“Jazz washes away the dust of everyday life,” legendary drummer Art Blakey once said. Everyday life, in Atlanta, these past several months have been decidedly dusty, what with the pandemic shutting down many of the city’s arts and cultural events. Though the delta variant surges, the vaccine is an equalizer and Atlanta’s cultural institutions are eager to present their work live again. The Atlanta Jazz Festival is one of those entities. After having to cancel last year’s festival, the Atlanta Jazz Festival is back this weekend with live and live-streamed events to wash away the dust.
“After a year off, we are incredibly excited to return to Piedmont Park and showcase a range of talent,” said Camille Russell Love, executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs. “There is no other jazz festival quite like this one we produce in Atlanta.” The festival takes place on Sunday and Monday at Atlanta’s iconic Piedmont Park. It is the largest free jazz festival in the country.
“Music is best delivered and appreciated live and having the opportunity to have both this year is valuable,” Love says. The festival plans to deliver on two stages and one digital stage. On the Meadow and Oak Stages, such acts as Karla Harris, Ryan Kilgore, Jazzmeia Horn, Patti Austin, Isaiah Sharkey and more will perform. Love is most excited about Ron Carter and Archie Shepp on this year’s lineup. “They are both legends and educators,” she says.
This year, for the first time ever, Meadow Stage performances will be livestreamed to jazz fans across the globe through a new partnership with Qwest TV. For those who can’t attend, or opt not to as a precaution against Covid, Qwest TV is offering jazz fans one month of free access to its platform.
Additionally, the festival is offering free Jazz 101 workshops, led by such luminaries as saxophonists Mike Phillips and Miguel Zenon, trumpeter Sean Jones and others. With a Kid Zone, food and beverage options throughout the park, the festival will certainly make Art Blakey proud — helping clean away our last year’s troubles with music.
This year’s highlights include:
A true legend, double bassist Ron Carter is the most-recorded jazz bassist in history. The recipient of two Grammy Awards, he’s been on such records as Eric Dolphy’s Out There (1961), Don Ellis’s How Time Passes (1960), Miles Davis’s E.S.P. (1965) (Carter played in Davis’s group from 1963-1968) and Roberta Flack’s album First Take (1969). He has played with everyone from Cannonball Adderly to Billy Joel. He is also a Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the City College of New York, where he taught for two decades. Carter was elected to the Downbeat Jazz Hall of Fame in 2012.
Look up “avant-garde jazz” in the dictionary and, quite possibly, there will be a photo of Archie Shepp playing his saxophone. Since the 1960s he has been a leader in the movement, playing improvisationally between the written and the spontaneous. With his most recent album, Let My People Go, he plays alongside pianist Jason Moran. There have been plenty of other Shepp records. Take, for instance, John Coltrane’s Ascension (1965) and a 1965 record he split with Coltrane called New Thing at Newport (Coltrane was on the first side, Shepp on the second). Shepp participated in arguably jazz’s finest album, Coltrane’s A Love Supreme (1964), though Shepp’s takes weren’t included in the final LP release. Much of his music has explored African roots and has also been politically inspired. Additionally, he was a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst for 30 years, and is a poet and playwright.
Trumpeter Sean Jones’s first introductions to music came by way of his hometown church in Warren, Ohio. It was in the pews that he sang and performed as part of the church choir. By the age of 10 he took up the trumpet and has not looked back. It took him only months with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra before Wynton Marsalis offered him as lead trumpeter of the ensemble. He held the post from 2004 to 2010. In 2015, Jones became a member of the famed SFJAZZ Collective. He’s been featured prominently in recordings and performances with such greats as Illinois Jacquet, Jimmy Heath, and Dianne Reeves. He was on the 2007 Grammy Award-winning album Turned to Blue by Nancy Wilson. His most recent album is 2017’s Live From Jazz at the Bistro, an album written with Art Blakey and John Coltrane in mind.
Patti Austin was touched at birth with the gift of jazz. Her father, Gordon Austin, was a jazz trombonist, playing with greats like Billy Eckstine and Fletcher Henderson. Her godparents are Quincy Jones and Dinah Washington. Sammy Davis Jr. taught her how to dance a little. By the age of four, she was appearing at the Apollo. By 1969 she had an R&B hit with “Family Tree.” She sang backing vocals on Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” She sang a duet with Michael Jackson on his Off the Wall album. She sang a duet with George Benson on “Moody’s Mood for Love.” A song she sang with James Ingram, “Baby, Come to Me,” became a number 1 hit on the Billboard magazine pop chart. With Avant Gershwin (2008), she won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album.