January has been a busy month for pianist Chuck Leavell. He anchored the band at the tribute to Gregg Allman concert last week at the Fox Theatre. Saturday, he’s at the helm of an all-star concert that celebrates Georgia roots music at Symphony Hall. And at the end of the month, he travels to Asia for a tour with his primary gig these days — as keyboardist and music director of the Rolling Stones.
“I’m barely going to be able to pack up and go,” Leavell quips. “We’re going to perform in China, Tokyo, Australia and Auckland.”
But for now, Leavell — who lives in Dry Branch on a plantation that has 2,500 acres of forest — is focused on Saturday’s concert, which will feature the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Gregg Allman, Michelle Malone, classical violinist Robert McDuffie, Randall Bramblett and Jimmy Hall.
Leavell became involved because his wife, Rose Lane, chaired the Georgia branch of the Smithsonian’s New Harmonies: Celebrating American Roots Music traveling exhibit, which was cosponsored by the ASO.
“It’s at the end of a two-year run and the ASO wanted to celebrate it with a concert,” Leavell says. “They asked me to put something together to reflect Georgia’s musical heritage.”
Leavell owns a substantial piece of that heritage. He joined the Allman Brothers Band in 1972 at the age of 19, played on their landmark Brothers and Sisters album and stayed with the Allman Brothers until the band’s 1976 break-up. He became the keyboardist for the Rolling Stones in 1982, and now has performed with the group for more than 30 years. He’s also recorded and toured with the likes of Eric Clapton, George Harrison, the Black Crowes and John Mayer.
The evening concert will feature a band anchored by Leavell, along with saxophonist/keyboardist Randall Bramblett, guitarist Davis Causey, drummer Gerry Hansen and bassist Mike Steele.
McDuffie, a world-renowned violinist who lives in New York City, also holds the Mansfield and Genelle Jennings Distinguished University Chair at Mercer University in Macon.
McDuffie and Leavell will perform duets on two Leavell songs: “Southscape” and “Coming Home.” The ASO also will perform under the guidance of guest conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong..
The concert’s keynote will be a four-song tribute to Otis Redding that will feature the ASO, Allman, Malone and other guests singing music made famous by the soul legend from Macon.
“I’ve never played with the Atlanta Symphony, that’s not something you get to do every day,” says Leavell. “But I have played with orchestras a few times. On the Gregg Allman Tour in 1974, we carried a 13-piece string section. And with Eric Clapton and his 24 Nights shows in London, we played with the symphony.”
Preceding the Symphony Hall concert will be an afternoon roots music festival at the Woodruff Arts Center featuring the McIntosh County Shouters, the Thomas Dorsey Birthplace Choir, the Sacred Harp Singers, the Skillet Lickers, the Georgia Crackers, Mudcat, the A. J. Ghent Band and the Albany Civil Rights Institute Freedom Singers. Though the festival is free, tickets are required and the event’s website says it is sold out.