As educators, we were always troubled by the fact that the story of American music had never been chronicled accurately for a whole host of reasons. The socio-economic and cultural complexities of the political paradoxes of American life dealing with the reality of the Atlantic Slave Trade and its long term socio- cultural and economic consequences created challenging obstacles to academia when it came to educating the general public and its children about our amazing American art form some call Jazz. Savanna Jazz is an attempt to tell the story of this art form and particularly the story of its innovators.
Jazz as a uniquely American art form began lifting this nation to the status of a cultural super-power all over the world as early as the beginning of the 20th century through the incredible artistic creative period of the Harlem Renaissance which gave through Jazz, America’s first sense of identity away from the canons of Europe.
Americans for the first time started saying “that may be how Europeans like to dance but in America this is how we are going to dance from now on ” and Lindy Hop was born. Americans said “ the modern trumpet may be German but we are going to play it the way King Oliver played it in New Orleans” and Louis Armstrong was born. The piano is certainly a European instrument but the young man from Toledo, Ohio named Art Tatum showed everyone this is how Americans play it from now on. From Kansas City, MO Charlie Parker said “I want a greater vocabulary range of musical expression” and from Cheraw, SC, Dizzy Gillespie said to him “let’s call it Bebop” thinking no one will steal that word since we made it up…the list goes on and on…
It is not an accident that the oldest American instrument is the banjo but there is no banjo in England, none in Ireland, Scotland or France simply because the banjo comes from Mali, West Africa where it is called the “Ngoni. This instrument was brought over during the Atlantic Slave Trade. Between 1503 and 1888, upward of 11 million West Africans were taken as slaves to the colonies of the Old American South. West Africans brought their culture, from the banjo (Delta), to the religious voodoo rituals (black eye peas) to the tonalities of the Blues to the notions of syncopated rhythms and swing etc….
The esthetics of Jazz, its rhythmic, melodic and harmonic expression and foundation are born out of ancestral West African cultural traditions through the re-engineering by West Africans of the religious hymns of the Old Church of England brought by missionaries to the Southern plantations.
West Africans needed to forge a new cultural paradigm as a necessary condition to survive the socio-political and economic hurricane they encountered as a consequence of simply being black in North America. The banjo served as the ancestral vehicle that carried their musical esthetics in a way that gave them a sense of identity and helped them forge an identity that reflected these new realities of being Black in America. Through the syncopation and blue tones of the banjo a powerful music from the Mississippi Delta rises. It’s called “the Blues” from which Jazz will be born.
In the mid 1850s, the Irish and Scottish populations fleeing the Famine and moving to the Appalachians and the colonies of the South encountered African American populations who were playing the banjo on the banks of the Tennessee River. These Irish and Scottish populations incorporated the banjo and the sounds of the blues into their Celtic musical heritage to give birth to another popular form of music called Bluegrass. Without that instrument from Mali i.e. the banjo, you would have something nice but it wouldn’t be Bluegrass. You need the banjo for an authentic American Bluegrass sound.
Jazz as an art form exemplifies crystallizes in its application the highest form of cultural esthetics and refinement possible celebrating individual achievement in the service of others and through others. Jazz represents the magnificent commitment of human mastery and dedication to an art that reaches a higher plateau to move and express the transcendence of the socio-cultural experience of a race celebrating the glory and dignity of our collective humanity because after all you are only concerned about race because you can see…
The purpose of Savanna Jazz is to celebrate this amazing art form Jazz, an art form that has united American innovators and contributors of all races seeking a higher purpose from Louis Armstrong to BIx Beiderbecke, Nat King Cole to Sinatra, Ellington to Benny Goodman, Gillespie to Harry James, Bud Powell to Bill Evans, Miles Davis to Chet Baker and the list goes on and on…and the list says… WELCOME
Savanna Jazz is an award-winning Jazz venue owned and operated by educators from the Bay Area. Our purpose is to celebrate our uniquely American art form and give adults a place where they can relax, listen to great music, have a conversation and enjoy a drink with friends. Savanna Jazz was first located in San Francisco for 12 years. Over the years, we have won many awards including “Best Venue” from DownBeat Magazine and we have just relocated our venue to San Carlos, CA in Silicon Valley to be closer to you.
We invite you to “walk the walls” and learn about the amazing innovators of this powerful art form revered the world over and celebrate its contributors. Some of these records you probably have and your parents certainly did!
We thank you for your continued support and we want you to think about Savanna Jazz for all your special events, office parties, birthday parties and other celebrations.
From all of us, thank you.
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