Bill McGee (Photo courtesy Bill McGee)
The return of a jazz concert series might just bring the troubled city of Petersburg something it could use right now — good vibes. Jazz musician and producer Bill McGee is headlining the I Am Petersburg Jazz Fest: Jazz Under the Stars concert in the parking lot of Good Shepherd Baptist Church this Friday at 6 p.m. McGee said the unlikely venue for a jazz music festival came about when the church agreed to partner with the cash-strapped city to keep the free music festival going.
“I hope it’s a positive thing for Petersburg,” said McGee. “I hope everything turns out the best for the city.”
McGee, a trumpet and flugelhorn player, has long musical résumé, including stints in underground R&B bands Hellaphinalia and Trussell, which, for a time, backed ’80s disco queen Evelyn “Champagne” King. McGee served as King’s music director for a period in the late 1970s, at the request of the young singer’s parents.
He has also backed early rap acts like The Sequence and mentored scores of young, talented Virginia musicians, including R&B/neosoul superstar D’Angelo and rappers Mad Skillz and Danja Mowf. After a 40-year career in the music industry, McGee worked for several years as an educator and administrator with Richmond Public Schools. Earlier this year, he released his fourth CD, “Still Bill,” on his own 804 Jazz label. The show will be McGee’s first in two years, since his recovery from cancer-related surgery.
McGee, who was born in Richmond but grew up in Petersburg, said that about 3,000 people came out to the festival last year. (Side note: This year, lawn chairs are welcome, coolers aren’t.) Local jazz band Doors Wide Open headlined the bill. This year’s concert features the return of smooth jazz and gospel guitarist Tim Bowman. Bowman served as the musical director for the Grammy-winning gospel group, The Winans, for several years before starting a solo career in 1996. Rounding out the bill is a nine-piece soul/jazz band called the Urban Guerilla Orchestra, known for their renditions of Philly soul classics.
The I Am Petersburg Jazz Fest: Jazz Under the Stars concert is Friday, Sept. 9, at 6 p.m. at Good Shepherd Baptist Church (2223 S. Crater Road). The concert is free, and food vendors will be on site. For more information, visit www.goodshepherdbaptist.org or call 732-5969.