Atlanta Jazz Fest brings classic and soulful sounds to Piedmont Park

Credit: Eric Ryan Anderson

Credit: Eric Ryan Anderson

Wynton Marsalis, Russell Gunn, Stanley Clark, and Chief Xian aTunde Adjuah among artists appearing.

Chief Xian aTunde Adjuah, who performs Memorial Day weekend during the Atlanta Jazz Festival, grew up in New Orleans, a member of one of the first families of New Orleans music.

His grandfather was Donald Harrison Sr., a Big Chief of the Guardians of the Flame Mardi Gras Indians and a keeper of the the African American Mardi Gras traditions. Those traditions date to the 1800s, when Black celebrants were banned from mainstream Mardi Gras Krewes and so began to create their own wildly decorated parades in their own neighborhoods.

Adjuah (known back then as Christian Scott) studied with his uncle, Donald Harrison Jr., a Big Chief of the Congo Square Nation, an accomplished jazz musician, a former member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and the tutor for a generation of New Orleans musicians. “Any musician born in New Orleans under age 45, they all studied with Donald,” said Adjuah.

The young Christian Scott wanted to play alto sax like his uncle, but once Harrison started inviting him on tours, he had to pick a different instrument, and began to focus on the trumpet.

Despite becoming a prodigy on the trumpet, he always preferred the sound of the sax. As a result, his experience as a designer of outlandishly curved horns “leads me to build trumpets that don’t feel or sound like trumpets.”

Adjuah, 40, is one of three noted trumpeters to be featured in the Atlanta Jazz Festival, along with Atlantan Russell Gunn (and his Royal Krunk Jazz Orkestra) and Wynton Marsalis (and his Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra).

There will be five acts each day of the three-day festival, which takes place May 27-29. The first performance each day begins at 1 p.m. Among the highlights of the festival:

  • Gunn and his orchestra will perform the 90-minute composition, “The Blues and Its People” on Friday, May 26, at Atlanta Symphony Hall, in a ticketed show that kicks off the otherwise free jazz fest.
  • Marsalis and his Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra headline the first evening of free shows at Piedmont Park on Saturday, May 27. He will go on at 9 p.m.
  • Bassist Stanley Clarke (a founding member of Return to Forever) and his band are at the top of the bill during performances at Piedmont on Sunday, May 28. Clarke goes on at 9 p.m.
  • Vocalist Ledisi wraps up a day of music Monday, May 29, at Piedmont, taking the stage at 9 p.m. just after Adjuah’s show.

Credit: Sakurai Toshi

Credit: Sakurai Toshi

During the month of May the Atlanta Jazz Festival also sponsors “31 Days of Jazz,” a “specially curated collection of jazz events from festival partners hosted throughout metro Atlanta.” For information on locations and artists, go to

“Historically,” said Gunn, 51, “this jazz festival in Atlanta is up there with the greatest festivals in the world . . . with North Seas, Montreux and Newport. It has the most amazing musicians and some of the most amazing performances, and you have to give a lot of credit to Camille who keeps this thing going.”

Credit: Shahar Azran

Credit: Shahar Azran

That’s a reference to Camille Russell Love, who has directed the mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs for more than 20 years and has staged one great jazz festival after another.

As a summit for great trumpet players, this festival will put together three generations of horn players, all of whom are part of the same brassy fraternity, but each of whom takes a different approach to the music and to the instrument.

Adjuah had early contact with another New Orleanian, Marsalis, who let the young Christian Scott try out the older musician’s heavy and fabulously expensive Monette.

“It was like being handed a great warrior’s weapon,” said the future chief. (Monette trumpets can weigh up to 14 pounds.)

Marsalis, 61, gave national prominence to the Monette trumpet, a brand developed in the 1980s by David Monette of Portland, Oregon, who created new designs for lead-pipes and integrated mouthpieces and other innovations. A profile of Monette in Atlantic magazine called his new design the “reinvention” of the trumpet.

Credit: Piper Ferguson

Credit: Piper Ferguson

Adjuah has developed his own series of trumpets, working with the Dutch instrument company Adams. His designs include the Tilted Bell, the Siren, the Sirenette and the curvaceous Adjuah, a flugelhorn-cornet-trumpet hybrid.

His trumpets, he said, go the opposite direction from Monette, and have become lighter and lighter. “Now I’m trying shave every ounce.”

Gunn, the throwback of the three, plays a 1954 Martin Committee, a traditionally designed horn made famous by Miles Davis, who happens to hail from Gunn’s native town of East St. Louis, Missouri.


The Atlanta Jazz Festival

1-10 p.m. May 27-29. Free. Piedmont Park, 1320 Monroe Drive, Atlanta.

The festival is preceded by a ticketed event, “The Blues and Its People,” a 90-minute suite by Russell Gunn and performed by his Royal Krunk Jazz Orkestra. 8 p.m. May 26. $49-$69. Atlanta Symphony Hall, 1280 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta.