, we’re real jazz,” Camille Russell Love, director of Atlanta's Office of Cultural Affairs, said of the festival. “People who love jazz are well aware of it, and what we're trying to do with the festival is present it to people who really aren't aware. We want people to come and be turned onto jazz for the first time."
They'll do it this year through a mix of local artists like Kathleen Bertrand, audience favorites like Spyro Gyra and new takes on classics, like Marcus Miller's "Tutu Revisited, the Music of Miles Davis," with Christian Scott. Organizers say they've got no problems booking artists to play the festival -- they all want their chance on the festival stage.
"Atlanta has some of the best musicians in the world, and gospel musicians. I've been looking forward to this date for a couple of months now," said New Orleans musician Troy Andrews, better known as Trombone Shorty, who will play with Orleans Avenue on Saturday. “I heard it was great, and I should play it, and thank the Lord we got on to play it this year."
Atlanta Jazz Festival. May 29-30. Free. Piedmont Park, Atlanta. www.atlantafestivals.com .