Organizers hope additions to Sarasota Jazz Festival will attract younger crowds.
Every generation brings something new to the musical landscape — even if it’s a new take on an old genre.
The Jazz Club of Sarasota’s 2019 Sarasota Jazz Festival is themed “Generations of Jazz” for this very reason. Organizers have put together their biggest festival yet, featuring 48 events and more than 120 musicians, in an attempt not only to entertain fans of the genre but to attract some new listeners.
“The music is timeless,” says trumpet player Randy Sandke, who will play in two evening shows and one afternoon during the festival. “It’s just a question of appeal and people getting exposed to it. Now, with technology … at least people have access to it in a way they didn’t before.”
President of the club Ed Linehan agrees, and says one reason he has faith that jazz will continue to flourish is because of how many college jazz music programs are currently thriving in the U.S. Several are producing world-class jazz musicians, he says, but now the task is to get their own peers to come hear them play.
“Developing an audience around those young people helps people rediscover the origins of the music,” he says.
One way the festival aims to do this is by including one younger emerging group or performer in the lineup for every mainstage concert, mixing what Linehan calls several “pillars of American jazz who have been around for quite a long time” with rising stars. He’s particularly excited to hear the University of Miami Frost Concert Jazz Band at 3 p.m. March 9.
Another way the club is helping spread jazz to younger generations is through a revived high school jazz band contest that was held Jan. 27. The top three bands from the competition, Pine View Jazz Ensemble, North Port High School and Sarasota High Admirals, will serve as the opening acts for the acclaimed musicians performing on the mainstage.
Participating students also get to meet the professional artists after the concert, offering them the rare opportunity to gain insight from current jazz stars.
Festival public relations representative Jo Morello notes that one example of cross-generational jazz partnership is between Venice-based jazz piano legend Dick Hyman, who’s recorded somewhere around 100 albums, and rising Brazilian jazz guitarist Diego Figueiredo, who was a mainstage performer last year. Hyman doesn’t speak Portuguese and Figueiredo is still perfecting his English, but when the two play, words don’t get in the way. Jazz becomes a third language in which they’re both fluent.
Hyman says he’s always impressed by how jazz has managed to cross not only age but cultural barriers. It’s popular in several countries, and the way the Brazilian style of jazz has developed is particularly fascinating to him.
“The Brazilians have their own music … each (style, American and Brazilian) is perfectly balanced and valid in their own way and can be played together yet is highly distinguished,” he says. “You can borrow elements of each (style) and play it in the other.”
Other than the mix of younger and older artists, there are several new additions to the festival this year. Now at a new venue, the Hyatt Regency Sarasota, there’s more space, so the club is splitting the ballroom into four stages — each with its own theme of blues, classic, contemporary or latin — for a theme concert session Friday afternoon (four concerts for $40) and Saturday afternoon (four concerts for $20).
Morello is also premiering an original play, “Lil & Louis,” based on the life of Louis Armstrong’s second wife, Lil Hardin Armstrong, as part of the festival, which is the first time a theatrical element has been added (see the next page for more details).
In the early years (around 1980 when it was founded by the late Hal Davis, the former publicist for Benny Goodman), Hyman says Jazz Club of Sarasota sold out Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall several nights a week. Esteemed musicians such as himself were moving to Sarasota from New York City to work with each other. Sandke nodds, saying that was when jazz was more mainstream.
Those days are over, but Linehan remains optimistic, especially seeing popular artists like Queen Latifah (i.e. “The Dana Owens Album”) embracing jazz.
“We’re looking for creative points of entry,” he says. “It’s exciting to be in an effort to sustain ... and we think it’s going to continue to grow.”