Clearwater Jazz Holiday Foundation—Bringing the Love of Jazz to Today’s Students

Most people throughout the area have either heard of or experienced Clearwater’s annual Jazz festival, but not as many know that it has a goal of filling the growing need for arts education in Tampa Bay area schools. Education, experience and scholarships are provided to local students who wish to pursue a jazz education through the nonprofit Clearwater Jazz Holiday Foundation (CJHF).

LB_4191Such opportunities are attained through outreach, internships and jazz education sessions with international recording artists. The Jazz Education Outreach Program initiative brings live, interactive jazz music at no cost to local schools, where students experience a dynamic workshop designed to engage them with the culture, history and feel of jazz music. This workshop is taught by Frank Williams, a highly regarded educator who mixes historical narration with live jazz standards and was inducted into the Drum Corps International Hall of Fame in 2013. Williams shows students how the cultural diversity of jazz stretches across the American experience. The outreach program reaches approximately 6,000 middle school students annually.

“This is so personal and interactive,” says Sarah Evans, CJHF Chairman of the Education Committee. “It’s a compelling story, and it’s interesting to see the changes in kids’ faces. They realize that jazz is relevant. The impact is amazing.”

The Clearwater Jazz Holiday Foundation is in its 35th year, and as Evans explains, its main mission is to support the arts in Tampa Bay through year round support of music education.  CJHF works with the Pinellas Education Foundation and partners with Ruth Eckerd Hall’s Marcia P. Hoffman Performing Arts Institute to offer clinics and a comprehensive jazz track program. Every year, the Clearwater Jazz Holiday & Ruth Eckerd Hall Jazz Youth Scholarships are presented to exceptional jazz students who pursue their desire to attain an education in music.

“The partnership we have with Ruth Eckerd Hall is significant,” says Evans.

Ten exceptional students involved in the jazz track program are chosen to participate in The Ruth Eckerd Hall & Clearwater Jazz Holiday Combo, a band comprised of exceptional junior and senior high school students. According to the Foundation’s website, this band has performed at events for both Ruth Eckerd Hall and the Clearwater Jazz Holiday, including: the Chocolate Nutcracker, Pre-Bacchus Dinner event, The Annual Bacchus at the Vinoy, Clearwater Jazz Holiday and many other CJHF events. Recently, students had the opportunity to perform at the Savannah Music Festival and were one of a select few bands throughout the country to make the cut.

In addition to the Jazz Youth Scholarships, two memorial scholarships are presented each year, named after two highly dedicated volunteer members, Jack Spalding and Sherri Callahan. As the Jazz outreach program continues to grow, Evans hopes to soon expand the program and begin reaching Tampa Bay area students. The student program will be offered nationwide to continue the renaissance of Jazz music.

“Funding allows us to follow up with schools and present our programs. Corporate and private partners are needed to sustain these programs for the students. Art and music define our society and is essential to develop the next generation. If there is anyone who’d like to help with time, talent or financial support, I’d be interested in hearing from them. Evens says. “Jazz education will always be part of Jazz Holiday Foundation and we look forward to growing our programs with support of our community.

Public education funding for the arts may continue to be chipped away each year, but because of such efforts to keep music education alive, students in Pinellas County Schools will continue to prove that the Clearwater Jazz Holiday Foundation is making a strong and positive impact and, as Sarah Evans says, “No matter what we do or how we grow and change, jazz music won’t continue to be relevant unless we bring it to young people.”

For more information on Clearwater Jazz Holiday and the CJH Foundation, visit

By Laura Kepner Written for Destination Tampa Bay Magazine

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