On Saturday morning, locals attending the annual Savannah Antiques and Architecture show came to Cranmer Hall to hear Coastal Jazz Association director Paula Fogarty and local jazz legend Teddy Adams give a lecture presentation on Savannah and its participation in the jazz scene throughout the years.
Teddy Adams, playing trombone, and Bill Smith, playing guitar, entertained attendees entering the hall for the lecture. An antique appraisal was also being held in the vestry just below the lecture event as part of the Savannah Antiques and Architecture weekend event.
The event was very well-attended; audience members listened as Fogarty and Adams discussed the rich jazz history of Savannah while highlighting Adams’ experience as a musician in the area having encountered many greats who came to perform throughout the decades.
Adams began the lecture by saying, “Someone asked the great Louis Armstrong, ‘What is jazz anyway?’ to which Armstrong replied, ‘If you have to ask, you’ll never know.’” The musician said that to him jazz was many different things, each an expression of the human experience. He invited audience members to express what jazz meant to them, evoking comments such as, “Jazz swings!”, “It’s a bridge between cultures”, “It’s improvisation”, and more.
Audience members asked Adams a variety of questions throughout the lecture, including how the segregation between Caucasians and African Americans affected the jazz scene.
“White musicians and black musicians played together all the time and never had any problems,” Adams explained. He did go on to explain, however, that though the bandstands and performance stages were not segregated, the dance floor and clubs themselves were a different matter.
Dr. Charles Elmore, jazz historian, journalist and professor at Savannah State University, wrote in his book All That Savannah Jazz: From Brass Bands, Vaudeville, to Rhythm and Blues, “Jazz is just as comfortable in a brothel as it is in the church.”
Fogarty expounded on Elmore saying, “Jazz was just as big in Savannah as it was on Tybrisa Pier.” Fogarty also added that Tybee was known to be a very white-centric venue for jazz as well, even though many of the great African-American jazz performers such as Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, and many others came to the bandstand.
“Anybody of note who had a big band came through Savannah,” Adams said. He also addressed the black jazz clubs of Savannah such as Flamingo Club, Coconut Grove, Lincoln Inn, and the like saying how the most popular and successful jazz clubs were often black owned and operated. The Flamingo Club was one of Savannah’s largest black clubs where Adams watched a performance of the Duke Ellington band as a young man.