(Greenwood, MS) – The organizer of the Mississippi Jazz and Heritage Festival is bringing the event to Greenwood this year — and he also wants to put a jazz museum in the city.
This is the 14th year for the festival, which will be held over two days. The first portion will begin at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Edwards Center, 749 Main St., Greenville. The Sept. 7 installment, also beginning at 6 p.m., will be at Bo’s Bar & Grill in Greenwood.
Admission is free, and donations are appreciated.
Special recognition will be given to pianist Mulgrew Miller, a Greenwood native, and drummer Al Fielder, a Meridian native, for their contributions to jazz.
Ronald Myers, a Belzoni physician and Baptist minister, has organized the festival since its inception. Myers has played trumpet since he was 11, and he often goes to schools to spread the word about jazz.
"I always try to touch base with the younger people and let them know about their jazz legacy," he said.
Myers said he plans to collaborate on the museum project with Miller, whom he has known for years, so that more attention can be brought to Miller’s accomplishments.
"I’ve encouraged the state to support efforts to preserve our unique and very extensive jazz legacy," he said. "And I think Greenwood would be a tremendous site to have a jazz museum because of Mulgrew’s legacy and the fact that he’s still performing all over the world."
Myers said he has a couple of possible sites in mind for the museum but hasn’t finalized anything yet.
Before Myers began organizing his festivals, he was amazed to find out how many jazz artists were from Mississippi and how few people knew about them.
The first festival was held on the courthouse steps in Woodville in honor of saxophonist Lester Young. “We consider him to be the greatest jazz legend in Mississippi history," Myers said.
Locations of subsequent festivals have included Summit, Jackson and Greenville.
Myers said it was disappointing to him that Mississippi jazz festival organizers devote such great resources to bring in artists who aren’t from the state. No one would hold a jazz festival in New Orleans without including New Orleans artists, or "they’re going to run you out of town," he said.
Serious jazz fans know about the contributions of Mississippians Gerald Wilson, Lester Young and Hank Jones, said Myers, who called Jones "probably the greatest bebop piano player ever."
But other than those devotees, "no one knows about these musicians because the story has not been told," Myers said.
Myers knows jazz doesn’t bring in huge crowds in the Delta, so he looks at the festivals mainly as educational endeavors.
"If we have 200 people there, I’m a happy man," he said.
The featured guest artist at the Greenwood and Greenville events will be trombonist Dick Griffin, who is from Jackson. In a career of more than 40 years, Griffin has performed with legends such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie and many others.
Myers also is scheduled to perform, as are bassist London Branch and percussionists Wilton Knott, Earlton Batles Manley, Aye Aton and Rufus Mapp.
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