Articles: Savannah Jazz Festival coverage

I wrote the Savannah Jazz Festival coverage for The Guide, the weekly entertainment magazine on Hilton Head Island. Here’s are the links, along with the full text of all three stories:

Full articles follow…

John Lee Hooker Jr. keeps name alive
Special to the Guide
Published Thursday, September 13, 2007

His name is the musical equivalent of JFK Jr., and he’s chosen a career in the same field as his father: the blues.

So has it been a blessing or a curse for John Lee Hooker Jr., to walk through life with his famous name?

“I have been blessed by God to carry such a great name and legacy,” said Hooker, who’ll be in Savannah on Sept. 27 for this year’s Savannah Jazz Festival. “My career has been blessed as well, but I had better be authentic and real carrying the Hooker name, or I’d have to duck the eggs and tomatoes.”

He hasn’t been ducking much food these days. His first album, “Blues With A Vengeance,” was nominated for a Grammy in 2005 in the Traditional Blues category. That same year, he won the W.C. Handy Award for Best New Artist Debut.

“Like Lou Rawls sang, ‘It was a very good year,’ ” Hooker said. “We also won Comeback Artist of the Year, as well as Best Traditional Blues” at the California Music Awards.

It wasn’t a guaranteed path to glory for John Lee Hooker Jr. He got off to a strong start, performing with his dad in his early teens and recording his first album alongside his father at 18 years old.

“It was awesome!” he said of seeing crowds react to his father. “Watching all those people yell and girls scream, I almost thought they were doing it because of me. At least I pretended they were. It was great to see how he could command attention. He, in his performances, was hypnotic.”


But the musician’s life came with more than applause and bus rides. According to Hooker’s biography, “drugs, alcohol, divorce, incarceration, and death” kept him off stages and in trouble for more than two decades. So how did he get back on track?

“Well, when you don’t have any strength, then you ask the giver of strength to give you some. So I asked God and he provided,” Hooker said. Now his career is humming along again. Hooker has shared the stage with a juke-joint-full of classic blues artists, including A-listers such as B.B. King, Johnny and Edgar Winter, Lucky Peterson, Bo Diddley, Charlie Musselwhite, Koko Taylor, Johnny Johnson and Elvin Bishop. “People are starving for good blues,” Hooker said. “No barriers are in front of the stages. The blues, it’s like a souvenir, an autograph from a big-shot celebrity. It is, as it were, invaluable to hear this blues coming from the other side of the world.”

Hooker’s second album, “Cold As Ice,” is receiving the same sunny reviews as his first record. He said he wants the disc “to reach every ethnicity, color, creed, (age), sexuality — all people of all walks of life. Everybody’s got something in this album.”

Hooker’s set kicks of at 9:30 p.m. in Forsyth Park during the Savannah Jazz Festival. For those who plan to attend, he has this warning: “Expect lots of fun, dancing, hand-clapping and singing along,” said Hooker. “But I must ask that you warn the people to not get too close to the stage. It is highly possible that if they do, they will get burnt by some of the hot grease that will be descending from the platform. Unless they are wearing grease-repellant pantyhose or jeans, I would advise that they stand their distance. The people are about to ‘cook with the hook.'”

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Savannah bassist Tucker is living jazz history
Special to the Guide
Published Thursday, September 13, 2007

There’s a giant living in Savannah.

No, not the kind with a magical harp and a doubloon-laying goose — a musical giant. He plays the bass, and his name is Ben Tucker.

Check out the liner notes of classic albums by saxophonist Art Pepper, guitarists Kenny Burrell and Grant Green or pianists Sir Roland Hanna, Joe Zawinul and Teddy Edwards, and you’ll find the bass chair filled by Savannah’s Tucker. His tales from the stage and studio read like a jazz history book.

Tucker on Pepper: “I met Art Pepper in L.A. after playing in and around various jam sessions. After he heard me play, he wanted me to be part of his quartet. He became my mentor, whether he knew it or not. It was purely improvisational, and it worked. And that’s what jazz is all about.”

On Grant Green: “Grant Green is one of the most underrated guitarists. He couldn’t read music, but when he heard it, it was in his mind, heart, body and soul. The music he created was like pure mountain air that regenerated the soul of man. I recall when Grant Green first hit New York that we ended up in the studio and recorded for days and days and days. He was the talk of New York City at that time. One of the greatest recordings of Grant Green is the Dave Bailey album ‘Two Feet in the Gutter.’ It was greatly underrated.”

Tucker, who’ll perform Sept. 26 as part of the Savannah Jazz Festival, has lived in Savannah ever since leaving New York City in the 1970s. He said he came to “start a new career in radio when I bought radio station WSOK. I bought the station with (jazz pianist and educator Dr.) Billy Taylor and Doug Pugh. We felt very strongly that African-Americans were not receiving the best in programming, including music, news (and) talk radio on topics of health, education, and political issues.”

Tucker soon moved from radio entrepreneur to club owner. “The club was called Hard-Hearted Hannah’s and it was started by my wife, Gloria, and I in City Market,” said Tucker. “It became the top jazz club in the Southeast, so much so that a couple of movies were shot there, one with Wayne Shorter playing tenor saxophone.”

Tucker’s third club location was Hannah’s East. He says there are advantages to having your own place.

“The advantage of being a jazz musician was that we were able to put together a club with great ambience, atmosphere and acoustics,” Tucker said. “The staff was musically in tune to creative music being performed When Clint Eastwood filmed ‘Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil’ in Savannah, Hannah’s hosted a party for him. He was mesmerized by the music, the ambience and the quality of the club.”

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Savannah Jazz Festival schedule of events
Special to the Guide
Published Thursday, September 13, 2007

Lately it seems like every town with more than one stoplight has a jazz festival. They vary in length, number of venues, cost and, sadly, jazz content. Yet Savannah can hold its head high, because the 2007 Savannah Jazz Festival has plenty of jazz by some of the music’s greatest living practitioners. Oh, and it’s all free.

Sept. 26: Jazz Goes South

The festival kicks off at a new venue — Armstrong Atlantic State University — and the newest generation of jazz musicians: the Savannah Arts Academy Skyelite Jazz Band, which takes the stage at 7 p.m. Following the Skyelite crew at 8:15 p.m. is One Leg Up, a quintet that brings back the “gypsy jazz” sound popularized by guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s. Savannah resident’s bass master, Ben Tucker, has played with everyone from Art Pepper to Grant Green to Bob Dorough (the creator of Schoolhouse Rock). Tucker brings a strong band, featuring vocalist Lynn Roberts, to round out a swinging evening at 9:30 p.m.

Sept. 27: Blues Under The Stars

On Thursday, the music moves to Forsyth Park, where it remains for the rest of the festival. The festival gets its blues on, too, starting with Savannah’s Eric Culberson and his fiery guitar at 7 p.m.

At 8:15 p.m., the spotlight shifts to South Carolina, as Columbia-based Elliott and the Untouchables show why they’ve opened for Van Morrison. His father’s name is synonymous with the blues, but John Lee Hooker Jr., is his own man. See how strong DNA turns out to be when Hooker “cooks with the hook” at 9:30 p.m.

Sept. 28: Smooth And Saxy

Don’t let the night’s theme fool you: “Smooth and Saxy” may sound like a ringtone, but there’s more than enough of the real thing to keep purists happy, and enough accessible melody to bring in new fans, too. It’s hard to know what to say about a band that’s opened for both the Beach Boys and Public Enemy, but Between 9 & 7 will let their music do the talking in Forsyth Park at 7 p.m.

The soprano saxophone gets a bad rap because of one Mr. Gorelick, but it’s important to remember that John Coltrane and Steve Lacy played it, too. Soprano saxophonist Dee Lucas is making a name for himself outside his native Atlanta, having performed with everyone from Hugh Masekela to five-time Grammy-nominated singer Nneena Freelon. His set starts at 8:15 p.m.

At 9:30 p.m., one of jazz’s longest-lasting ensembles comes to Savannah. Yellowjackets (no “the,” please) features saxophonist Bob Mintzer, bassist Jimmy Haslip, pianist Russell Ferrante and drummer Marcus Baylor — each a respected player in his own right. For this performance, they’ll add saxophonist Eric Marienthal, best known for his years with Chick Corea.

Sept. 29: Beautiful City, Beautiful Music

On Saturday, Forsyth Park is the place to be for fans of hard-swinging, smart, in-the-pocket, root-to-the-fruit jazz.

To start with, there are piano players and there are piano players. In the latter category of musicians who’ve brought new life and intelligence to the instrument is Kenny Barron, who plays at 7 p.m. Any chance to see Barron is a chance worth taking, but this is a must-see gig, as it pairs him with drummer Ben Riley, longtime musical companion of Thelonious Monk. Barron and Riley go way back, having played in the ’70s and ’80s with bassist Ron Carter.

Are there any John Coltrane fans in the house? Stick around after the Barron/Riley show, because drummer Rashied Ali brings the noise to the park at 8:15 p.m. This is a rare opportunity to see Ali, who seldom performs outside New York City. Ali replaced Elvin Jones as Coltrane’s drummer during the latter stages of the saxophonist’s career, appearing on Coltrane’s final recordings, “Olatunji Concert” and “Interstellar Space.”

At 9:30 p.m., one of today’s top saxophonists takes the stage: Vincent Herring will join the Savannah Jazz Orchestra, a 16-piece band co-led by Randall Reese and Teddy Adams.

Also, each night during the festival, head over to Kokopelli’s at 107 W. Broughton St. for the After Festival Jam Session. You never know who might show up. The jam session starts at 11 p.m. each night.

Author: Jason Crane