No, not letting the Clearwater Jazz Holiday, the latest edition of which concluded on Sunday, off the hook. The fest, once a real cultural gem on the Tampa Bay area’s music calendar, has traded top-shelf jazz programming for an event now thoroughly dominated by yesterday’s R&B (Boyz II Men), classic rock (Chicago/Blood, Sweat & Tears), and Americana (Alison Krauss/Yonder Mountain String Band).
There are loads of high-end musicians in those groups, of course, but none could be classified as jazz artists.
Just stop with the excuses, folks. These are the kinds of acts that can and do play any other venue at any time. They don’t need the auspices of a single-stage jazz fest. Far past time to return to jazz programming. If not, be honest with your intent and change the fest’s name.
The area’s jazz fans lament what the fest has become. But we hope that the event will at least continue to use some of those early slots to showcase some great locally based jazz artists (last year, in a misguided move, one of those slots went to a local rock ‘n’ roll band).
On Saturday afternoon, La Lucha — pianist John O’ Leary, bassist Alejandro Arenas, and drummer Mark Feinman — backed a long list of talented vocalists: Belinda Womack, Fred Johnson, Theo Valentin, Valerie Gillespie, Erica Diceglie, Karen Benjey and others.
Before that, the University of Miami’s top-ranked big band played a set, joined by young drumming great and gifted composer/arranger Dafnis Prieto. (Have to ask: Why not showcase one of the jazz ensembles from USF in Tampa, or the Jazz Surge, the fierce big band led by Grammy-nominated composer and USF music prof Chuck Owen?)
And the day began with a performance by a group of talented high-school players, joined by James Suggs, the talented trumpeter and USF adjunct prof making waves with a new release on the Arbors Records label. (Have to ask: By failing to put major jazz artists in headlining positions, what message is the festival sending to these young players?)
So, despite the event’s enormous shortcomings when it comes to presenting jazz, let’s give organizers a hand for at least showcasing some high-quality local talent. Maybe one day they’ll see the light and again honor jazz and jazz musicians at the “jazz” fest.
(Speaking of Fred Johnson, check out this good piece on Johnson and bassist Michael Ross, written by longtime area music writer Eric Snider. Thanks, Ray Roa, for keeping jazz coverage alive in the pages of Creative Loafing).