Music has always been about more than just the sound to Joseph “Joe” Jennings, jazz musician and former director of The Spelman Jazz Ensemble. “I felt that music was my way to express my inner feelings,” Jennings said. An Atlanta jazz staple, Jennings has made music with greats like the late jazz saxophonist Ruben Phillips and late singer and actress Nancy Wilson. Jennings also played with Motown legends, The Four Tops.
Jennings’ resume is vast and would take some time to fully list, but his contribution to the community runs as deep as his discography. That contribution includes being the director of music at the Atlanta Center for Black Art, as well as an artist-in-residence at the Neighborhood Arts Center. Jennings was also the founder and director of the Neighborhood Arts Ensemble (a 22-piece big Band in Atlanta), leader of “The Joe Jennings Saxtet,”, and the founder and director of the Metropolitan Atlanta Youth Ensemble, a jazz workshop for metropolitan youth.
His experience as a performer and a teacher is rooted in the same goal, “Playing and expressing yourself through the music is the ultimate goal and you hope it is felt, understood, and enjoyed,” he said.
But careers always have to start somewhere and Jenning’s begins at a young age, he recited the moment he knew he wanted to play,
“Hearing Charlie Parker for the first time on the radio. I felt it allowed him to be who he was in this supper-restricted environment and in doing so he changed music forever,” Jennings said.
Along the journey, several musicians came into one, but one stood out from the rest Jennings said. “There is a person I admired, and talked to from college until he died. I admired [him] as a musician and person. A musician of the highest order and a person of great character and knowledge, Mr. Alvin Baptiste,” he said.
Baptiste was an avant-garde jazz clarinetist born in New Orleans, Louisiana. He lectured at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he ran his own jazz institute until he passed away in 2007.
Recently, Jennings latest venture is “Joe’s Jazz Joint ”, a live performance every Sunday at 7 p.m. at the ArtsXchange in East Point. The group highlights other musicians while playing the classics from Mingus to Hancock.
Jennings has one piece of advice for all inspiring musicians.
“Practice, practice and practice,” he says. “Learn as much about the instrument of choice. Study the masters, learn theory, practice, practice, listen, and practice.”