Grady Jazz Kids

Abby Peters

More stories from Abby Peters


Jay Hammond solos at Evolution’s gig at Mason Tavern. (photo by Sarah Likins)

Komorebi is the Japanese word for when sunlight filters through the trees and you can see the interplay between the light and the leaves. This is also the word local Atlanta jazz band Evolution uses to describe their mission.
Evolution is comprised of high school students from multiple schools around the Atlanta area. They describe their mission as “to accept the beautiful pure spirit of musical inspiration, and then to shape it, bend it, filter through all their collected experiences.”
In spring of 2016 Jay Hammond, now sophomore at Grady High School, got the idea to form an independent jazz band for young musicians. He got a few of his peers from Inman Jazz All-Stars (INJA) and they branched off with him to form a new band. They called themselves Evolution, and the symbol for the band was the Acacia Tree. The symbol was fitting for their name and what the band is trying to do because the Acacia tree has a deep, unseen, essential root system that is constantly evolving to support all of the tree, similar to how jazz is constantly flowing and adapting to support the various instruments.
“That band [INJA] was more of a school thing and I kind of wanted to start my own thing separate from school, more independent, but still include people from the program,” Hammond said, and that’s exactly what he did.
With the help of the now former Inman Middle School band director, Arnessa Woods, Hammond and five others, including Grady students Isaac Turner and Max Seldes, moved forward with this idea.
“When we started off, Ms. Woods was directing us, but as we progressed she dropped off and we independently ran it with the help of Jay’s dad [John Hammond],” Isaac Turner said.
Hammond’s father acted as a sort of manager for Evolution and the group went forward without a director.
“Jazz itself is more solo driven and run by the players,” Turner explained. “It’s not written down and formulated. You have a chart with the chords, but everything is based off of the musician. The musician decides where the song goes.” Because jazz is played in this manner, the band did perfectly fine with no director and Hammond leading them in songs.
“I’m usually the one leading the songs, but I don’t like to be too dictating in the way songs end or start or the order in which they go,” Hammond said. “Before we start, I like to quickly ask the bandmates who wants to have a solo and their opinion on how they want the song to go,” Hammond’s way of leading really works for the band and has even lead them to having regular gigs.
A rotating group of five out of the nine players in the band play at the InterContinental Hotel in Buckhead every Friday night from 8pm to 11pm. They also play at Mason Tavern the first Saturday of every month from 8pm to 11pm.
The Mason Tavern gig is under a pop-up session hosted by jazz artist Sam Yi, former owner of Churchill Grounds, and they play there to help support Yi in his development of the jazz scene. The gig at the InterContinental Hotel pays them the standard rate of any professional band to play and the players are able to make a profit off of it while also fulfilling their mission to inspire people with their music shaped by their experiences.
“Our name is Evolution to symbolize the way jazz is evolving throughout the years,” Hammond said.  “We’re kind of the next generation of jazz. There are a lot of young players out right now and the whole idea of Evolution is to merge those players together slowly to make the next generation of jazz and try figure out what to do with it.”

Jay Hammond solos at Evolution’s gig at Mason Tavern. (photo by Sarah Likins)
Four members of evolution playing a gig Mason Tavern. (Isaac Turner, far right, Jay Hammond second on the right) (photo by Sarah Likins)