For this writer the Memorial Day weekend signals the beginning of the summer jazz festival season, where cities and towns all over the world host these great musical events, many of them outdoors, featuring established and up-and-coming performers across all genres of the music. Since 1996 I have attended the Atlanta Jazz Festival and it has become an eagerly anticipated event on my jazz travel schedule.
Presented by the city’s Bureau Of Cultural Affairs, the Atlanta Jazz Festival actually features performances over 9 days at a variety of venues throughout the Atlanta area leading up to the free Memorial Day Weekend Concert Series, which I attend. This is the part of the festival that features most of the "name" performers. Some of last year’s highlights were contributed by Sonny Rollins, Poncho Sanchez, Medeski, Martin, and Wood, and Dee Dee Bridgewater, to name a few.
The weekend concerts are held in spacious Piedmont Park, in Atlanta’s Midtown district, a place where many bring their lawn chairs, grills, and coolers to add to their enjoyment. Last year an Emerging Artist stage was added to the festival, meaning that some performances will overlap in the afternoon, but the stages are on opposite ends of the park and there is no overlap when the headliners hit the Main Stage. There is even a Kid’s Zone where children can be entertained. The park is easily accessible by MARTA, the city’s rapid transit system, plus there are several hotels in the area. The Wyndham Midtown and Sheraton Colony Square hotels are closest to the park, while there are other hotels in the area, such as the Residence Inn, near the Midtown MARTA station, and the Best Western Granada Suites, across the street from the Arts Center MARTA station, where festival goers also stay.
Some of this years festival performers include jazz legends Jimmy Scott, Abbey Lincoln, and Roy Haynes, who will be performing a tribute to Charlie Parker with an all-star group of Nicholas Payton, Kenny Garrett, John Pattitucci, and David Kikoski. Other performers include Joshua Redman, with his new organ trio featuring Sam Yahel and Brian Blade, Michel Camilo, and D.D. Jackson. If one is interested in the new jazz-oriented groove sounds, groups such as Project Logic featuring DJ Logic and Carlos Washington and Giant People will be performing. There will also be a Youth Jazz Band competition on the Emerging Artist stage. After the Piedmont Park performances many attend the jam sessions at Churchill Grounds, a small club located next to the historic Fox Theater, where many of the festival performers come to play with Atlanta’s finest musicians.
The Atlanta Jazz Festival runs from May 19th to May 27th, 2002. The free Memorial Day Weekend Concert Series runs May 25th - May 27th from 2pm to 10pm daily. Performance schedules were not complete at press time, but for more information call the festival hotline at 404-817-6851 or check out the festival website.