The 5 Fridays of Free Jazz Concert Series Returns to the Central Benjamin L. Hooks Library

A collaborative effort with the Levitt Shell and the Memphis Library Foundation, the 5 Fridays of Free Jazz concert season is quickly approaching! All concerts are free and open to the public. 

Beginning March 6, concerts will be held on Fridays at 6:30 PM at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library, located at 3030 Poplar Avenue, Memphis, TN 38111. Concessions and drinks will be available to purchase at the events.

The 5 Fridays of Free Jazz concert series is in its fifth year as a partnership of the Levitt Shell and Memphis Library Foundation. The series seeks to build community by connecting both new and established audiences with jazz music.

“5 Fridays of Jazz always gets me excited because it means the Levitt Shell season will soon be upon us,” said Levitt Shell Executive Director Natalie Wilson. 

“It also means that we can make some of the best jazz in the region accessible to Memphis and share our mission outside of our Shell lawn.”

Here are the dates and information about the performances, all shows start at 6:30 pm:

March 6 | Third Man

The Tony Thomas Trio has been performing throughout the Greater MidSouth Area in a variety of formats since the mid-seventies. Known by many as a piano-bass-drum ensemble comprised of Thomas on piano (as well as various synthesizers), Sam Shoup on upright and electric bass (along with, more recently, Tim Goodwin), and Tom Lonardo on Drums, the group has been fortunate to have made many musical friends with both listeners of improvised music and as accompanists to other soloists in the genre, such as George Coleman, the late Richard “Groove” Holmes, and Eric Alexander, to name just a few.  Another form of the Tony Thomas Trio features Tony on Hammond organ, Lonardo, and tenor saxophonist Jim Spake, and calls itself  “Third Man”.  The repertoire is an eclectic mix of bop and other instrumental cuisines that promote, again, extemporaneous performance.  It is this group that you’ll be hearing in tonight’s performance.

March 13 | Stax Music Academy Jazz Ensemble 

The Memphis tradition of jazz music dates back many years to the time of W.C. Handy, Jimmie Lunceford, and Phineas Newborn. The music has continued to evolve with legends such as George Coleman, Kirk Whalum, Joyce Cobb and Donald Brown. Memphis is a city with a long musical heritage that is an integral part of the American sound consisting of work songs, spirituals, blues, jazz, gospel, rock & roll and soul. The music presented by Stax Music Academy Jazz Ensemble is inspired by these renowned Memphis jazz giants of past and present. The Stax Jazz Ensemble is a large instrumental ensemble focusing on early jazz, swing, bebop, fusion, contemporary and Latin styles. Students are developing an understanding of jazz improvisation, rhythm, harmony and form. These high school students are proving themselves at special events like the W.C. Handy Heritage Awards. As they perform in the city, they expose other youth to the music in the local teen hot spots. The ensemble takes listeners on a journey through jazz past and present. Come on out and swing with Stax Music Academy.  SMA is an after school and summer music institute utilizing the rich legacy and tradition of Stax Records.

March 20 | Ekpe & The African Jazz Ensemble 

The African Jazz Ensemble is a 10-piece band made up of some of Memphis’ finest musicians. The core of the band began in the early 70s as the soul group the Exotic Movement, and later changed their name to Galaxy. They’ve played together for over 40 years, and members have toured the world with Michael Jackson, Al Green, BB King, Eric Clapton, the Dells, Luther Allison, and Rufus and Carla Thomas. They formed the African Jazz Ensemble as a way to incorporate African influences into more traditional jazz, soul and R&B.


Born in Okmulgee, Oklahoma and reared in Nashville, Joyce Cobb first sang in her grandmother’s church. Joyce’s career spans from live orchestrations for Nashville’s WSM radio and television stations, to live performances in Europe.  She landed a record deal with a subsidiary of Stax Records just before the label folded, but continued her recording career with West Coast-based Cream Records.  Under the direction of Wayne Crook of Shoe Productions, she wrote, sang, and performed the single “Dig the Gold” that earned her a NO.42 spot in Billboard Magazine. Maestro Alan Balter, conductor of the Memphis Symphony, heard her sing at the Peabody Hotel in 1990 and Cobb has since been invited to perform with the symphony on numerous occasions. She maintains an active performing and recording career and has also worked as an educator at Rhodes College, the STAX academy, and the University . of Memphis. The concert will also feature the Rhodes Jazz Faculty Players (Mike Assad, John Bass, Tim Goodwin, Gerald Stephens, and Carl Wolf) along with the Rhodes Jazz Band under the direction of Dr. David Shotsberger.

April 24 | Hope Clayburn

Clayburn’s funky saxophone, flute chops, and soulful vocals have given her the opportunity to play with prestigious musicians such as James Brown, The Allman Brothers Band, Maceo Parker, and the North Mississippi All-stars. She came back to Memphis after European tour in 2009 with The Dynamites.

Her band Soul Scrimmage mixes soul and funk tunes with afrobeat and reggae, which is intended to create an energetic and uplifting atmosphere. The band features Hope on sax and flute. She also provides vocals and serves as composer. Robert Allen Parker Jr., creator of the The Broken String Collective, plays on the guitar. Public Enemy’s lead guitarist Khari Wynn is on bass. 

For more information about the 5 Fridays of Free Jazz concert series, please visit

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