Education Music

Column: One of the modern-day jazz greats lives among us in Augusta

(Disclaimer: Columns often contain opinion)

Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong were among the artists whose music the Augusta University Jazz Ensemble played Monday, Oct. 23 at the Grover C. Maxwell Performing Arts Theatre.

The concert theme was “Jazz Royalty: Music by Kings, Queens, Dukes and Counts!”

And I think that leading the group was another who could be easily be classified as modern-day jazz royalty – Wycliffe Gordon.

I don’t remember the first time I interviewed Wycliffe Gordon. I know it was when I was writing for The Augusta Chronicle prior to the pandemic.

And I’m ashamed to admit that in all these years I’ve spoken with him I’ve never seen him perform in person until last night.

A snippet from Dizzy Gillespie’s “Ow!!!”

His resume with accolades is lengthy. To highlight just a few of his achievements, he’s an original member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, performed at the Kennedy Center, arranged the theme song to NPR’s All Things Considered and has performed with greats such as Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton and Doc Severinsen. He played with the Wynton Marsalis Septet.

He’s been named the Jazz Journalists Association’s Trombonist of the Year 15 times and received the 2018 Louie Award from the Louis Armstrong House Museum.

The Wall Street Journal called his Jazz a la Carte one of the five best moments in jazz.

He’s taught at numerous institutions including serving as the professor of jazz studies at The Juilliard School.

Those are just a few snippets. To learn more, go here.

And he lives right here in Augusta, teaching at Augusta University, inspiring the next generation of jazz musicians.

Prior to each song Monday, he gave a few tidbits about each piece. As the musicians readied to play his arrangement of Dizzy Gillespie’s Ow!!!, he mentioned meeting the jazz great in 1989 and playing at his funeral in 1993.

No matter what the situation, “he was always the same wonderful, jovial cat,” Gordon said of Gillespie. “He was always joking.”

The Augusta University Jazz Ensemble performed Oct. 23 at the Grover C. Maxwell Performing Arts Theatre. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News

Gordon played piano for one piece, sang Louis Armstrong’s Someday You’ll Be Sorry and hopped in on trombone on his arrangement of Duke Ellington’s Mood Indigo.

 It was a great evening, and general admission tickets were only $10. How much would you pay to see him at the Lincoln Center? Joining the ensemble were other familiar names in the Augusta music scene – Travis Shaw, Andy Reid, Fabio Mann, Dr. Rob Foster and Steve Pruitt.

And of course, the night was about the jazz ensemble, who brought the music to life. Who knows where Xea Maddox, Abigail Burdette, Byron Kemp, James Scott, Eric Radulovich, Benjamin Rezendes, Elmer Pickett and Jaylen Parker might end up playing after being taught by Gordon?

If you missed Monday’s concert, you’re not alone. Attendance was thin, but you have the chance to fill up the Maxwell Theatre at 7 p.m. Nov. 17 as the jazz ensemble along with four area choirs will present a Duke Ellington Sacred Music Concert. Also, the group will play its spring concert at 7 p.m., April 16, 2024, at the Maxwell Theatre.

Charmain Z. Brackett, the publisher of Augusta Good News, has covered Augusta’s news for 35 years. Reach her at Sign up for the newsletter here.

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