On a beautiful Sunday afternoon under blue skies, where a nice breeze swayed the Spanish Moss hanging from the Live Oak trees, Wright Square filled with locals and visitors to Savannah who swayed and swung to the fourth annual Friends of Ben Tucker Jazz Jam. When listening to the words of those who participated, one learns how important Ben was to the city. Friends of Ben Tucker Chairperson Barbara Essig welcomed the band and audience, and highlighted the many facets that defined one of Savannah’s true leaders.
Essig had these words to say as she remembered Ben Tucker, “If you are new to Savannah or visiting and may have never heard of this extraordinary individual. Ben Tucker never met a stranger. Mr. Tucker was a successful musician, businessman, community champion and leader. The one threads the run through his many accomplishments was is his commitment and determination to improve Savannah’s community. He was born in Knoxville Tennessee, and made Savannah his home for over 40 years. Tucker was a community leader who worked tirelessly to bridge gaps in business, races, genders, and those of differences in society.
Mr. Tucker had many different talents and gifts, the one that stood out the most is his gift of service through music”. Ben Tucker was a man of many virtues — a creator and innovator, a businessman, a loving husband and father, philanthropist, golfer (and founder of the local chapter of First Tee, the youth-sportsmanship program in Savannah), and, of course, a jazz musician and composer.
His beautiful and dedicated wife Gloria Tucker summed up Ben’s love for bringing people together, “he’s always loved these kind of concerts, that originated with the Telfair Jazz Society back in the 70’s. They were extremely important to Ben.” Claire Frazier, jazz vocalist, who often played with Ben, entertained the audience with favorites that kicked off with Thelonious Monk’s tribute to Bud Powell In Walked Bud, and included other standards in her set such as On Green Dolphin Street, Ellington’s Satin Doll and In A Melllow Tone. One of her crowd pleasers, Besome Mucho was dedicated to Gloria Tucker, whose appreciation was evident as she got up to dance carrying the crowd with her in spirit.
Frazier noted that Ben’s legacy, “has to do with the people here in Savannah. We should always remember Ben,” Frazier said, “ he was a fixture in the town, and connected everyone through his music, through his talent and through his time.” Howard Paul, a member of the Coastal Jazz Hall of Fame— that Ben Tucker and fellow Hall of Fame musician Teddy Adams, and Tom Glaser helped found over 35 years ago — is the current Chairman of the Board of the Coastal Jazz Association, and President and CEO of Benedetto Guitars. Paul said, “We honor Ben because he was one of the founding members of the modern jazz era in Savannah. His presence and connections really made Savannah a focal point of jazz, recognized around the county.”
The Savannah Jazz Festival — a free city-wide program will take place again this year, September 17-23rd at venues throughout the city, culminating in three days and nights in Forsythe Park.
Howard Paul was joined on stage by Teddy Adams who said, “Ben was vital. He was very involved in the resurgence of jazz in Savannah. Savannah’s legacy in jazz was almost at its demise before Ben got here.” Adams noted how, with encouragement, Ben brought his bass, affectionately named ‘Bertha’ back from New York, and began to bring the music back to Savannah, beginning with the emergence of the Telfair Jazz Society, where they both played, back in the 70’s. Tucker also opened a jazz venue, Hard Hearted Hannah’s, which existed at three locations across the city.