HAMLET — Gerard Morrison is looking for a few good musicians. Ninety-six, to be exact.
The reason for that number: Jazz legend John Coltrane would have been 96 on Friday, Sept. 23.
Morrison is founder of the John W. Coltrane Music “Edu-tainment” Festival, now in its 14th year. The annual event returns to Wayman Chapel Faith Center next weekend after going virtual the past two years in response to the COVID pandemic.
Although Coltrane was a jazz musician, Morrison invites artists from all genres — from blues to bluegrass, classical to country, folk to funk, rock to rap and everything in between.
Morrison founded the festival for several reasons, including to bring attention to the musical and cultural heritage of not only Richmond County, but the Sandhills and Pee Dee regions of the Carolinas and put the “unity” in community.
In addition to music, the festival is slated to feature authors and poets, as well as community booths with information on health — including cancer and mental health.
There are also a few “surprise elements” lined up for this year, according to Morrison.
Coltrane was born at 200 Hamlet Ave. to John and Alice Blair Coltrane, but grew up in High Point. He joined a community band at the age of 12 and started a school band at William Penn High School, where he graduated at 16 before moving to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Coltrane served a short stint in the U.S. Navy and went on to meet and make music with other jazz greats including Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk and Miles Davis.
Gillespie, nearly nine years older than Coltrane, was born in nearby Cheraw, South Carolina, and attended the Laurinburg Institute on a music scholarship before also moving to Philadelphia.
Coltrane overcame alcohol and heroin addiction and was named “Jazzman of the Year” by Down Beat magazine in 1965. Two years later, he died due to complications from liver cancer.
In 2020, Coltrane was honored with a mural in Hamlet by artist Scott Nurkin. It was the first in a series by Nurkin to recognize North Carolina musicians.
In September the same year, on what would have been the saxophonist’s 94th birthday, Dr. Fred McQueen opened the Coltrane Blueroom on the corner of Hamlet Avenue and Bridges Street, which is Coltrane’s birthplace.
McQueen and the late Dr. Wendell Wells restored the building from rubble, using the original brick, in the late ‘80s.
In the late ‘80s, when Jim Martin was governor, McQueen was instrumental in securing the historical marker to honor Coltrane on U.S. 74 Business.
The JCMEF is scheduled for noon-6 p.m. Oct. 1 at 1935 Ghio Osborne Road, Hamlet.
For more information, contact Morrison at 4JCMEF@gmail.com or call 347-286-8742.
NOTE: This story was edited to correct a typo. 2:09 p.m. 9-29-22