Tampa Jazz Notes 2.11.09

Valentine’s Day goes with jazz like Christmas goes with brass choirs, and I’m not just saying that because “My Funny Valentine” was the song I asked the band to play for the first dance at my wedding.

That was way back in 1993, and my friend and sometime bandmate Joe Teston, on tenor sax, sat in with the trio that I hired for the occasion — guitarist Ted Shumate, bassist Michael Ross and percussionist extraordinaire Gumbi Ortiz.

The wedding must have “worked,” as I’m still married. The guys in the wedding party, or in attendance, were among my bandmates of that period or shortly later — I played with Joe in Greenwich Blue, with Joe and guitarist Domenick Ginex in Bop City, and with Dom and guitarist Bryan Zink in Liz Back on Booze.

But I digress. Several special shows, jazz and jazzy, are slated for Saturday night, Valentine’s Day, in the Tampa Bay area.

Among those are:

  • The Blind Boys of Alabama, the great long-running gospel group, whose Down in New Orleans CD was one of last year’s finest. Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa, 8 p.m. The Gary Brown Band opens this show, presented by WMNF, 88.5 FM, and tickets are $25.

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“God’s Trombones,” a celebration of the work of major African American writer James Weldon Johnson, a Florida native, is slated for Monday, Feb. 16 at 7 p.m. at The Studio@620 in St. Petersburg.

Admission is free, but donations of canned goods, to support area food banks, are accepted.

Ex-Ellington trombonist Buster Cooper will participate in the program, which honors Black History Month and is a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the NAACP (Johnson was exec secretary from 1920 to 1930).

Here’s what’s on tap for the event, according to the venue’s web site:

  • Individual readings of the volume’s poems by local actors, poets, and ministers: Bob Devin Jones, Studio@620; Leroy Mitchell, actor, Johnson performer; Louis Murphy, minister; John Conlon, actor; Aleshea Harris, actor, poet; Sharon Scott, actor; Vikki Gaskin-Butler, professor, minister.
  • Trombone/musical interludes by Buster Cooper.
  • Visual renderings along the walls of the Aaron Douglas images that accompany the first (1927) edition of Johnson’s text .
  • Discussion period/question-and-answer session following the performance with Humanities scholar Dr. Julie Buckner Armstrong, USFSP.

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Also just ahead on the Tampa Bay area jazz calendar:

  • Guitarist Nate Najar’s Trio (with ex-Ellington bassist John Lamb) will be   joined by singer and banjo player Cynthia Sayer (of Woody Allen’s band), at the Palladium Theater, Thursday, Feb. 19, in the venue’s Side Door Jazz series. Show is at 7:30 p.m., and admission is $20. 
  • Kenny Walker, the busy area bassist (Helios Jazz Orchestra, Gumbi Ortiz) and monthly jazz host on WMNF, 88.5 FM, on Saturday, Feb. 21 will give a lecture on jazz history at the St. Petersburg Museum of History. His talk will be part of the museum’s fourth annual African American Author lecture series, from 2 to 4 p.m.



Jazz Festivals Facing Tough Times

Given the nation’s economic woes, this news comes as no surprise: Jazz festivals, in Florida and elsewhere, are facing tough times.

The long-running Jacksonville Jazz Festival (which I played, in the early ’80s, with the UF Jazz Band), allegedly was already suffering from money troubles when the City of Jacksonville, the fest’s sponsor since 2003, agreed to bump the event from its scheduled date — first weekend in April — to a later time.

That decision, reportedly, was made solely so as not to conflict with the Springing the Blues festival, held in nearby Jacksonville Beach.

Why wasn’t the younger blues festival asked to make way for the long-established jazz festival, which over the years has been home to first-rate performances by everyone from Dizzy Gillespie to Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers to the Dirty Dozen Brass Band to (last year) Cassandra Wilson?

In defense of the blues fest, though, THAT event has been held on the same weekend for 18 years.

So why not just switch the jazz festival, traditionally held in Metropolitan Park on the waterfront in downtown Jax, to another weekend in spring?

“Metropolitan Park, which has long been the central venue for the jazz festival, is heavily booked through the spring, and the city is reluctant to boot out another event to make way for jazz, she said,” Matt Soergel wrote in a story posted Jan. 3 on Jacksonville.com (affiliated with the Florida Times-Union newspaper).

The “she” is Theresa O’Donnell, the city’s director of special events.

Not sure if O’Donnell is the one to blame for this mess, but why would anyone originally have scheduled the jazz fest on the same weekend as a blues music fest likely to draw some of the same audience, sponsors and vendors?

And, secondly, now that city officials’ poor decision making has led to this situation, why WOULDN’T they feel okay forcing another event, one that’s younger and offering less cultural significance, to get out of the way of the jazz festival?

Why is the city treating the jazz festival like a second-class citizen, in terms of regularly bumping it around on the calendar? After all these years, and so many great performances, ought not the festival be treated like a local cultural gem?

A date, other than “spring 2009,” has yet to be posted on the official festival site. Stay tuned.

(Thanks to jazz critic James Hale’s blog for the alert about this situation).

The JVC Jazz Festival Miami is likely NOT returning this year, according to a story published online at Ticketnews.com. That’s due to “huge losses” suffered by promoter Festival Network, which bought George Wein’s Festival Productions in 2007. The Miami festival’s site hasn’t been updated since the 2008 fest (the event’s 9th edition).

According to the story, Festival Network could be shutting down several of its festivals in 09, including Martha’s Vineyard Festival (MA); Jackson Hole Music Festival (WY); Festival Au Desert – Essakane (Mali); JVC Jazz Festival Chicago (IL); San Francisco Music Festival (CA); Whistler Music Festival (BC); JVC Jazz Festival Los Angeles (CA); Slow Food Rocks (CA); and JVC Jazz Festival Paris (FRA).

Closer to (my) home, the first edition of the modestly scaled St. Petersburg College Jazz Festival opens this Thursday, with performances by Brooklyn-based saxophonist Sue Terry and others. Here’s John Fleming’s piece on the fest, published in the St. Petersburg Times.

The swing-oriented Sarasota Jazz Festival takes places March 1-7 at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Holley Hall and other locations around Sarasota.

The bill includes pianist Dick Hyman; saxophonist/flutist James Moody; the Bill Allred Band with guest John Allred (father-son trombonists); and trumpeter Barrie Lee Hall’s Ellington Alumni band, featuring bassist John Lamb and trombonist Buster Cooper.

And all’s well, or so it seems with the Clearwater Jazz Holiday, slated for Oct. 15-18 in Coachman Park. Here’s hoping that the Clearwater fest puts together an especially impressive lineup — Sonny Rollins, anyone? — for its 30th anniversary edition.

I don’t have updates on the other jazz festivals around Florida, but here’s a list of links to those events.