David Lauderdale

Hilton Head Jazz Fest might make a mark on area's musical map

If you were sticking pins in a map of local musical heritage, the first one would go on Martin Luther King Boulevard in Savannah.

Back when it was known as West Broad Street, this was the bustling center of African-American Savannah. Its Dunbar Theater, clubs, record shops, businesses and churches nurtured a bluesy, jazzy musical heritage that closely mirrors that of New Orleans.

You might also put a pin on the Lady's Island home where pianist and woodwind player Bill Barnwell was born and still lives. Or on the Hardeeville home where 82-year-old Willie Draper still plays saxophone and writes music.

Pins could go on any of the churches, like Brick Baptist on St. Helena Island, where spirituals are sung on the third Sunday afternoon of the month for all who would partake of this Lowcountry blessing. From church choirs have sprung groups like the Hallelujah Singers, the Voices of El Shaddai and Gullah Kinfolk, who keep local musical heritage very much alive and stomping.

But the spotlight was always on Savannah.

At one time, the Dunbar Hotel on West Broad was Savannah's only hotel where blacks could stay. Everybody who was anybody ended up there as U.S. 17 carried them up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

Teddy Adams was one of the local children influenced by glimpses of Ray Charles, Duke Ellington and B.B. King.

Adams is now a 68-year-old trombonist who played around the world before coming home, where he helped found the Coastal Empire Jazz Association and the Savannah Jazz Festival.

Adams will headline the first Hilton Head Island Heritage Music Festival set for noon to 5 p.m. Saturday at Shelter Cove Park. The concert is a fundraiser for the Native Island Business and Community Affairs Association.

Local artists like Adams and Gina René, Teri Rini Powers, Lavon Stevens and Louise Spencer, Bob Masteller, Barbara Patterson, Earl Williams, Sterlin and Shuvette Colvin and T.J. Shank, director of the Hilton Head Island High Jazz Band, will not be performing the old spirituals, hymns and work songs that grooved the Lowcountry's musical heritage.

But that heritage will bleed through their every note.

"We tend to draw from the older music and re-compose," Adams said. "The music of today is not abandoning the heritage music but is based on it. The essence of it is ever-present. Nothing is original. It's all derivative."

Stick a pin on Shelter Cove Park.