Thursday, April 29, 2021

Glimmers of hope, turning a corner

This 2021 edition of Jazz Appreciation Month underscored the notion that we can’t take the music or its makers for granted. Especially after the past year: clubs shuttered temporarily or permanently, or forced to present music to their supporters virtually via webcasts because of limited or no live audiences. Musicians without steady gigs or, in some cases, any gigs for over a year. Or others performing from their living rooms, stoops, driveways and public parks to keep their chops – and sanity – hoping for support from real or virtual tip jars. The tragic number of jazz musicians and industry figures felled by COVID-19 reached at least 90 and still counting.

But there are glimmers of hope, of turning the corner. Some concerts and restaurant gigs have returned with a clear focus on social distancing, masks and other pandemic protocols.

One of those good news stories occurred this past weekend in Savannah GA, when the city’s premier venue, Good Times Jazz Bar & Restaurant, reopened after a total shutdown that lasted more than 12 months.

Owners Stephen and Danielle Moore opened Good Times in 2017. It offered dining and live Tuesday through Sunday nights, plus a gospel brunch on Sundays. That was before COVID-19 struck. Rather than risk any viral impact on guests, employees or their relatives, executive chef and jazz fan Joe Randall locked the doors of the downtown venue on busy West Broughton Street in late March 2020.

Good news, Good Times

Good Times reopened to the public last week on Friday, April 23. Re-opening Weekend featured three nights of performances by groupings of the Good Times All-Stars, fine local musicians who have been part of its music core. They included trombonist and educator Teddy Adams, who helps Randall book the music, and also co-leads the Savannah Jazz Orchestra; singer Cynthia Utterbach; saxophonist Calvin Barnes; pianists Erez Dessel and Eric Jones; bassist Marc Chesanow; and drummers Aaron Jennings and Robert Saunders.

“It was wonderful,” Randall says. “We had full houses for most shows, including sellouts for Saturday night and the Sunday brunch. People missed us, and they told us they were happy to be here. They wanted to get out to hear live jazz for so long - but had nowhere to go.” 

Adams said if the first weekend was indicative of things to come, he's optimistic about the future - and pleased for the musicians. Prior to the reopening, he only played twice since last September. "Everybody suffered," Adams said. "Some guys have found some work, some got into streaming, but everybody was fending for themselves. Now it is slowly returning to normal."

Adams said he tries to bring in regionally or nationally known musicians to Good Times about once a month. His first two offerings will be trombonist Wycliffe Gordon and singer Carmen Bradford on the schedule.

Randall has pared  the restaurant’s schedule to four days and nights for the time being. He said Good Times will operate Thursdays through Sundays for at least the next two months, perhaps even longer. Strict masking protocols are in place.

Yes, musical good times are coming back to artsy Savannah, which has a rich jazz history to supplement the cobblestone streets and 18th century colonial charm of its historic landmark district. It is the birthplace of composer and lyricist Johnny Mercer, saxophonists James Moody and Sahib Shihab, singers Connie Haines and Irene Reid, trombonist Trummy Young, and drummers Big Black and Ben Riley.

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