Bill Johnson, Photographer, Greenville, MS
Ron Myers (left) tickles the keys during a jazz reception at Mid-Delta Regional Airport terminal in this 2006 photo. He is accompanied by Lane Rodgers (background), Derrick Brown (center) and Billy Smiley. Not pictured is drummer Hal Holbrook.
(Greenville, MS) – The Delta is known for its connection to the blues.
However, one musician is trying to establish a jazz following as well. The two genres of music are closely connected, says Dr. Ron Myers, a physician who also plays jazz piano and trumpet.
Myers is coordinating the 12th annual Mississippi Jazz & Heritage Festival, to be held Saturday at Southern Whispers restaurant on Nelson Street. Preceding the festival will be a jazz workshop for students at Coleman Middle School on Thursday and a jazz reception Friday at the Mid-Delta Regional Airport.
Myers hopes some of the student musicians will join him on Saturday.
“We're going to work with the kids at Coleman for them to perform and sit in with us at the jazz festival,” he said. “We're going to work with them on improvisation and jazz theory, so they can continue to develop into our future jazz legacy in the Mississippi Delta.”
Myers has long promoted the Delta's role in jazz. He says that legacy includes Shelby native Gerald Wilson, a jazz composer; and Greenwood native Mulgrew Miller, a jazz pianist.
Greenville has produced some jazz musicians as well. Although mostly known for blues and other forms of music, the following are among those who have contributed to the local jazz scene: Aaron Smith, Leonard McIntosh, Derrick Brown, Rod Shannon, Greg Rasberry, Billy Smiley, Hal Holbrook, Joshua Hall, Eden Brent and David Jones.
“My goal is to produce students who understand jazz improvisation,” Myers said.
One such student is Coleman student Trey Swilley, a drummer.
Through these workshops and other events, Myers said jazz is slowly beginning to gain recognition in the Delta.
“I see tremendous progress,” he said. “In Greenville, you have at least three jazz sets.”
Jones performs weekly at Fermo's restaurant. Myers is a regular at Southern Whispers. And each Wednesday, the Walnut Street Blues Bar hosts Centerpoint, a five-piece band.
“Just the fact that you got several jazz sets in Greenville, that's historic for the area,” Myers said. “I believe as we get more and more of the kids playing, and with the kids come the parents, we can continue this legacy.”
Myers also said that it's another sign of progress that the airport has agreed to host Friday's reception. Airport Director Lane Rodgers is a musician who has participated in numerous musical events in the area. He sings, plays guitar and bass.
The reception will begin at 3:30 p.m. Admission is free, but donations will be accepted. Scheduled performers include Myers; Rodgers; Smith, alto sax and flute; McIntosh ,tenor sax; Rasberry, percussion; Joe Johnson, percussion; Roy Schilling, guitar; London Branch, bass; Hall, drums and percussion; Holbrook, drums and percussion; Brown, bass, trombone and reeds; and Shannon, vocals and percussion.
Call (662) 334-3121 for more information.
The Mississippi Jazz & Heritage Festival will begin at 6 p.m. Saturday at Southern Whispers, 756 Nelson St. Featured performers will include Branch, an accomplished bassist and retired director of the Jackson State University Orchestra; Mississippi native Chuck Lawson, bassist; and Jackson native Wilton Knott, percussionist.
The festival is dedicated to the late Woodville native and jazz legend Lester “Prez” Young.
“Once upon a time when it came to jazz, when you looked out in Greenville, there was a desert,” Myers said. “Now, you look you see it blossoming.
“The key is consistency, especially with the kids.”
Admission to the festival is free, but donations will be accepted. Meals and drinks will be sold at the restaurant. The menu will include Robert Blackmon's seafood gumbo.
For more information, contact Myers at 662-247-3364, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit the Web site: www.jazzmississippi.com