Clearwater Jazz Holiday: Free no more & acts announced: Bonnie Raitt, Avett Brothers, Mindi Abair

News on the Clearwater Jazz Holiday front: It’s no longer free, according to a Tampa Bay Times story published today.

Organizers have announced that, for the first time in its 33-year history, the fest will charge for admission: $10 at the door.

As late as last year, organizers said that they couldn’t/wouldn’t book top top-shelf jazz talent because of the expenses incurred. Hard to believe that line of reasoning, particularly given that the fest frequently has positioned pricey smooth-jazz artists at the top of the bill.

The response, among the jazz fans I talked to: Hey, we’ll gladly pay an admission fee if we can get heavyweight jazz talent – the artists who win jazz polls, for instance – in return.

The situation: Now there’s a charge at the gate, and the first three acts announced are decidedly NOT major jazz artists. So far: Bonnie Raitt (blues-rock-pop), The Avett Brothers (altcountry-Americana-rock-pop), Mindi Abair (smooth jazz).

Raitt is terrific, and, as a blues artist, makes a decent fit on a jazz festival. I look forward to hearing her show, part of a tour promoting “Slipstream,” her first new album in seven years. Abair is par for the course.

Then there’s the Avett Brothers. I’ve seen this siblings-led band grow from rootsy bluegrass-influenced contenders to making a nice splash in the broader Americana/pop world – I’ve caught several of their amazing performances at festivals held at Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak.

But they have to count as a first – the farthest afield, musically, from jazz that the Clearwater Jazz Holiday has ever played host to.

Nothing wrong with an eclectic music festival. But for any jazz festival that wants to maintain its identity as a jazz festival, then the Avetts are a terrible fit.

Sad to say, but it’s probably time for the Clearwater Jazz Holiday to drop “jazz” from its name. I’ll still go — heck, I’d love to hear Raitt and the Avetts again — but I guess I”ll finally give up hoping that the event will return to its glory days as a major jazz festival.

That makes me sad.

The Clearwater Jazz Holiday is slated for October 18-21 at Coachman Park in downtown Clearwater. For more information, go here. Interested in suggesting an artist to play the fest? Send your thoughts to info@clearwaterjazz.com

(Meanwhile, up the road, the long-running Jacksonville Jazz Festival, held over Memorial Day weekend, is bringing in Sonny Rollins; Poncho Sanchez with Terence Blanchard; Corea, Clarke, and White; and more; it’s still free)

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.