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Pharaoh Sanders made his mark playing with John Coltrane.

Pharaoh Sanders made his mark playing with John Coltrane.

Septuagenarian saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, who spent his nascent years performing with John Coltrane before developing his own avant-garde-tinged style, tops the list of headliners at the 2015 Atlanta Jazz Festival.

Vocalist Diane Schuur and New York City–based the Rad Trads are also among the first three artists announced for the festival, which will be held May 22 to 24 in Piedmont Park. Schuur last appeared at the festival in 2010, and Sanders brought his quartet to Piedmont in 2003.

A festival representative said additional artists could be announced as early as next week. Mayor Kasim Reed will announce the full lineup during an April press conference. 

The Office of Cultural Affairs, which puts on the annual festival, is bringing at least one treasured jazz musician — and Atlanta Jazz Festival veteran — to the stage for the second consecutive year. Schuur and Sanders follow last year’s booking of legendary pianist Ahmad Jamal, who also appeared at the event in 2004. 

Historically, the festival has focused on booking a number of notable, aging artists, but soon after the 2006 booking of Donald Byrd, Barry Harris and McCoy Tyner, among others, the event weathered a well-publicized drop-off in big-name acts

It has taken a few years for the festival to reach its prior booking status (the phenomenal 2013 festival seemed more about up-and-coming acts, with the singer Cecile McLorin Salvant, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and pianist Aaron Diehl among the highlights), but for most intents and purposes, the lineups seem to have regained their former glory.  

On the other hand, Atlanta’s local artists have had a shaky relationship with the festival. After a mostly all-local event in 2008 at Woodruff Park, the festival, for the most part, has seemed to shift its goal toward more national acts at the expense of Atlanta-based players. 

In 2013, guitarist Jacob Deaton benefited from a spot on the main stage, and singer Kemba Cofield was among a few other local artists to perform that year. This year, according to a press release, festival organizers promise “spicy stylings of some of Atlanta’s hottest local musicians.”

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