On Thursday, September 21, 1978, the Atlanta Free Jazz Festival began with opening ceremonies at the Central City Park Amphitheater. The city evolved into a vibrant metropolis and the jazz festival evolved with it. Thirty one years have passed and the Atlanta Jazz Festival has come full circle, the Atlanta Free Jazz Festival became the Atlanta Jazz Festival and Central City Park became Woodruff Park. This year the festival celebrated its 31st anniversary with its original host, Ernest Gregory, in one of its original locations, Woodruff Park, and a legendary line-up that included artists from the original roster, Joe Jennings and Howard Nicholson’s Lifeforce and Ojeda Penn Experience.
To truly celebrate Atlanta, the 2008 Atlanta Jazz Festival incorporated the theme, 31 Years |31 Days | Atlanta, which promoted Atlanta’s cultural scene. In his 1977 election, Mayor Jackson said, “Jazz music is America’s only original art form, and I think Atlanta, with its growing reputation as an international center of the arts and education, has both the opportunity and the responsibility to promote an art form whose roots are indigenous to the South.”
Though 31 years have passed, the City of Atlanta still has a commitment to spotlighting jazz in the city. The festival exposed jazz aficionados and ordinary citizens to the great things the city of Atlanta has to offer and allowed them to visit some of the best restaurants, nightclubs and concert venues all in the name of jazz. The City of Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs expanded the successful 31 Days of Jazz with the addition of the Neighborhood Jazz Series. The series highlighted the explosion of culture in three of Atlanta’s eclectic neighborhoods, Castleberry Hills, Virginia Highlands, and Midtown culminating with The Atlanta Jazz Festival over Memorial Day Weekend, May 24th through May 26th, 2008, in Woodruff Park. Nearly 80,000 people came out and enjoyed the Neighborhood Jazz Series, 31 Days of Jazz and the Memorial Day Celebration.
“Jazz music, created over 100 years ago in the alleys and halls of the poor and the often disenfranchised, transcends cultural barriers and unites people around the world in its beauty,” said Mayor Shirley Franklin. This was an incredible year for the Atlanta Jazz Festival and having the event at Woodruff Park provided festival lovers of all creeds and colors with the chance to see a different side of Atlanta and heightened their cultural experience. "I’m happy to see local artists performing at the festival and I’m glad they moved it downtown," said native Atlantan Claudia Edmondson. "The whole community is involved and you can really enjoy the festival here. It’s intimate and cozy!”
The Atlanta Jazz Festival is committed to providing public access to jazz that inspires all generations to be creative and the festival featured a line-up of artists that allow us to explore what the direction the genre of jazz is going. Since the festival’s beginning, there has been an explosion of interest in junior high and high schools and winners of the Youth jazz band competition were able to open the festival each day and festival attendees were able to sample the sounds of the Future of Jazz Competition winners. Festival attendees enjoyed performances by international sensation Serenata Band, the celebrated Gordon Vernick and the GSU Faculty Jazztet, and young gun Mike Phillips to name a few. "Local people want the festival to stay around and the local artists want to express themselves," said Ron James of Ron James and the Truth. “I am so happy to be a part of this year’s festival.” With vendors and restaurants providing food, interactive games and festivities for all ages, this 3-day celebration proved to be fun for the entire family and was the perfect place to be on Memorial Day Weekend.
“There are so many things that contributed to the 2008 Atlanta Jazz Festival’s success – talented Atlanta based musicians, our great sponsors, favorable weather and park patrons all enhanced the jazz experience,” said Camille Russell Love, Director of the City of Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs. “This year was all about Atlanta and the Memorial Day Weekend celebration was all about the music. We thank Atlanta residents and visitors for their support year after year!”
The 2008 Atlanta Jazz Festival would like to thank its sponsors: Anheuser Busch Companies, BET J, Coca Cola Company, Coca-Cola Enterprises, Publix Super Markets, Inc., Central Atlanta Progress, MARTA, Brand Atlanta, Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, Bank of America, JazzTimes, Spelman College, 91.9 WCLK, Gibson Guitars, Ephiphone, SmartMusic, JW Pepper, Sheraton Atlanta Hotel, CONNECT Magazine, Smooth Atlanta, TD Entertainment, Upscale, Rolling Out, and City Living Home Furnishings.