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I just jumped ship, and we left
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Ever since Hurricane Katrina trashed the Gulf Coast, the media has offered up countless stories of displaced artists and musicians from that most fertile of creative environments.

Their diaspora makes for a wonderful story, and one of the few positive developments to come from such a mind-numbing tragedy: The rich cultural heritage of both the Mississippi Delta Region and New Orleans, broken into small pieces and scattered throughout these United States. One can’t help but wonder what inestimable and welcome ramifications can come from this.

In towns large and small, far and wide, Cajun musicians, Creole cooks, blues guitarists, jazz singers, and other emissaries of vibe are adding spice to the local nightlife wherever they land.

It’s tempting to think of bandleader Jeremy Davis as one such piece of cultural confetti, since the Louisiana saxophonist arrived in Savannah in the immediate aftermath of that mighty wind. However, it turns out he and his had already planned to relocate here. They just unwittingly picked a very bad time to bottle up and go.

“We were scheduled to move the day before Katrina hit,” he recalls. “We were already on our way out, and ran right into the biggest traffic jam imaginable! We – like a lot of other folks – ran out of gas along the way.”

Still, they made it, and soon Davis had jumped into our local jazz scene with a vengeance, sitting in with the area’s better players, and eventually gigging out with his own small combo under the name Equinox Jazz Ensemble – a holdover from the Equinox Jazz Orchestra, his highly-regarded 20-piece big band back home in Monroe, La.,

That group still exists, despite the hardships suffered by many members, and Davis heads back a few times a month for gigs, but these days he’s much busier establishing himself here. He says he finds this market more exciting – and more lucrative – than the one he left. That may strike some as odd. A jazz musician finding better gigs than in and around New Orleans? Davis swears it’s so.

“You have to understand: New Orleans – and Louisiana in general – is a bit of an island when it comes to live music. There’s not really a whole lot of culture in my Northern part of the state. Contrast that with here. It’s wide open.

“I used to live on the road, playing 250 nights a year. That was great at the time, but these days, I’ve got a 3-year-old and a pregnant wife, and I wanna be able to go play a show, have a blast, drive home and sleep in my own bed, you know? So, after visiting here for several years in a row, I just jumped ship, and we left.”

Nowadays, Davis is gigging as often as he can with his new quartet of tenor sax, drums, upright bass, and either piano or guitar. They’re diving deep into hard bop – a type of straight ahead, early Miles Davis-style jazz that’s mixed with a bluesy backbeat. It’s the kind of bag that iconic greats like Grant Green and Horace Silver are known for – and it can be quite easy to dance to.

“That’s an issue with a lot of jazz players,” admits Davis. “They don’t want people to dance. But I started out playing James Brown and Tower of Power funk. We understand.”

Jeremy Davis & The Equinox Jazz Ensemble play a free show at The Casimir Lounge inside The Mansion on Forsyth Park on Friday from 9 pm to 1 am.