Coastal Jazz Association Developing Savannah Jazz History Exhibit

Eyewitnesses to Early Jazz Scene

Jazz Legend Ben Tucker
Jazz Legend Ben Tucker

It has been discovered that there are still living eyewitnesses to Savannah’s storied jazz history from the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s, and they will now have the opportunity to share their memories as part of the Savannah Jazz History Exhibit under development. Two video sessions are being arranged—one to be held on the former West Broad St. (now MLK Blvd.), epicenter of the African American jazz scene and the other at Tybee Island where white Savannahians danced to the popular jazz of the day at the famed Tybrisa Pavillion. The edited videos will be incorporated into the museum exhibit that will highlight these important eras and locales when jazz was king in the Coastal Empire.

Area residents who participated in Savannah’s early jazz are encouraged to share their memories at the video sessions planned for early November. “We want to gather you with others to discuss this seminal period, gain a greater understanding of those days, and preserve them for the next generations,” said Tom Glaser, board member of the Coastal Jazz Association and chair of the Savannah Jazz History Exhibit Committee.

Savannah has a rich jazz history, and the Coastal Jazz Association is developing a dynamic, interactive exhibit to tell this important story. To be housed downtown, the exhibit is being designed to immerse locals and tourists alike in anunforgettable experience full of music, people, and the sights and sounds of jazz in our community.Like its better known neighbor- –New Orleans—Savannah was one of jazz’s birthplaces and has been a leading center of the art form through its noted composers, performers, venues, festivals, media, and businesses since the 1920s. Deeply rooted in African traditions, Savannah jazz has evolved through brass bands, vaudeville, blues, big band, combos, and orchestras to take its place in our nation’s jazz pantheon. Following its near demise in 1960 resulting from the ascendency of rhythm ‘n blues and rock ‘n roll, Savannah jazz was reborn in the late 1970s by

The coastal Jazz Association, and today, is one of the areas must respected art forms enjoyed by visitors and residence, black and white, young and old, alike.The exhibit will be housed in the Savannah History Museum, operated by the Coastal Heritage Society, behind the Visitor’s Center in downtown. Utilizing a combination of artifacts, displays, and interactive multimedia, it will illustrate Savannah’s storied jazz history from its inception to today. A key component is the Coastal Jazz Association’s Savannah Jazz Hall of Fame, now totaling 35 inductees who represent a who’s who in the jazz world. The biographies, visuals about their lives, music, and contributions to jazz will clearly establish

Savannah’s place as a major center for the art form. From Joe “King” Oliver, Louis Armstrong’s mentor—to Johnny Mercer, Savannah’s famed composer and vocalist—to acclaimed bassist and composer Ben Tucker, who led the jazz revival from the 70s—the Jazz Hall of Fame will draw visitors into the exhibit and give them an understanding of the legends of Savannah jazz.The exhibit (up to 1,300 sq. ft. available) will focus on the evolution of jazz in Savannah from its earliest incarnations to the present. It will display visuals of the venues on West Broad Street (now MLK Blvd.), home to theaters and clubs that were meccas in the African American musical tradition to Tybrisa, the legendary dance hall on Tybee Island that hosted the top big bands of the day, black and white. Artifacts on display are planned to include Ben Tucker’s historic bass violin, Jabbo Smith’s trumpet mouthpiece, a Benedetto jazz guitar handcrafted at its Savannah headquarters, photos and posters from CJA’s acclaimed concerts and festivals, and news articles, recordings and videos of the legends who performed in Savannah. It is estimated that cost for equipment and to construct and display the exhibit will be in the range of $50,000 to $75,000. Most items in the exhibit will be contributed or donated. Coastal Heritage Society’s expertise is being utilized, and the Friends of Ben organization has included the exhibit as a priority project to be funded.

“As one of the co-founders and first president of CJA, I am very excited to be leading this important project,” said Tom Glaser, who retired back to Savannah in 2015 and re-joined the board. Those interested in the video sessions or as volunteers for the project are urged to contact Glaser at or by calling 404-694- 4731.

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