Jazz returns at twilight

What began years ago as a bicycle race in Athens blossomed into a weekend festival of arts and athletics. It's called Twilight, and it includes biking, skating, running and soccer, a downtown beer garden and music.

This year's festivities mark the return of the Twilight Jazz festival, which faded from view in 1994. "Because of the different styles of music that Athens offers, over time the jazz festival went away," explains Kelly Broadway, a Georgia student helping to promote the event. "This year, [festival organizers] wanted to bring jazz back. In Athens, you have your R.E.M. wannabes, your punk garage bands, but you don't find a lot of jazz here, and they wanted to offer the community that."

Twilight weekend is April 27-29, but Twilight Jazz will consist of three weekends of concerts leading to the headline event April 27. This Friday, Athens jazz bands Squat and ORI perform in front of the 40 Watt Club on Washington Street at 7 p.m. The following Friday, April 20, UGA Jazz1, featuring Steve Dancz, performs at Herty Field on UGA's North Campus at 7 p.m.

Dancz, an Athens native who now lives in Atlanta, remembers the '80s heyday of the jazz festival, when headliners included Mose Allison, Freddie Hubbard and Stanley Turrentine, to name a few. "It was amazing to see the number of people who were downtown. They were practically hanging off the light poles," he says.

The headline event features jazz drummer Winard Harper, formerly of the Harper Brothers, whose brother Danny hosts the Tuesday night jazz jams at Churchill Grounds. Also appearing will be Steve Dancz and Friends. The African-American Choral Ensemble will open.

The performances will benefit Nuci's Space, a local charity that provides resources and support to local musicians. The charity was created in honor of Nuci Philips, a Georgia student and musician who committed suicide in 1996.

The Twilight Jazz Festival takes place April 13, 20 and 27 in Athens. For more information, visit www.twilightjazz.com.??