In Tune – The Ben Tucker Story


In Tune - The Ben Tucker Story

In Tune - The Ben Tucker Story follows the life of Jazz bassist Ben Tucker. After a career in advertising and recording in New York, Tucker purchases WSOK AM Radio and moves to Savannah GA in 1972. Steeped in the culture and music of the city, and scored to Tucker’s final album, Sweet Thunder, the film explores his commitment to unite the community and revive the city’s once great Jazz scene.

AIRED: February 16, 2018 | 0:56:41

If I had to describe Ben to a total stranger...

Although it's kind of an oxymoron because...

there were no strangers to Ben.

Ben was a man for all time. The original Dos Equis man.

The coolest man in the world.

Ben Tucker, the baddest bass player in town.


Ben put the-the two O's in cool, man.

He was just-- he was like a cat, you know,

just boom-boom, boom-boom, boom-boom.

Ben was just Ben.

"Hey, Larry, come here, my friend.

"Come here. Come here.

"This is my man. This is man."

"Hey, my man."

He called everyone partner.

"Hey, partner."

Everybody was either baby or partner.

He'd call you part'na.

"Yeah, come on, part'na. You're cookin' part'na."

Or whatever he would say, you know?

"Hey, part'na!"

He had a sayin' all the time, if you--

when you talked to him.

He said, "Okay, part'na."

"Hey, part'na, how ya doin'?

I mean, I can't do his exact voice,

but it was exactly like that.

I mean, he wouldn't say your name.

He'd say, "Partner."

He was a-a kinda universal person

that got along with everybody.

The unofficial mayor of Savannah.

He'd walk around town and would know, literally,

hundreds of people from all aspects.

White, black, rich, poor,

rabble-rousers, do-gooders.

It didn't matter if you shined shoes

or you were a president.

He treated you with that kind of respect.

Ben Tucker was more than just a great musician.

He was a facilitator.

He brought together a lot of people.

And that's one of the reasons why he was so well loved

around town here.

He-he was just a master maestro at people skills.

I came from heaven.

Nah, just kiddin'.

First thing you do is, you go Google him,

and then you find out, you know,

he has played with the greats.

You know, he knows and has played with everybody

who's important in the jazz field.

So, then it becomes a little intimidating, you know?

The song "Coming Home, Baby," I had heard it,

and I'd heard, um, Bobby Darren, I think,

singing it on the radio,

but I never knew who it was that composed it.

And then when I found out, wow, you know?


(Ben Tucker) Like "Coming Home, Baby,"

I wrote that in ten minutes one night,

one afternoon, as a matter of fact.

I was playing around with the bass, and boom.

Started doing double stops, and I said,

"That sounds great."

♪ I know I'm overdue ♪

♪ Since you've been away ♪

(Bob Dorough) Ben got the idea of playing the double stop.

So, he'd go, doo, doo.

Sounded like this.

And then he probably just whistled

and made up that melody.

♪ Do-do-do ♪

♪ Boo-do-dee-do dee-do-do-do ♪

(snapping) ♪ Mmm Boo-do-dee ♪

He just slid down on the strings, and he went--

(strumming guitar)

Here's where his musical genius comes into play

for the third section of the blues.

He went up to B flat.

(playing flute)

That was the whole thing.

It was his genius.

And everybody recorded it.

I mean, you know, Mel Torme was the first lyricist.

Quincy Jones recorded it twice.

Herbie Mann recorded it twice.

The latest recording before Ben died,

it was Michael Buble.

And Ben told me the year that he got his royalties,

"I did pretty good on that."

(female newscaster) A legendary musician still swinging at 80 years old.

(male newscaster) Ben Tucker's been on the bandstand, local stages,

and in record stores for 67 years.

(Kim Polote) People said, "I can't-I can't play like Ben."

Ben would say, "Well, play like you.

"I'm me, and you're you.

"Celebrate you."

Stay in tune with man,

stay in tune with the universe,

and stay in tune with yourself.

You gotta succeed.

You-- but you gotta stay in tune.


(Ben Tucker) Jazz, to me, is a way of life.

Jazz is music like pure mountain air

that regenerates the soul of man.

Jazz is creative music,

creating new ideas,

new melodies, new directions, at all-at all times.

Music is a repertoire of songs that you create

instantly, spontaneously, and extemporaneously.

Jazz is my life.

Jazz is a way of life.

I came from a little town outside of Nashville, Tennessee,

called Brentwood.

And it was a little country town, back then.

It was a hard life, but it was a good life,

and it was one that I had to figure out,

and-and, uh, and make it happen.



When I was 13 years old,

I decided that I wanted to play the bass violin.

I was listening to Duke Ellington,

Fletcher Henderson.

And, Saturday night, on a clear channel radio,

you get this beautiful jazz music comin' in

from the West Coast and from New York.

It was incredible.

I started listening to Jimmy Blanton,

who was Duke Ellington's bass violinist at that time.

I'm in three-four timing.

It's in three-three quarter.


He was phenomenal, and he just blew me out.

You know, just wiped me out,

the kinda music that he was playing.

I-- and I got into it.


That's jazz.

Just moves along. Create.

Put it into a nice groove.

Jazz is creating songs on top of songs.

So, you take a-a simple song, Broadway song, uh,

by Hoagy Carmichael, by Duke Ellington,

Louis Armstrong,

and you take that melody and build another melody

on top of that.

That is what pure jazz, pure jazz is all about.


The bass violin is generally not the lead instrument

in any jazz group.

The bass plays sort of the supporting role underneath.

But I promise you that everybody

that ever played with Ben Tucker, uh,

sounded better and played better

because he was backing them up,

and he was with them.

(Karen Lot) I think a lot of bass players

would listen to his licks

and try to adjust and adopt to that.

He's-he's very versatile on his-his instrument.

(Bob Alberti) The bass player has got to be the steadfast one

who is going to keep the time, play the right notes,

and listen to what you're playing,

so that he can go with you.

And Ben had wonderful ears.

He could hear everything.

(Claire Frazier) He knew a plethora of songs.

It was the spontaneity of the music.

I mean, it was just like,

you could go in any-any direction

you wanted to go in,

and there he was, you know?

He's right there with you.

I can see him, right now.

His glasses were halfway down on his--

you know, just...

you know, like that.

He was just so cool.

His first bass,

he ordered through the mail order catalog,

and when it arrived, he put it together himself.

(Ben) I owned a bass violin.

Uh, it was being advertised in the newspaper.

Uh, the bass came to me in, um, in-in a crated case.

And I took the (indistinct), and put the bass together,

put the bridge on.

And it came with an instruction book,

how to tune it up.

It wasn't too difficult to-to try-to try to deal with.

But I did teach myself for the first, uh,

20 years of, uh, of-of my musical career.

And, uh, my mother, back then, was

trying to get me not to play and to be a musician.

She wanted a more secure job,

like workin' at the post office,

uh, uh, workin' on the-- workin' for the railroad.

Uh, that-that kind of a thing.

But, uh, I stuck to my guns,

and she was proud of me later on.

(Charles Miller) "I'm Comin' Home, Baby."

I said, "Well, how did you write that song?"

He said, "Well, you know,

"I was always comin' home to my-my bride,

"and, uh, so, I-I just wrote her that song.


My friends thought it was a terrible idea

for me to be involved with Benjamin,

because he was a musician.

He wasn't making much money.

But there was something special about Benjamin.

Gloria really was the perfect person for him,

and he adored her.

(Kim Polote) She, to me, completed Ben.

You know, Ben was a great man,

but he also needed a great woman,

and she was that.

To say that he adored her is just part of the way

that he loved her.

His love was timeless for her.

I needed an apartment, uh, to stay in.

I was-I was bein' ran out of one in-in Brooklyn.

And a friend of mine came into the, uh, Hickory House

one night, and I asked him if he know anybody that

could help me to find an apartment.

He called up Gloria and asked Gloria about it.

She called back the next day,

and she called back the next day.

Then, pretty soon, by that time,

I had found an apartment.

And when she called the fourth time,

I said, "I found one."

I said, "Thank you for being so persistent about it."

You know, she-she helped to--

really kept my-kept my spirits up.

(Gloria Tucker) Ben was a struggling musician,

and I knew he was struggling,

but I didn't know how much he was struggling.

And, of course, he always knew that,

sometime in the evening,

I would have to excuse myself and go to the ladies room.

And this is when he would choose to pay the bill.

And I found out that he would pay the bill

in nickels, dimes, and quarters,

because that was all he had.

(Ben Tucker) So, later on, when, um,

I invited her to come to the Hickory House to be my guest,

to show my appreciation for her.

And I asked her to come in,

like, next week and the week after,

and she didn't do it.

It took her about two months before she--

before she came in.

She came in to Hickory House, she and another lady,

and I knew it was her when she walked in

and walked through the front door.

I said, "That's gotta be her," you know?

From that point on, it was-it was all over,

except the shouting.


I guess I played, um, "My One and Only Love."

I think it's what I played.


I think that's what I played for her,

"My One and Only Love."

We've been married now 44 years,

and we've known each other for about 50 years.

It-it-it's been a beautiful life.

I have-have no regrets.

It's been-been a great life. Super life.

They were really the quintessential couple.

They just complimented each other so beautifully.

And, of course, there is a collage of other memories

of Ben with his second love, Bertha,

the upright bass.

Whenever I walked into a room and saw those two together,

I knew that there was gonna be a good time.

And knowing the history of Bertha,

I mean, he took that thing everywhere.

Yeah, that bass was... He took it-he took it everywhere.

several-several hundred years old.

(Barbara Essig) The bass was very special.

If the bass was in the car,

I always had to ride in the backseat.

and that's-- it was just protocol.

And I sat behind him

and the bass sat in the front, reclined.

And so, um, we would jokingly, on a gig,

one lady said the bass was so interesting looking.

And he said, "Baby, that bass is 200--

"over 200 years old."


And I said, "Yep, and he's the only owner."

You know, and so, he, at that point,

he'd give me a little look, and I'd give him a look.


Probably the most fun I had with Ben

was when I brought in a jazz guitarist, uh,

named Joe Beck.

He was the first jazz guitar player to play with Miles Davis,

and recorded the first seven albums with Miles.

So-so, Joe was this renowned jazz guitar player,

with a-a legendary bad temper.

I didn't tell him that I was bringing a bass player,

but I hired Ben to play the gig on the bass,

and it turned out that Joe and Ben had been on the road,

uh, together.

They were both in Peggy Lee's band, in 1960's, on the tour.

So, we were on stage at The Jazz Corner,

getting ready to play the first note,

and no bass player.

And here comes Ben through the door with a bass.

He had to hold it over his head,

in order to get it through this very small, uh,

uh, restaurant.

Ben finally gets on stage,

and Joe and his legendary temper

was about to go off on the bass player.

And Ben puts down the bass,

and he realizes that it's Ben Tucker,

who he hadn't seen since the 1960's,

when they-when they were on the road with Peggy Lee.

And the music that we played that night was legendary.

I was in California when I was in the service,

and, uh, when I got out of the service,

I decided to go into Hollywood,

and play with the-play-play with the guys,

and get in-get-get in the mix,

as they call it.

Uh, learn the tunes, learn the guys,

understand what they're going through,

and tried to, uh, get as much experience as I could

in playing-playing music.

'Cause, back then,

I was practicing 10 to 12 hours a day, every day.

Practice, practice practice.

They say you wanna get-you wanna go to Carnegie Hall,

then you just practice, practice, practice.

I understand that now,

but I didn't know what Carnegie Hall was

back-back in those days.

And finally, I left L.A.

Well, I went to New York blindly

to try the New York scene out,

and that's where I really played with

some-some strong dudes in New York.

New York was tough. Tough, tough, tough.


Jazz in New York was booming at one time,

particularly in my father's era.

The jazz scene in New York was a big freewheeling maelstrom.


If you wanted to work,

you usually had to meet other musicians.

But it's a huge ballroom, right?

The Roseland ballroom, and it's just full of cats.

You would either meet a guy you knew, who said,

"Oh, I got a club date this weekend.

"I need a quintet. You wanna play piano?"


But, now and then, the loud speaker would say,

"Need a piano player who sings,"

and I'd go rushing over, you know?

"I sing. I play."


So, it was a scrabble, you know,

just trying to get a gig.

All-all you had to do was get maybe one or two gigs a week,

and you could pay the rent.

Well, you're in the streets every day,

every night, rather, going from club to club,

talking to musicians,

trying to stay there and let them see-see

and hear you play,

so they can pick up the phone and say,

"Hey, I need a bass player tomorrow."

"Yeah, call Tucker, you know?

He's new in town. He needs a gig."

I remember one night that, uh, I was hungry,

and I needed a job, so I got on-I got on the subway,

and went to the Hickory House, and walked in and sat down,

and said to Marian McPartland,

I said, uh, "Can I play?

She says, uh, "Who are you?"

I says, "I'm-- My name is Ben Tucker.

"I'm from California. I just moved in."

"Well, I never heard of you."

So, she asked the-asked the bass player,

"Have you heard of Ben Tucker before?"

He says, "No."

She said, "He wants to play.

"Can he play your bass?

I-I wanna see what this guy sounds like."

I said, "Great."

I said, "All I wanna play is one tune."

She said, "That's all I'm gonna let you play.

"One tune."

I got on the bandstand with Marian McPartland,

and I played one tune, and she turned around,

and she said, "Mmm. I like that."

I said, "Oh, yeah, okay."

As I went to lay the bass down 'cause the tune was over,

she said, "No, play one more, will you?"

And she called up another tune for me to play,

and I went to lay the bass down, again.

She said, "No, no, play one more."

And I stayed up there for the whole set,

and that's an hour and 15 minutes, right?

I said, "Cool."

I told her, I said, "Look, if you ever need me, um,

"here's my number.

"Call me, please, you know?"

And when I got home, the phone rang,

and this is, like, 2:00 in the morning.

(imitating phone ringing)

I picked it up and says, "Ben Tucker."

"Hi, Ben. This is Marian McPartland.

"My bass player was just intimidated over you,

"and he, uh, he quit.

"So, can you work?"

I says, "Yes, yes, yes."

(laughing) "What you want me to wear?

"Tuxedo, straight tie, suit?

"What? What? Tell me."

I was so happy,

and that broke the ice for me in New York City.

He was the number one jazz bass violinist

in New York.

Gigs all over New York, and you were a steady

with, uh, Marian McPartland, Quincy Jones,

Earl "Fatha" Hines,

and just an endless list of great, great players.

But the only way you make money writing songs

is if they get recorded, right?

♪ Everybody is doing the jingle jump ♪


♪ The jingle jump the jingle jump ♪

♪ The jingle jump the jingle jump ♪

Then Ben had the bright idea,

"I'm gonna be in the advertising business,"

and I said, "Really?"

"Yeah, and I-I'll get the gig."

So, he would go up to the ad agencies, and then, uh,

sell 'em on that he could make a jingle,

you know, a jingle.

In a way, this jingle writing and advertising

led to "Schoolhouse Rock."

♪ Multiply seven time eleven ♪

♪ Even a rabbit knows that's 70 plus 7 ♪

♪ Multiply 7 time 12 ♪

♪ You got 84 and isn't that swell ♪

♪ I'm gonna try 7 time 13 just for fun ♪

♪ 70 plus 21 ♪

♪ 7 time 14 must be great ♪

♪ Well exactly that's a 70 plus 28 ♪

(Ben Tucker) Dave McCall came to me and says,

"Tucker," he says, "Can you help me

"help my son learn how to multiply, you know?

"But he knows all the-- all the lyrics to, uh,

"various, uh, hit-hit records."

I said, "You're kidding me." He said, "No."

♪ I sure do thank you for the huckleberry pie ♪

(Bob Dorough) David B. McCall,

he said his little boys couldn't

memorize the times table,

so he figured he'd put it to music.

(Ben Tucker) Said, "Look, Bobby,

"let's-let's put this thing together."

So, Bobby began to put the entire musical

and the lyrics thing together,

and we both went into the studio and produced the,

uh, this demo.

And we'll call it "Multiplication Rock."


♪ Three is a magic number ♪

♪ Yes it is ♪

♪ It's a magic number ♪

I took about two weeks,

and I wrote "Three is a Magic Number."

♪ Three is a magic number ♪

And, uh, I took that up to the office

in a little cassette demo.

(chuckling) They loved it,

and David said, "Write some more.

"That's what I'm looking for.

"That's it."

Eventually, we had recorded all 11 songs,

called "Multiplication Rock."

♪ Takes three wheels to make a vehicle ♪

♪ Called a tricycle ♪

(Kevin Bales) He just was not a guy who waved his own banner.

I'll give you an example.

He only in passing one time told me about

"Schoolhouse Rock" and his part of it.

He managed to tell it to me in a way in which

I thought he exaggerated it.

♪ A man and a woman had a little baby ♪

(Kevin Bales) And then I was at a jazz convention once,

and in an elevator, and Bob Dorough,

who sang "Schoolhouse," was there,

and he's in the elevator with me,

and he asked me where I was from.

"Oh," I said, "I live in Jacksonville, Florida.

"I play in Savannah."


He says, "Do you know my friend, Ben Tucker?"

I said, "Yeah, I know Ben Tucker."

He said, "Oh, yeah, Ben Tucker's the guy

who came up with 'Schoolhouse Rock' and got me on it."

I'm like...


Without any prompting, you know?

♪ 12 15 18 21 24 27 and 30 ♪

Ben had not exactly grown tired of, uh, being in music,

but he-he-he-thought,

"Okay, I've done what I wanted to do musically,

so I'm going to try something else."

He said, you know, "I'm gonna get outta New York.

"I'm gonna go somewhere and buy a radio station."

So, he almost bought a radio station in Seattle.

It didn't work.

He almost bought one in Louisville.

Didn't work, and the deal didn't go through.

So, he finally found this one in Savannah.

An African American man in Savannah, Georgia,

the Deep South, owning a radio station.

That was a big thing.

I'm Sam Bruce of Van Magnavox.

We enjoy the half billion dollar market

that WSOK radio delivers to us from the black community.

Realizing the strength of this growing market,

we advertise on WSOK.

We want to thank you for using our products

and thank WSOK radio for bringing us

this share of the retail pot.

Thank you.

(announcer) WSOK radio can serve your business

a large slice of the retail pie.

Call WSOK sales at 232-3322.

(E. Larry McDuffie) Good morning,

and welcome to our early morning worship service.

This is joy in the morning, on the all-new FM 103.5.

I'm your co-host, E. Larry McDuffie.

As you know, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

is the captain of this ship,

and we certainly welcome you aboard.

We have a whole lot of great gospel music

planned and designed with you in mind,

and I'm quite sure I have a song with your name on it.

So, let's get started with this praise party

on this terrific Tuesday.

Listen, be blessed, and enjoy.

Put your hands together,

for I'ma sing this song right here.

Come on.

♪ Oh I thank you thank you Jesus ♪

(Otis Johnson) Hey, this guy is now in Savannah.

He has moved from New York City

to little ol' Savannah.

(E. Larry McDuffie) I cannot stop talking about radio

without talking about Ben Tucker.

He asked me if I would come and do his gospel show.

I told him I was a schoolteacher,

and I could do that for about maybe two weeks,

and it ended up being 37 years.

My mom always had her radio clock alarm

on WSOK in the morning.

So, when we got up to go to school,

that's the voice we heard, the joy in the morning,

E. Larry McDuffie.

My father, when he bought the radio station,

in Savannah, which was very, very segregated,

very racist at the time.

He bought the station,

and I believe that the station was 100% white.

And when he walks in and says that, "I'm the owner,"

they all get up and leave.


Well, when Ben came to Savannah,

Savanna had already witnessed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In 1963, just before going to Washington,

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. came through Savannah

and the First African Baptist Church,

in downtown Savannah.

(Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that, one day,

this nation will rise up,

live out the true meaning of its creed.

We hold these truths to be self-evident

that all men are created equal.

(E. Larry McDuffie) I'll never forget.

That was a very, you know, personal moment in my life.

To see this African American standing up there

and speaking.

(Wayne Tucker) In Savannah, in '72,

my father, he had a lot of things to deal with,

because they did not like him.

You know, and then my father had the nerve

to buy a townhouse in the middle of the historic district.

They had so much trouble there with the neighbors

because there were, you know, white people there.

You know, all the people didn't want, uh,

didn't want him living there.

That was a very sad time.

You gotta think back now.

This was in the 70's and in the 80's,

and we were still transitioning from Jim Crow.

(Wayne Tucker) They threatened his life.

They threatened, you know, the children's life,

and glorious grandchildren.

They-they put dead cats on the-on the porch.

You know, they-they did everything they could

to say get out and leave.

People used to put dead cat heads

in front of station,

every night for about-for about a month.

I had to walk through that in order to get into my--

in-into my office.

They even put a cross with three, six, nine cat heads.

Three across and-and six down.

That kinda business.

What are they talkin' about?

What are they doin'?

That was somethin' in the South, um, to deal with.

You have to go through all these trials and tribulations

with, um, the KKK's,

and with various other small groups around town.

They'd be black or white, you know,

that didn't like what I was into.

(Gloria Tucker) He called me, and he said, "I need help.

"I need you to come down here."

I said, "To Georgia?"

Georgia, at that time, had a horrible reputation.

And he said, "Yes." I said, "I don't know."

He said, "But, I-I-I need you."

So, I decided I would come.

But they didn't get to me about, you know,

the thing about it is,

well, give it up because I wasn't about to-to bend.

They couldn't break me like that.

(Otis Johnson) Some of us, when we run into racism,

we want pity, you know, and-and, shoot,

you got to get up and get going.

Uh, you-you can't let that stuff wear you down.

If it does, then the-the-the racist wins.

And Ben wasn't gonna be a loser.

(E. Larry McDuffie) Ben was very much into this community.

He wanted what was best for Savannah,

and he used that radio station to help Savannah

in any way that he could.

He just went out and talked to people

and got advertising, you know, and-and pushed it.

And, you know, then when WSOK made-made it to number one,

oh, my Lord.

Everyone knows that the attitude you wake up with

in the morning often sets your mood

for the rest of the day.

And, tonight, in part two of her special assignment series,

"Pilots of the Airwaves,"

Carmel Garvin talks with some of the people in radio

who feel very responsible

for getting people up in a good mood.

Our philosophy here at WSOK was total community involvement,

economic motivation, and a training program,

for an artist to be managers, program directors,

and news analysts, if so desire,

and to go into business for themselves,

if so desire, and to bring a cohesive understanding

between blacks and whites.

I met Ben Tucker when he first came,

he and Gloria,

when they first came to Savannah.

Of course, Ben bought WSOK.

This became a radio station

where we could get the message out.

It became the voice of the people,

and Ben made sure of that.

He made sure that this community was well informed.

(radio host) This is 1230 WSOK Savannah.

Good evening to you and welcome to open line outreach.

Well, it's a very busy time.

It's election season in Savannah, Georgia.

In 1976, Ben offered me the opportunity

to have a radio program.

Malcom X had an-an album called

"Message to the Grassroots,"

so I named the program "Message from the Grassroot."

(Edna Jackson) He had a program for teenagers

called "The Teen Timers,"

and we went on, on Saturdays.

It was a two-hour show.

He assigned us to a DJ, and we ran the whole show.

(E. Larry McDuffie) He wanted me to come aboard and do a weekend show

called "The Gospel According to Larry."

(Otis Johnson) He wanted to increase

the consciousness of the community.

(E. Larry McDuffie) Ben's talk show was a political talk show,

and he would interview a guest.

Uh, city officials, school board members,

our council members, our senators,

about the conditions of the community

and how he could use his station

in order to inform people about what was going on

in the community.

Things that they should know, that we didn't know.

(Edna Jackson) He wasn't just this million-dollar smile.

He really was this great person who had a big heart,

especially for children.

Because I don't know of any radio station

that actually allowed teenagers to come and take over

on the weekends the way that he did.

(Otis Johnson) The willingness to allow the community access

was a big thing.

I began to learn a lot about his music

and a lot about the, um, songs that he had written

and this type thing.

I began to know the, you know,

the artist side of Ben, other than the businessman.


Savannah, while I was in high school,

and as a young person, was a mecca for music,

for jazz musicians.

I suppose you would say there was three distinct eras of,

uh, jazz history here.

And goes back at least, uh, 80 or more years

with almost the invention of jazz.

The next era of jazz was what was called modern jazz,

which went, more or less, by the name of bee-bop.

Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis,

and so on, and so on.

(Teddy Adams) I got out of the Air Force, in Japan, in 1976.

After completing almost 11 years there,

I returned to Savannah.

Not having any idea that I would witness

a demise of the jazz scene in Savannah.

And to come home and find it not present

was quite a shock to me.

The arrival of Ben Tucker to Savannah, um,

constituted the beginning of the third important, uh,

period of jazz in Savannah.

I knew that Ben was here,

and he didn't even have his bass.

It was in storage in New York.

That was shocking to me.

He was trying to make the radio station work,

so he was knee deep in business and making that work.

You know, I just insisted and hounded him

until he agreed to, uh, start playing bass again,

and he sent for his bass in New York.

Once he got the upright bass,

we sat down and started making some definite plans

about what we could perhaps do here

to revitalize the music scene or the jazz scene.

He came to me one day and said, "Look, I have an idea.

The Telfair Academy of, uh, Art and Science

"is a very prestigious place.

"And, perhaps, if we could make something work there,

"that is the shot that we need

"to put jazz back on the map."

He and I gathered the very best musicians in Savannah,

and we started doing monthly concerts

right here in this rotunda at the Telfair.

That tweaked a lot of curiosity, a lot of interest,

and that was the beginning of the resurgence of jazz

in Savannah.


♪ What the world needs now ♪

♪ Is love sweet love ♪

♪ It's the only thing ♪

♪ That there's just too little of ♪

♪ What the world needs now ♪

I had some notoriety as, um, easy listening,

R&B singer, at the time,

and he hired me just on reputation.

When it was time for them to add a singer

to their concerts at the Telfair Jazz Society,

he hired me.

It was around that time that Ben Tucker and Teddy Adams

were advertised as teaching a continuing education class

at Savannah State.

Connie and I signed up for it.

(Teddy Adams) The people in that class were jazz enthusiasts,

jazz aficionados.

(Tom Glaser) Ben and Teddy didn't actually teach.

They just talked.

They played, and they talked.

It was right after we finished that class,

a few of us got together and had lunch,

and we said, "You know,

"isn't it a shame that there are

"these great musicians in Savannah,

"and there really is no venue for jazz to be heard or played?"

(Teddy Adams) Within a very short period of time,

that listening group became an association.

(Tom Glaser) And that was the beginnings

of the Coastal Jazz Association.

(Ben Tucker) We try to emphasize, uh, let's preserve jazz.

Bring the-the creativity,

the-the-the American heritage to-to you,

to-to us, to everybody.


(Terry Herron) Ben and Teddy literally put together

the-the big band in town.

The festival, the jazz festival.

Without those two guys and a few others on the scene,

there wouldn't be much jazz in Savannah.

One year after the Coastal Jazz Association was formed,

we did our first Savannah Jazz Festival.

So, that was 1982 that we started the Coastal Jazz Association.

And, in 1983,

we had our first jazz festival in Grayson Stadium.

A one-day festival.



(Tom Glaser) The proof is in the pudding.

Jazz has become a very important part of the social

and artistic fabric of Savannah.

(Terry Herron) I mean, the Savannah Jazz Festival

draws tens of thousands of people every September,

and it's free.

And it's black, and it's white,

and it's yellow, and it's green.

It's every kind of person, uh, in the world,

and there's people from all over the country

that come to it,

and they just hang out there for three nights

and listen to cool jazz on the big stage,

and-and it's a love fest.

(Connie Glaser) Jazz has really served to bridge the racial divide,

here in Savannah,

and I think Ben really epitomizes this.

We have put on 34 jazz festivals,

and hundreds and hundreds of concerts,

and turned out a new generation of jazz.


Ben's greatest gift to Savannah has been to bring

all of the elements of jazz, uh, to the forefront,

but also to bring so many different people in the community together

who perhaps had not heard jazz,

who were interested in other, uh, types of music.


He was able to bring young people

from different ethnic backgrounds

and social economic backgrounds together,

because the music united them.

(Ron Flagg) We used that, you know, with Hard Hearted Hannah's,

which was one of the first integrated

salt and pepper kinda clubs

that people could feel comfortable of, uh,

different races coming together

and-and not feeling ostracized in any way.

But it was his civic involvement

that I think created the impact

that-that-that-that had in Savannah.

♪ They call her Hard Hearted Hannah ♪

♪ The vamp of Savannah ♪

♪ The meanest gal in town ♪

♪ Leather is tough but Hannah's heart is tougher ♪

♪ She's a gal who loves to see men suffer ♪

♪ To tease them and thrill 'em ♪

Hard Hearted Hannah's was kind of the heartbeat of jazz

for this area.

Uh, it was Ben's club.

(Teddy Adams) Hard Hearted Hannah.

There's a song called "Hard Hearted Hannah."

And he just thought that was a catchy title for a club.

"Uh, Hard Hearted Hannah the vamp of Savannah G.A."

♪ The vamp of Savannah G.A. ♪

There are very few places like that today

It had an intimacy.

It was a-it was a coziness there, you know.

And that's rare, today, to find a-a room

where people are paying attention to you,

and they feel cozy.

They almost feel like they're in your living room,

but-but it had this kinda really cool jazz vibe.

Really cool, where you just assembled with your friends,

and you didn't have a care in the world,

and just had a nice evening, you know?

You were among friends.

That was somewhat the-the-the fragrance

in the air.

You were among friends...

and great music.

♪ She's Hard Hearted Hannah ♪

♪ The vamp of Savannah G.A. ♪

Oh, God. That was funky.

It was down and dirty.

It was just, you know, you walk in,

and it was like, okay, it's time to slow down.

It's time to just get down.

Give me my drink.


You could feel the-the tourists were, like,

so enamored by it.

It was just the atmosphere.

It was truly a jazz club.

It was-- people listened.

They sat quietly, enjoyed every minute of it.

It was just cool.

Just the word "cool" coins a description of Hannah's perfectly.

Totally cool.


(Otis Johnson) There are very few jazz lovers

who wanna get up and dance.

We wanna sit down and listen to the various instruments.

And, for a minute,

I might be concentrating on the drum-on the drums,

and then I'm gonna switch to the bass,

and then I'm gonna go to the horn players,

and then I'm gonna try to, you know,

just listen at the whole ensemble.


But my preference is to sit down and hear

some real thinkers improvise on their instruments.

And I love for them to play the theme of that song,

and then start improvising on it.

Oh, you can't get better than that.


(Howard Paul) Anybody who was a legitimate jazz musician

was part of that scene at some time.

And Ben performed in the band

every night that he wasn't off playing somewhere else.


(Kevin Bales) We had some nights that were just magical.

Here's a story I like to tell about Ben.

Ben was a stickler about punctuality.

He did not like people to be late.

I was living in Jacksonville, Florida.

We're drivin' up. There's bad traffic.

It's very stressful.

By the time we get there, we're 45 minutes late,

which I-I know Ben is gonna be furious.

We pull up into the parking lot

outside The Pirate's House,

and there's a line up the stairs to get in.

So, not only are we late, it's a capacity crowd.

We're like, oh, this is gonna be awful.

As we're walking in,

Ben is receiving a standing ovation.

He's just completed a 45-minute solo bass set

all by himself, which, by itself, is amazing.

How do you do solo bass to a capacity crowd?

And he's getting a standing ovation.

The good news of the story is,

Ben was so ecstatically pleased

that he wasn't mad at us.


It was a feat of great musicianship, though.

I don't know many musicians who would go on

and play solo bass.



(Paula Wallace) In a jazz combo, the bassist is the heartbeat.

He would be the heartbeat to every musical group

that I ever saw him perform in.

I think Ben set the rhythm for life in Savannah, too.

(Claire Frazier) He was involved in everything.

Civic minded to the hilt.

So far as the crime is concerned in my district,

it has been reduced by some 8%,

and that is due to the neighborhood watch program.

(Howard Paul) Ben was very active on a whole lot of

different levels in the community.

A big part of that was education for him,

and it wasn't just music.

It was golf, also.

He was very involved in First Tee.

He really had an affinity for bringing the youth

into the world of golf.

The First Tee is a great organization for, um,

inner city kids who really wanna get away from stuff

that's happening at home.

That's a good little bump and run.

I like it.

You're learning the game of golf.

You're learning your, uh, nine core values.

Integrity, judgment, perseverance.

Honesty, confidence, sportsmanship.

These are all the qualities that Ben Tucker

embedded in his life every day,

and you could see these qualities

as he did his work in the community.

(Howard Paul) He did not establish The First Tee,

but he was active and served on the board.

Ben was a golfer from the time he got up in the morning

until the time he went to bed at night.

He thought more about golf, I think,

than he did about music.

He studied the game, as if it was a science.

(Brody Sessions) Okay, that was a little pull, right?

Just a little pull.

(Brody Sessions) How about we take a look at these shots

on the video replay?

(Howard Paul) I was a terrible golfer.

Ben was a really good golfer.

So, I tried to stay away from most of his golf games

because he'd just take my money.

Oh, yeah, Ben loved to win.

He just-he just loved to win.

Even when he lost, if he was playing well,

he-he could still laugh about it.

(Brody Sessions) There you go.

That's what you got, right now.

That's what I got.

(Brody Sessions) Golf is just-- was his thing.

He played golf and so do I,

and so we just kinda got along,

and I just...

I wish I could still play golf with him.


(Ben Tucker) I don't know.

Um, as I suggest, jazz is-is-is a way of life.

Jazz is, uh, self-expression.

Jazz, uh, um, deals with, um, um, life in general.

An emotional day as hundreds poured into

Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Ascension

to pay their final respects to jazz great, Ben Tucker.

His golf cart was struck on Hutchinson Island

by someone reportedly racing along the roadway.

(Female reporter) Metro Police say that he was going 90 miles an hour

on the old racetrack at Hutchinson Island,

when he hit Ben Tucker,

who was crossing the road on a golf cart.

The morning that it happened, I had been--

I had taken my usual walk around Forsyth Park.

It was about 12:00, and the phone rang.

Somebody from Savannah Harbor called me,

and she said...

"Ben has been in an accident.

"I'm coming to take you to the hospital."

Got in my car and went straight to the hospital,

and met Gloria

in the, uh, waiting room there.

And then, uh, was honored to go back with her

to see Ben after his, uh, death.

And we prayed, and shed tears,

and walked that journey together.

And I was pretty much just doing what a pastor does.

Kinda by her side for the next few days and helpin' her.

Everybody was in shock, the whole town.

I remember that day, too.

Just the radio stations, the TV stations,

everything was just kinda in a state of shock.

You could tell.

Because Ben was just the heart and soul

of, uh, this community.

(E. Larry McDuffie) It-it was overwhelming.

I, um-- it was-- you-you-you hear something,

but you don't want to believe what you're hearing.

And it was that kind of-- it was that kind of moment.

I couldn't...

I couldn't do anything.

Uh, I-I could...

I could barely move when I heard that.


I-I don't-

I don't remember exactly where I was,

but I-I do know that when I got word of it,

it just hit me like a ton of bricks

because Ben was healthy.

You know, he was playing golf almost every day,

and for him suddenly to be killed like that was a shock.

It was almost as-as if I was dreaming.

I didn't believe it.

See, you would have to know Ben to understand

just how unusual or unexpected

something like that could be.

Ben was a health nut.

Ben lived a very, very clean life.

If Ben sneezed, Ben would go to the doctor.

I can't do it.

I'm sorry. I'm sorry.

My husband's death shattered me.


(Brody Sessions) It was just...

the last time that I saw him,

the last thing that he said to me was very touching.

It's very different.

He said, "Sometimes, the things that you love

"can frustrate you the most.

"Sometimes, they're taken away from you the fastest."

And, after that, he...

Ben Tucker, he's my friend.

He's a part of The First Tee, all right?

And, uh, he goes to Armstrong State University.

No, I go to Jacob G. Smith.

I'm not even in high school.

Jacob G. Smith, that's right.

This kid is too much, man.

He's a great guy.

But he taught me how to be happy,

and I'm just gonna look at the time we spent together,

instead of how much I'm gonna miss him.

The funeral arrangements had to be made,

but I knew my friend,

and I knew that he didn't want people to-to be sad

because of his passing.

Ben loved golf,

and I think to leave this earth doing what you enjoy

the most is almost a gift.

And-and-and everybody was saddened by his demise,

but, by the same token,

it was a celebration of his life.

(Male reporter) Ben's friends and family wanted this to be his day.

So, when they spoke to us,

they were focused on the qualities about him

they loved most.

He was the most lovable, joyful,

good man you would ever know.

He went through sadnesses, and deaths, and losses,

but he was always there for everybody.

(male reporter) His life and work became an indelible part of Savannah.

So, no surprise, city officials were also on hand.

Of course, Ben touched them as well.

He's going to be a tremendous loss to this community.

I don't know.

You know, I have to give words today.

It will be tough, but I'll have to do it

because people need to know the kind of person

that Ben really-- and I-I--

well-well, now you have to say, "was,"

but really was.

The main thing I wanted to get across was...

to fill your heart with love, and somewhere--

I didn't even think of this before I got up there.

I don't know.

I said, "Fill your heart up with love

"and leave no room for hate,"

'cause that's just what came to mind.

And I said, "Damn, that's good."

My dad always said, he said, um, "No, Wayne.

"Son-son, look-look-look. It's not my problem.

"It's their problem.

"It's not my problem."

He said, "That person has hate in his heart."

He said, "Have no room for that."

Unforgettable though near or far.

Like a song with love that clings to us,

oh, Ben Tucker, you do things to us.

(indistinct singing)

It was probably a two-hour service,

and it was packed,

and the musicians were just givin' their best.

♪ Coming home ♪

♪ I'm coming home baby ♪

♪ Coming home... ♪

(Lisa Jackson) It was truly a celebration of life.

They did, like, New Orleans style.

Played music and marched through the streets,

celebrating him.

It was wonderful. Absolutely wonderful.


The whole purpose of the song,

"When the Saints Go Marching In,"

is that you're actually leaving this place

and going to a better place.

And so, when Ben Tucker left us, it was sad,

and we all were disappointed about it,

but you have to celebrate the life that someone lived,

and Ben Tucker lived life to the fullest.

♪ Oh when the saints go marching in ♪

You see, there is a poem,

"Lives of great men all remind us.

"We should make our lives sublime and, departing,

"leave behind us footprints on the sands of time."

Ben Tucker's footprints are throughout this community.

Wherever you step, Ben was there.

He has been there and never asked

for any glory.

He did it because it was the right thing to do.


The biggest lesson I've learned is to love,

to understand, and appreciate people,

and to appreciate your family, and to love your family,

and stick with your family.

Just stick whole-- just hang--

just-just hang-hang through hard times and good times,

and the good times will outweigh the bad times,

if you can just hang in there and be cool.

Be cool.









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