Jazz musician Ron Helman talks about a new series at the Thompson Hotel Savannah

The son of a saxophonist, whose two brothers are classically trained pianists, Ron Helman grew up with music all around him.

Before becoming a jazz musician at age 44, New Jersey-born and now Savannah-based Helman spent years as a dancer. Previously, he was a dance coach and instructor in the Juilliard School’s drama department and even provided choreographic expertise to Sting and Julianne Moore.

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Helman also trained as a classical trumpet player and performed in off-Broadway productions. Now he’s in Savannah playing with his jazz ensemble every Saturday at the Thompson Hotel – Savannah.

The Thompson Savannah’s design is a mix of mid-century, art deco, and industrial design elements. It is located on the Savannah River where the Historic District meets the East Wharf.

Ron Helman performs at the Thompson Hotel in Eastern Wharf on Saturday.

I have to admit that when Helman asked me to meet him downtown for our interview and photos, I left downtown with enough time to find parking downtown. As I follow my GPS directions, unbeknownst to me, the Thompson Savannah is tucked away behind the Marriott Hotel, and I had arrived with plenty of time to spare. This is a rare sight as there is ample parking on this side of the river.

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“I invite locals here because they’re my friends and they’ve said a lot of things, because they come in here and there’s a little bit of shock and awe,” Helman said. “They are completely shocked at how easy it was to find a place to park and they are impressed with the wonderful design and construction of the hotel. We hope everyone will join us in this little secret.

Thompson Savannah’s Jazz Afternoons was an idea Helman himself had when he arrived.

Ron Helman performs at the Thompson Hotel in Eastern Wharf on Saturday.

“When I was kind of soliciting work here, and I saw this building going up,” he said.

“I kept reaching out to them to try and work our way together and as the final touches to the building were put in place I knew I had made the right choice. If there was a building that could represent my sound would be the Thompson.Once it was set up and I started playing in the hotel lobby, word started to spread.The acoustics and size of the space, as well as the ability to walk around the room and play freely was inspirational.

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“We treat the space with such respect as well as the sound. When you listen to us play on a Saturday afternoon, you are guaranteed to have a cool and relaxing time. The sound will not be such that you cannot hold a conversation with those who enjoy their time with you. For me, there’s a desire for intimacy. I mean, real intimacy, you know, where it doesn’t have to be noisy.

Ron Helman performs at the Thompson Hotel in Eastern Wharf on Saturday.

“So I try to monitor the sound of the group so that people can talk on some level. So they can always stay connected to the conversation and the people they’ve brought. When guests come through the door for their recording and Watching us play, you notice their faces change and their bodies seem to relax, as if the music signifies to them that their vacation can now begin.

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Helman, whose music focuses on American jazz standards and classics from the 1940s and 1950s, says he likes to surprise his audience.

Ron Helman performs at the Thompson Hotel in Eastern Wharf on Saturday.

“Although I focus on the classics and standards of jazz music, I also perform my original work, but I also add some interpretations of Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, Sting and Stevie Wonder. You can play in n “any tempo. We can give it any kind of twist and vibe. We like to entertain listeners wondering what might happen next.”

Ready to plan your next musical adventure and relax? You can catch Ron Helman’s Afternoons of Jazz every Saturday at the Thompson Savannah from 3-6pm.

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