That’s when thousands of jazz lovers flock to the Clearwater Jazz Holiday, one of the last free jazz concerts in the country. But jazz enthusiasts aren’t the only ones making the pilgrimage. The 32-year-old premier event also attracts newbies to the jazz scene and locals who descend on Coachman Park with family, friends and out-of-town guests in tow.
The regulars know the routine. They tote blankets and lawn chairs, sunscreen and light jackets but leave their recording equipment, coolers, pets and canopies at home. An opportunity to enjoy free live jazz is the big draw, but the outdoor location is another major attractor. Coachman Park overlooks the expansive Memorial Causeway Bridge and a brand new marina that form a perfect backdrop for spectacular sunsets over Clearwater Harbor.
Pure jazz will fill the air from 5 to 10 p.m. on Thursday, 4:30 to 11 p.m. on Friday, 2 to 10:45 p.m. on Saturday (followed by fireworks) and 3 to 9:30 p.m. on Sunday. Gates open one-half hour earlier each day.
Months in the Making
Music Selection Committee Chairman Allon Sams spent six months coordinating schedules, negotiating contracts, and packing as much pure jazz into the four day event as possible. The end result is a gathering of nationally-renowned jazz artists like headliners Dianne Reeves, Brian Culbertson, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, and Maceo Parker.
This year’s Jazz Holiday also features upcoming artists like the Bay Area’s Global Affect as well as local talent including Jazz Juvenocracy, saxophonist/vocalist Valerie Gillespie, and highly respected guitarist LaRue Nickelson, plus a traditional performance by The Ruth Eckerd Hall/Clearwater Jazz Holiday Youth Band.
Energetic performances by Grammy-winning percussionist Sammy Figueroa & The Latin Jazz Explosion and Miss Tess & the Bon Ton Parade will wow the crowd. Also on this year’s schedule are Christian McBride & Inside Straight, Kevin Eubanks, Gerald Clayton Trio, Mike Markaverich Trio, and Whitney James.
“We’re really looking for people to support jazz. It’s the real deal, so come out and appreciate it and bring the kids,” encourages Sams.
Keeping It Free
Generous donations from The High Note Society, made up of independent private and corporate donors, along with
corporate partner support, year-long fundraising efforts, on-site donations, social media marketing and more than 1,200 volunteers all play a major role in keeping the Clearwater Jazz Holiday free.
“Volunteers are absolutely essential,” said Gary Hallas of the Clearwater Jazz Holiday. “Without them, the event doesn’t run.” Volunteers handle everything from site setup to beer, wine and soda sales. In return for their hard work volunteers are rewarded with a free t-shirt, poster, pin and a meal.
Outside food and drink are not allowed, but Hallas promises “something that will suit everybody’s appetite.” Seafood, BBQ, Mexican food, pizza, ice cream, smoothies, lemonade, Blackstone wines, Anheuser-Busch® beers and Pepsi® products are just a few of the on-site food and drink choices. There’s a play area for kids and a merchandise tent featuring everything from posters to shirts, jewelry, hats, and other memorabilia.
To learn more about the Clearwater Jazz Holiday, including this year’s schedule as well as sponsorship and volunteer opportunities, visit www.clearwaterjazz.com.
By Lisa Dozois
Published in Destination Tampa Bay magazine 2011