MusicMusic Features

Athens Jazz Festival Showcases Local Talent, From Smooth to Swing

Local public radio station WUGA 91.7/94.5 FM and nonprofit JazzAthensGA, or JAGA, have teamed up once more to present this year’s Athens Jazz Festival on Saturday. The free, family-friendly festival has relocated from the Georgia Center to Bishop Park and boasts seven hours of nonstop performances, ranging from upbeat bop to New Orleans-style jazz to classic swing to smoother, more laid-back styles.

Mary Sigalas, executive director of JAGA, has been part of the festival since it returned from a hiatus several years ago. In fact, she created JAGA on the heels of that first event after being inspired by the local talent on the bill. From there, she built the organization from the ground up and is now in charge of booking the festival.

“We are an arts organization dedicated to the enrichment of our city with the music of our thriving jazz community,” Sigalas says. “We’re excited to get to showcase that talent at the festival.”

Sigalas is an active member of the Athens jazz community, not only in her role with JAGA, but as a musician, as well. She plays in local band The Hot Hotty-Hots, whose specialty is jazz and swing music from the early 1900s. That group plays frequently in venues all over town, including The Globe, Hendershot’s and Porterhouse Grill. Sigalas says she wants to honor those businesses that support the jazz community by incorporating them into the Athens Jazz Festival.

Over the course of the week leading up to the festival, local venues will host jazz performers to give people an opportunity to learn more about the bands and experience their music in a different setting.

“We’re celebrating jazz, but we’re also celebrating those who support it year-round,” Sigalas says. “We want to see the entire community embrace it and be involved, and spreading out this way is a great way to do that.”

While Sigalas booked the talent and coordinated the festival, WUGA General Manager Jimmy Sanders says his organization gathered the resources to fund and promote the event. Sanders says he has enjoyed the festival and learned from it over the years. “It struck me, not having a jazz background at all, how truly enjoyable the music is,” Sanders says. “It’s accessible to everyone.”

Sanders adds that he hopes JAGA and WUGA’s partnership will continue beyond the festival. Both he and Sigalas say they would like to work together to help grow the Athens jazz community.

Drummer Louis Romanos, an active member of the Athens jazz scene and founding member of the Louis Romanos Quartet, would also like to see the community grow. He says that although there is no shortage of skilled jazz musicians in the city, they are often overstretched, which causes those who want to book talent to source from outside the Classic City.

Romanos has performed at countless events over the course of his career, and he says a good way to grow the local jazz community is to keep supporting events like Saturday’s festival.

“I’ve been to the New Orleans Jazz Festival, and I honestly prefer the Athens Jazz Festival to anything a larger city has to offer,” Romanos says. “It’s really cool that a town like Athens can put on something like this, and the community should come out and support it.”

The festival will feature two stages so there is no gap between performances. The JAGA Jazz Kids Fest, which will include such family-friendly activities as a musical petting zoo and an improv-jazz shadow-puppet show, is a new addition. Sigalas says she hopes it will spark youngsters’ interest in jazz so the Athens community can continue to grow into the future.

“I’m excited about the additions for the kids, because it makes the festival more of a family event,” Sigalas says. “We want to make jazz enjoyable for everyone.”

Indeed, both Sigalas and Sanders say they have worked to include a variety of genres and styles so those who attend can have a taste of all the jazz Athens has to offer.

“The festival gives us the opportunity to expose a great American artform to the community,” Sanders says. “There’s not an opportunity to enjoy all these acts in one place, other than this one.”

Click here for some of this year’s Athens Jazz Festival performers’ favorite jazz sounds.