THIRTY FIVE YEARS – THE ATLANTA JAZZ FESTIVAL
In the mid-70s a spirit of cultural renaissance swept into the city of Atlanta, coinciding with the historic election of Maynard Jackson as the cityâ€™s first African American mayor. Propelling the renaissance, Mayor Jackson established the Bureau of Cultural Affairs in 1974 at the start of his first term in office. With his second election in 1977, he put forth the idea to spotlight jazz in the city, because, as he said, â€œJazz music is Americaâ€™s only original art form, and I think Atlanta, with its growing reputation as an international center of the arts and education, has both the opportunity and the responsibility to promote an art form whose roots are indigenous to the South.â€
Mayor Jackson wanted Atlanta to become the jazz capital of the South and of the world. And he particularly wanted to make the very best of jazz music available to the citizens of Atlanta. He had formed an administration uniquely gifted for bringing his idea to reality. Michael Lomax, who went on to establish the National Black Arts Festival (NBAF) in Atlanta, had been a member of the ad-hoc committee to design the Bureau of Cultural and International Affairs and became its first director, serving from 1975-1977. When Lomax was named the Commissioner of the Department of Parks, Libraries, and Cultural Affairs, Shirley Franklin, a former dancer and an experienced fundraiser, became the next director of the bureau. These people were committed to the mayorâ€™s vision as well as to the arts.
Serendipity seemed at work when Gary Windom arrived from Compton, California, with a proposal to produce a jazz festival in Atlanta. Windom, a jazz aficionado and promoter of jazz events, found the administration welcoming and ready. Soon, an enthusiastic group of like-minded individuals began work to produce a jazz festival in the largest city in the South. Windom became the coordinator for the festival. At the first meeting he called to brainstorm about the project, only one person came. That person was Malcom Johnson, who was active in the city programming events for the independent Jazz Forum. But from there, the word got around that the city was serious about putting on a first-rate, world-class celebration of jazz. That is when people like Joe Jennings, Kole Eaton, and Ebony Dooley joined the effort, followed in subsequent years by other enthusiastic supporters such as Mitchell Feldman and Rob Gibson.
The cityâ€™s commitment was to present a free jazz festival. It would, in fact, be named The Atlanta Free Jazz Festival. The ambiguity of the title was by design, in that not only would the performances be available at no cost to the public, but the intent was to alert the public to the style of playing that would be featured, â€œfree jazzâ€â€”straight ahead, avant garde, improvisational, harmonically and rhythmically complex and beautiful. It would showcase the best performers of â€œpureâ€ jazz, or mainstream jazz, eschewing the genre-blends.
Seemingly at odds with the cityâ€™s ambition, the first festival in 1978 was produced with the modest budget of only $19,000, but with the diligent efforts of city employees and eager volunteers. Tom Cullen, the Director of the Bureau of Cultural Arts when Shirley Franklin was the Commissioner, was among those responsible for acquiring funds from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Georgia Council for the Arts. Other money came from the BCAâ€™s own budget. Half the talent budget was committed to local acts.
Windom and others approached record companies about providing acts from their labels. When Franklin and Sherman Golden, another key first year festival coordinator went to New York to meet with Labaron Taylor of CBS/Warner Brothers to discuss the festival, they ran into Taylor on the street and began negotiating for acts to play in Atlanta. Such free-wheeling pioneering was common in those days. Taylor became an early supporter of the festival. The city could offer only $150 for the group leaders and $50-$75 for each sideman. The Coca-Cola Bottling Company and Peaches record store came on as sponsors. Eastern Airlines agreed to provide transportation in exchange for being named the festivalâ€™s â€œofficial airline.â€ Local hotels provided accommodations. Capital Records, CBS Records, Philly Jazz Records, and Versatile Records agreed to send some of their best talent.
To whet the publicâ€™s appetite for the big event, Mayor Jackson proclaimed September 1978 â€œJazz Month.â€ The festival would occur during one weekend near the end of the month. The Atlanta Civic Center and Piedmont Park were booked for major performances. City staff and volunteers painted the stage set up on the park slope at 10th Street. The stage itself was auspicious, the same stage used in 1977 for the inauguration of President Jimmy Carter, former Governor of Georgia. Meanwhile, Central City Park and other venues were designated for smaller activities.
Despite the hard work of organizers and staff, two weeks before the first festival some of the record companies still had not committed the acts. Commissioner Franklin reflected Mayor Jacksonâ€™s optimism and determination by encouraging Windom and his staff to secure the commitments. Finally the companies came through. With those acts added to the local musicians, the festival had a line up of 29 acts, instantly becoming the largest free jazz festival in the country.
The festival began at 11:30 am, Thursday, September 21, 1978, with opening ceremonies at the Central City Park Amphitheater (now Woodruff Park). Sil Austin and Villi Lakatos performed soulful jazz for the expectant downtown crowd. The day progressed with jazz at Peachtree Center, clinics and seminars at the Neighborhood Arts Center on Georgia Avenue, Dixieland jazz in Underground Atlanta, and culminated that evening at the Atlantic Civic Center with the first of three â€œJazz Powerhouseâ€ concerts.
Power is precisely what listeners experienced at that first Powerhouse concert. As reported by the Atlanta Daily World, Sun Ra and his Arkestra were introduced by a representative of his label with â€œWelcome to the Space Age.â€ The paperâ€™s headline for its review of the concert reads, â€œSun Ra Sends Jazz Lovers Into Outer Space.â€ The article describes the audience â€œup in their seatsâ€ in excitement. Also on the show were Joi Tobin, described as having an â€œangelic voiceâ€ that evening, and the great Ojeda Penn Experience. The night seemed to fulfill Mayor Jacksonâ€™s intent to â€œexpose Atlantans to jazz in a manner that compliments both the art form and the city.â€
Friday morning continued the vibe with the start of more all-day events. Besides the free entertainment around the city, jazz workshops and clinics conducted by Paul Jefrey, Barry Harris, and Larry Ridley were held at Morehouse College and Georgia State University. Powerhouse Concert II began Friday afternoon, featuring the potent line up of Joe Jenningsâ€™ Lifeforce with Capitol Records artists Caldera, Gary Bartz, Raul de Souza, and Bobby Lyle.
Saturday morning featured conversations about jazz at the Civic Center. The rest of the afternoon, the Civic Center offered music from the Dave Wilson Orchestra, Clark College Jazz Band, Nickâ€™s Flamingo Grill Band, Morehouse Jazz Band, and Vinni and Doc. The evening concluded with more Dixieland Jazz in Underground with Ruby Redâ€™s Band.
Sundayâ€™s Jazz Powerhouse III kicked off at 2:00 pm at Piedmont Park, with the likes of Yikes, The Paul Mitchell Trio, and Bill Braynonâ€™s Positive Energy. Rain that day forced the music inside at the Civic Center, but the music remained hot with Philly Jazz Records artist Byard Lancaster and CBS Records artists Jean Carn, Arthur Blythe and the then 12-year-old drummer Terri Lyne Carrington continuing the Powerhouse performances.
The entire weekend greatly rewarded the efforts of the city administration and the volunteers. World-class jazz had found a home in Atlanta. A vital creation of American culture had been showcased to honor and celebrate its brilliance. And it had been made fully accessible to the citizens. Mayor Jackson declared the cityâ€™s intent to make the festival an annual event, and vowed to try to keep it free to the public.
Working with the Neighborhood Arts Center, photographer Jim Alexander discovered a path to photographically document the culture of African Americans. He regards the festival as â€œone of the best things to happen to Atlanta.â€ Like Alexander, Susan Ross, another principal and entirely volunteer photographer for the festival, regards the work as a labor of love. Ross calls the festival â€œa tremendous gift to the people of Atlanta â€“ bringing all races, faiths and classes together in a public setting for the celebration and appreciation of America’s original classical music â€“Jazz. A gift we owe to a long line of largely underpaid and overworked civil servants who have pieced together a spectacular musical quilt from scraps of money, time and creative expression, united by the vision that this music should be available to all.â€ That sentiment is echoed by Carl Anthony, a well respected on-air voice for WCLK radio. A perennial supporter of the festival, WCLK was born in 1974 and has helped in the city of Atlantaâ€™s efforts to popularize jazz in the community. Anthony, who has worked in many capacities on behalf of the festival, is proud of the event for being a â€œchampion of straight-ahead jazz,â€ noting that every time jazz musicians take the stage together, â€œhistory is being made.â€ During the 30 years between 1978 and 2007 the city of Atlanta has been a vital part of jazz history.
Tom Cullen remembers that in those early years festival organizers worked out of a fire station on Marietta Street. Shirley Franklin recalls staff entering the work place by sliding down the fire pole. The building was not air conditioned, and in the summer Franklin would take everyone who wanted to go to the King Center pool for lunch hour. â€œThat was how we stayed cool,â€ Cullen says. â€œWe stayed very coolâ€. It was an exciting period of camaraderie and cooperation, supported by the vision that African American culture in general and jazz in particular had been sidelined too long in the city and the nation, and that finally there was an administration that could bring it into the spotlight.
In 1979, the second year of the festival, the Bureau of Cultural Affairs stated that one objective for the festival was to â€œencourage the growth and development of the market for jazz music in Atlanta,â€ with the intent that the market would â€œcreate jobs and serve as an added attraction for conventions and tourists. In its maturity,â€ the statement of objectives continued, the festival â€œshould attract thousands of jazz enthusiasts from across the country,â€ increase â€œthe economic base of our city,â€ and â€œbenefit the whole community.â€ Also, the objectives reflected Mayor Jacksonâ€™s wish to found a jazz conservatory in the Atlanta. â€œWe recognize that a jazz culture needs more than an annual festival in order to thrive in Atlanta. It needs a vibrant, substantive, ongoing community of artists and programs. We also must have a commitment of the study and advancement of jazz music as an art form.â€
While the former objective views jazz as a marketable commodity that could contribute to the economic growth of Atlanta, the latter attests to the nobility of the cityâ€™s ambition regarding jazz as a cultural necessity. It was that understanding of the value of jazz music that fed the growth of the annual festival. Lamar Renford, the coordinator after Windom, points out that the Atlanta Free Jazz Festival marked the first time that many of the great jazz musicians played Atlanta, or anywhere in the South. One goal of the mayor and the bureau was to make Atlanta the place where jazz musicians want to play.
Nevertheless, in 1979 Commissioner Franklin found herself in the position of defending the budget allocated to the Department of Cultural Affairs. A poll had indicated that 90 percent of Atlanta Journal-Constitution readers who responded said that money for the department should be cut. In a reply, Franklin wrote, â€œWhere a cityâ€™s cultural life is rich and vigorous, it indicates strong civic leadership, a high degree of community pride, and abundant educational opportunities. Where a communityâ€™s cultural life is sterile, the opposite is true.â€ She wrote further that â€œwe have to make up our collective mind about whether we want to have a rich and stimulating cultural life in this city. We have to decide whether we are really serious about competing with cities like Houston, Dallas, New Orleans and San Francisco for new business and industry, for more tourists and conventioneers.â€
1979 brought 19 music acts to the festival, including Bunky Green, Bobby Hutcherson, and Eddie Harris. The festival aired on 185 radio stations via the NPR Jazz Alive series. Also, it was filmed by Georgia Educational Television and aired on television at later date. Along with the thousands who flocked to the concerts, the workshops and clinics showed the cityâ€™s commitment to the support of the music, and led to positive impressions for the artists. It might have been the sense of the city as steeped in jazz that caused a certain musician to mistake Maynard Jacksonâ€™s name on meeting him. Tom Cullen recalls that the artist met Maynard backstage. â€œThis is Maynard Jackson,â€ the musician was told. â€œGator Jackson. Whatâ€™s happeninâ€™?â€ replied the musician, shaking the mayorâ€™s hand. The mayor had acquired a jazz nickname, if only temporarily.
The decade of the 80â€™s brought the end of Jacksonâ€™s second term, and was the era of Andrew Youngâ€™s mayoral leadership. By then, the budget for the jazz festival had increased dramatically as had the corporate sponsorships. Shirley Cooks served as the Director of Cultural Affairs until 1986. Mark Johnson, who did the programming for Cooks and later also for her successor, Harriet Sanford, booked such jazz greats and legends as Carmen McRae, Art Blakey, Pharaoh Saunders, Don Cherry, Joe Williams, McCoy Tyner, Stan Getz, and Dizzy Gillespie.
Building on that legacy of excellence, 1989 was a particularly impressive year. Rob Gibson, Director of Programming from 1988-1990, booked for the city again some of the most important figures in jazz music. The program featured, among others, Jackie McClean, Joe Pass, Freddie Hubbard, Tony Williams, Ron Carter, John McLauglin, and John Faddis. The up-and-coming, much heralded trumpeter Wynton Marsalis graced the main stage at Piedmont Park for a historic performance. Gibson, who went on to found Jazz at Lincoln Center and is now Executive and Artistic Director of the Savannah Music Festival, remembers Marsalis at 29 years of age, peeking at the crowd before his show and saying, â€œMan, yâ€™all got a lot of colored people out thereâ€”thatâ€™s hip.â€ Police estimated a crowd of 40,000 people for an all-New Orleans music night, headlined by the Marsalis Septet. Also that year, seminal jazz innovator Miles Davis played to a massive throng of people in Grant Park, some 45, 000 people, with lines of traffic on the interstate trying to get to the scene. And the regal Sarah Vaughn gave one of her last performances before her death. Benny Carter, a major figure in jazz and known as â€œKingâ€ by other jazz artists, was on hand to inspire all to keep the standard high. After his performance he walked off the stage and up to Vaughn, saying, â€œItâ€™s hot up there, sweetheartâ€”youâ€™re going to need more than one box of Kleenex.â€ It was a 100-degree August night.
The 1989 and 1990 events were each three weekends long and continued the festivalâ€™s innovative spirit. For Sanford, Dizzy Gillespie provided unexpected excitement. The driver who was to pick Dizzy up from the airport did not know how to recognize him, and Dizzy wound up accepting a ride with someone not affiliated with the festival. He even went to the strangerâ€™s house to eat, and minutes before he was to go on stage, pulled up in a yellow convertible happy and full.
Enhancing the corporate relationships launched by Franklin in the 70s and Cooks in the early 80s, Sanford, Director from 1986-1991, attracted several new sponsorships for the festival, including The Stroh Brewing Company, Brown and Williamson Tobacco Company, Kool Cigarettes, Budweiser, Jazziz, Lowenbrau, M&M Products Company, Inc., Miller Brewing Company, AT&T, and Coors Brewing Company. Meanwhile, local businesses continued to support the festival, with sponsorship coming from Creative Loafing, WCLK radio, WVEE radio, 94Q Jazz Flavours, Wyndom Hotel/Midtown, Eastern Airlines, The Hyatt Regency Atlanta, the Downtown Marriott Hotel, The Radisson Inn (Howell Mill Road), and Davis Limousine Service, among others. Moreover, the Bureau maintained support from the National Endowment for the Arts and received funds from the Georgia Council for the Arts, Fulton County Arts Council, the Music Performance Trust Fund, Atlanta, and the Federation of Musicians Local 148-462. Sanford, now President and CEO of the National Education Association Foundation, also fostered the Jazz Festivalâ€™s relationship with the National Black Arts Festival.
In the 80s the dates of the festival changed, occurring on Labor Day weekend through 1983. Then, in 1984, the festival was held on Memorial Day weekend, and the word â€œfreeâ€ was dropped from the festival name. It was officially The Atlanta Jazz Festival, eliminating the allusion to a particular style of jazz. However, the music was still available at no cost to the audiences. Still, the festival continued to experiment with its identity. It was called the Atlanta Jazz Festival and Concert Series from 1985-87, and The Atlanta Jazz Series from 1988-1990. During those years, with concerts offered on multiple summer weekends, free events were in Grant and Piedmont Parks, and paid events began at Chastain Park Amphitheater.
The paid concerts at Chastain served then and serve now two purposes. One is to help raise funds for the Bureau of Cultural Affairs to continue operating at a high level of achievement. The other is to provide an elegant concert setting for some of the more venerable artists. Beginning in the late 80s and through the 90s, other concert venues were used for paid events. The Bureau booked Center Stage Theatre, 14th Street Playhouse, and Variety Playhouse. Meanwhile, Rich Auditorium at the High Museum was used for jazz workshops and lectures, and various clubs and hotels became the sites for late-night jam sessions. The city was given greater opportunities and a variety of settings in which to hear and learn about jazz music.
The festival has brought together a cross section of young and mature musical talent, helping to keep the music alive and growing. Indeed, in the 90s, many younger musicians joined the line up with members of the old guard. For example, in 1991, relatively new group Spyro Gyra joined the programming with the legendary Sonny Rollins, while Bob James, who had played a major role in turning fusion jazz more mainstream, performed the same festival as soul-jazz organist Charles Earland. Similarly, newcomers Gary Motley, Cassandra Wilson, and Christian McBride shared attention with Freddie Hubbard, Nat Adderly, and Joe Sample.
These programming innovations occurred during Maynard Jacksonâ€™s return for his third term as mayor (1989-1993) and during the first term of Mayor Bill Campbell (1994-1997). The city saw an incredible wealth of jazz talent, including vocalists Jon Lucien, Flora Purim, Jimmy Scott, and Dee Dee Bridgewater, and superior instrumentalists Terrance Blanchard, Ravi Coltrane, Chuck Magione, Kenny Garrett, and Charles Lloyd. Carl Anthony observes that the musicians want to play the festival because they know that they will be in great company and before audiences that respect the art. â€œWithout the Jazz Festival,â€ Anthony says, â€œwhen would we see them?â€ John Armwood, who worked as coordinator of the educational component of the festival from 1998-90â€”arranging lectures, films, and panel discussions about jazzâ€”followed Gibson as Program director. Amid the changing styles of jazz being played at the festival, his effort was to reserve the free events in the parks for classical mainstream jazz, while the newer venues hosted groups performing so-called â€œsmoothâ€ jazz. He also set up jam sessions at the Penta Hotel, established a jazz dance contest (improvisational dancing to improvisational music) held at Center Stage on Friday night of the festival weekend, and presented a formal jazz dance at the Penta hotel on Saturday night. Working for both the Office of Cultural Affairs and WCLK radioâ€”â€œThe Jazz of the Cityâ€â€”Armwood facilitated the stationâ€™s broadcasting of the festival live from Piedmont Park.
Several radio stations in Atlanta maintained a relationship with the festival. On-air personalities like Armwood, Anthony, Phil Clore, and H. Johnson worked as staff or masters of ceremonies for festival events. Stations that played jazz music, WCLK, WRFG, WREK, Jazz Flavors, and WABE, were either sponsors or media promoters of the festival activities. Another jazz radio personality Ernest Gregory, has been a perennial master of ceremonies for the free festival, his deep, welcoming voice an expected constant of the festival, introducing musicians and dignitaries, thanking sponsors, and warmly bridging the gaps between performances.
The first year of the new millennium, 2000, was the third year of Camille Russell Loveâ€™s tenure as Director of Cultural Affairs. That year brought to town Dr. Billy Taylorâ€™s Jazz From the Kennedy Center, Regina Carter, Steve Turre, Tuck & Patti, Cassandra Wilson, T.S. Monk, Freddy Cole, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Cyrus Chestnut, Herbie Hancock, and Nina Simone among the 34 acts to play during the festival. Nearing the end of his second term as mayor, Bill Campbell was as excited as any fan to witness one of his particular favorites, Ms. Simone. As reported by the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Campbell claimed he was â€œa little tongue-tiedâ€ on meeting her: â€œItâ€™s been a very spiritual weekend for me.â€
Spiritual openness might be one effect of the festival on the populace of Atlanta, long known as the city â€œtoo busy to hate.â€ During the jazz festival, the city is having too much fun to hate. As Jim Alexander points out, the festival and the period leading up to it boost the morale of the city. Phil Clore remarks on the beauty of people gathering in a mood of unity to listen to great music. And each administration over the years has endorsed a theory held by Shirley Franklin and Maynard Jackson, that the festival increases the cultural pride of Atlanta.
Atlanta is fortunate to have had a succession of city administrations that love and value jazz music. Besides the cityâ€™s mayors, many people have contributed to fostering those positive values. Included with the people named above, a long list of visionary women and men, united by the belief that jazz music should be available to all, have worked to pull the festival together. Among them are Rob Rivers, Munson Steed, Gail Centini, and Barbara Bowser.
It seems fitting that on the 30th anniversary of the festival Atlantaâ€™s mayor is Shirley Franklin, who was vital to the origin of the festival, transforming Maynard Jacksonâ€™s dream of making Atlanta an important city for jazz into reality. Although Jacksonâ€™s vision for a jazz conservatory has yet to be realized, the last decade has brought to fruition many effects that a conservatory would foster. Resulting from the energy and creativity of Director Love, the Memorial Day festival has been augmented by a 31-day schedule of events, known as 31 Days of Jazz. Says Love, â€œWe are proud to present a collection of events that appeal collectively to the jazz aficionado, the young enthusiast, and the aspiring musician.â€ Love found ways to present the festival during years when there was virtually no city money. Her dedicated staff include Alonzo Craig, Performing Arts Program Manager; Valarie Benning-Barney, Project Supervisor for Sponsorship and Marketing; and Nnena Nchege, Project Supervisor for Logistics & 31 Days of Jazz, as well as consultants Lorenzo Callahan, Jr., Yashica Weeks, Trina Logan, Erik Scott and Twana Rigsby.
The 2007 activities included the Nightlife Series, which offered performances at nightclubs throughout the metro Atlanta area; Jazz, Etc. showcased special concerts and events around the city at locations such as the Rialto Theater; Eclectic Jazz featured jazz in diverse places including Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport; and Dinner and Jazz, a collection of restaurants in the metro Atlanta area that featured jazz as a part of the dinning experience. The â€œFuture of Jazzâ€ competition which boasted jazz bands using original compositions has occurred during the Memorial Day weekend festival as well as Churchill Grounds and the Buckhead BlueRoom. Other activities included the Lunchtime Jazz Series, the Soulful Sounds of the City Concert Series at Chastain Amphitheatre and the late night jazz jam sessions at the downtown Renaissance Hotel and the Underground Atlanta.
A very important component of the month-long activities was the education focus. As with the very first festival, the city provided workshops, now known as the â€œJazz Education and Workshop Seriesâ€, and featured master classes, artistâ€™s interviews, and roundtable discussions with jazz legends during the â€œWeekend Concert Series.â€ In 2007, the festival initiated the Reel Jazz Film Series, similar to programs spotlighted years before. Since 2002 the â€œYouth Jazz Band Competition,â€ presented by the Bureau and WCLK, has brought together area middle and high school jazz bands to compete for a chance to perform first on the days of the weekend series. And to leave no age group out during the weekend concerts, the â€œKidZoneâ€ at Piedmont Park offered family-oriented activities such as games, art, puppeteers and more.
Festival planners have always known that turning children on to jazz is the key to its future. With its goal to promote the greater appreciation of the art form, the Atlanta Jazz Festival has served as a model for other initiatives to preserve and develop the culture of jazz. For example, inspired by Maynard Jacksonâ€™s championing of jazz, Clore has co-founded the Southeastern Organization for Jazz Arts (SOJA) which, among other things, brings jazz to elementary schools, Larry Ridley, an early leader of Atlanta Jazz Festival workshops, established the African-American Jazz Caucus as part of the International Association of Jazz Educators, and Jim Alexander and Ridley have helped establish a jazz research institute at North Carolina Central University. Gibson, Sanford, Armwood, and others associated with the festival have used their experience and passion to promote jazz and other arts around the country.
The festival continues to be the largest free jazz festival in the nation. It attracts visitors from far and wide, and attracts jazz performers from around the globe. To be sure, a recent feature of the festivals has been a concentration on Latin jazz. In 2003, the festival hosted New York-born Eddie Palmeri performing the music of Puerto Rico, as well as Afro-Cuban style percussionist Bobby Sanabria Y Ascension, and in 2005 the festival starred Puerto Rico-born and Latin Grammy winner Nestor Torres, The Tito Puente Jr. Orchestra, and the Latin Jazz All-Stars. Another point of attention has been on female performers. Recent festivals have cooked with the sounds Carmen Lundy, the Geri Allen Trio, RenÃ© Marie, Nnenna Freelon, the Gwen Hughes Trio, Nefertari Bey, Vanessa Rubin, Lizz Wright, The Takana Miyamoto Milkshake Quartet, Julie Dexter, and Kathleen Bertrand, among many others.
Many of the jazz greats who have played the Atlanta Jazz Festival have since died. But attendants to the festival will long remember the performances of Mary Lou Williams, Shirley Horn, Carmen McRae, Sun Ra, Joe Williams, Duke Pearson, Betty Carter, Chet Baker, Dexter Gordon, Bill Braynon, Miles Davis, and Paul Mitchell, just to name a few. However, Camille Love has made it a priority to bring together the â€œold headsâ€ and the â€œyoung turksâ€ in order to keep the flame of jazz music burning, to keep jazz alive in the city and the world. Local and international great Freddie Cole says, â€œCamille has done a wonderful job in her regime, providing a good mix of the new talent and the old.â€
Alonzo Craig, the festival manager since 2003, has contributed to bringing many of those acts to the city. Among the performers he has booked were the Heath Brothers, Ahmad Jamal, Donald Byrd, Sonny Fortune, Grady Tate, and Carmen Lundy. He especially remembers the 2004 year that he booked. The acts included The Heath Brothers, who hail from his hometown of Wilmington, NC and who his father admired. 2004 also, hosted the great Shirley Horn for one of her last performances. It is because of such exciting experiences that Cole says of the festival, â€œPeople look forward to the festival every year.â€ Among the people who look forward to the festival each year are local musicians such as Ojeda Penn who has played the festival more than 14 times, and Penn acknowledges that the festival has contributed greatly to his growth as a musician. He is among the more than 650 jazz acts that have graced the city with their gifts.
The 30th Atlanta Jazz Festival, May 26-28, 2007, was kicked off at the preview party held at the Atlanta Civic Center, April 9, 2007. Mayor Franklin spoke enthusiastically about her memories of and love for the festival, noting that it is â€œone of the cityâ€™s proudest traditions.â€ Franklin noted that this yearsâ€™ festival will enliven the city as a result of the hardworking Department of Cultural Affairs as well as and the passionate labor of many volunteers, dubbed â€œJazzteersâ€ by one of the festival producers – Nnena Nchege in 2005.
On display at the preview party was the 2007 Atlanta Jazz Festival Poster, a musical swirl of pale greens and muted golds against a rich purple ground. The caption reads, â€œCelebrating 30 Years of Presenting Jazz Excellence.â€ Visual imagery has been linked to the music of the festival from the start. To commemorate the 30th Anniversary of the festival, an exhibition was curated by Freddie Styles entitled, A 30 Year Retrospective: The Atlanta Jazz Festival In Photographs. The exhibit showcased the rich history of the festival through the eyes of six Atlanta photographers: Jim Alexander, Sue Ross, Michael Reece, Sheila Pree Bright, Julie Yarbrough and Eric Waters. The exhibition included memorabilia as well as a display of the official artistic posters from each year of the festival.
Graphic artist Mark Lassister designed the original look of the 1978 festival, including the â€œskylineâ€ Jazz Festival backdrop for the stage. The festival posters have alternated over the years between the work of fine artists such as Romare Bearden, Louis Delsarte, and Maurice Evans to commercial posters produced by the marketing departments of sponsors. Each yearâ€™s festival image has become as anticipated as the musicians, with many festival-goers looking forward to framing the poster and to wearing the T-shirt bearing the graphic image. In 2002, the city produced a exhibit of commemorative posters to mark the 25th anniversary of the festival.
The Atlanta Jazz Festival in 2007 continued its longstanding tradition of featuring the best in jazz including a grown-up Terri Lyne Carrington, ageless Herbie Hancock, young Mike Phillips, the Laws Family Reunion with Ronnie, Debra and Eloise Laws, Bobby Hutcherson, and the Pete Escovedo Orchestra featuring Sheila E., Ray Vega, Steve Turre, and Juan Escovedo and others. And as Mayor Franklin says, â€œthe city witnessed the finest in jazzâ€ the world has to offer.
John Holman, 2007
Complied for the commemorative coffee table book in 2007