Atlanta Jazz in the Time of Quarantine

Updated: Jul 14, 2020



Karla Harris' Band Performed Virtually at ATL Jazz Fest

This is a dark time for many people around the world, but especially for jazz musicians. This thought crystallized this morning when I read an amazing article about the bassist and educator Reggie Workman in Vulture. You can find the article here. Workman is a legendary bassist who has performed with Art Blakey, John Coltrane, Abby Lincoln, Max Roach and a host of other greats, co-founded the grass roots group Collective Black Artists in the 1970s, and helped to spearhead the jazz education movement when he began teaching at The New School in 1987 among other achievements in his 60+ year career.

Jazz in the Time of Social Distancing

In the profile, Workman recounts the recent deaths of friends and musical collaborators like McCoy Tyner and Henry Grimes, the latter to covid-19 related illness. The 82-year-old Workman has been deeply affected by the loss of these long-time collaborators at the same time that his career has been turned upside down. Gigs have been lost and all teaching has to be done virtually.

“Zoom has consumed my life,” Workman says in the article, referring to the ubiquitous video conferencing software . “You have Zoom up to bedtime and then you dream about Zoom, and you get up and Zoom is calling you on the phone the next moment.”

In Atlanta, the number of deaths from covid-19 hasn't reached NYC-levels, but the statistics are still grim. The fear of the new virus and the resulting economic impact have left jazz musicians without gigs and fearing for the future. One bright spot has been the return of live music in the form of streaming concerts. These events have brightened my evenings after a few months without any live music, especially over Memorial Day weekend when the Atlanta Jazz Festival traditionally marks the beginning of summer with dozens of slive jazz performances in Piedmont Park.


Below, I will list a number of streamed jazz performances that have taken place in the last month or two. These examples are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of Atlanta jazz performances that are being live streamed these days. Be sure to check out the websites and YouTube pages of each venue to find more stellar performances.

Kenny Banks Jr. is a world-class pianist based in Atlanta. He has been gaining wider and well-deserved recognition in recent years and in 2019 he was a finalist in the prestigious American Pianist Awards competition. Banks' set at the Atlanta Jazz Festival Sessions brims with the fluid technique and love of risk taking that make him such an exciting pianist. With bassist Tommy Sauter and drummer Dave Potter, Banks is in great music-making company.


Vocalist Karla Harris is rightly one of the most celebrated vocalists in Altanta. Between performing around the country (before the nationwide covid-19 shutdown) and teaching students at Kennesaw State University, Harris keeps extremely busy and continues to hone her skills as a vocalist. In this performance for the Atlanta Jazz Festival, Harris showcases her brilliant, pitch-perfect delivery with stellar support from pianist Joe Alterman, bassist Kevin Smith, and drummer Justin Chesarek.

Since the nationwide shutdowns have begun in mid-March, Alanta-based musicians have lost access to the many jam sessions that happen on an almost nightly basis during normal times. These sessions are often run by an accomplished local musician and a stellar rhythm section. I was thankful early in the lockdown that trumeter and professor Gordon Vernick began live-streaming a version of his jam session from the Red Light Cafe in midtown Atlanta. The video I have included here features the great playing of Vernick along with saxophonist John Sandfort, keyboardist Kevin Bales, bassist Delbert Felix, and drummer Che Marshall. I defy you to find a better house band for a jam session in the world!!


















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