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Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Mar. 4, 2020 2 years ago

Jazz Club of Sarasota goes big for its 40th annual festival

Week of events designed to suite every kind of jazz lover, including those who are and don't know it
by: Klint Lowry Arts + Entertainment Editor

You can’t please everyone, they say. No, maybe not all at once, but Jazz Club of Sarasota is going to see how close it can come with a week to work with as it presents its 40th Sarasota Jazz Festival.

This year’s festival, which starts Sunday and runs through Saturday, March 14, has a few new features and several perennial favorites, adding up to 11 events featuring about 160 musicians — too numerous to list, as the saying goes.

Clarinetist Ken Peplowski returns for the third straight year as the festival's music director. (Photo courtesy of Carol LoRicco)

But there are a few names that belong on the marquee, like Ken Peplowski, who the BBC referred to as “arguably the greatest living jazz clarinetist,” returning for the third year as music director for the festival’s three main stage concerts.

 Dick Hyman will also be back to tickle the ivories as the Thursday night headliner;  and renowned vocalist Clairdee and two world-class musicians, trumpeter Terell Stafford and saxophonist Houston Person, will headline the Friday night show.

Then on Saturday, Sarasota Municipal Auditorium will welcome the festival’s headline act, 10-time Grammy winners The Manhattan Transfer. 

The festival always serves two purposes, Linehan says. On the one hand, they want jazz lovers to have a good time. And jazz lovers are kind of like sports fans, he says, they love subsets of jazz like sports fans follow a favorite player or team. They love to debate which kind of jazz is  “best” — early honky tonk, straight-ahead, bebop, Latin, contemporary.  

And then, he says, there are those other people, the ones who love jazz and just don’t know it.

Vocalist Clairedee will headline Friday night's concert. (Photo courtesy of Dimitry Loiseau)

For both groups, Linehan says, the Sarasota Jazz Festival is set up so people can hear the widest variety of jazz in free and ticketed events in a wide range of formats. 

A detailed festival schedule along with a full menu of ticketing options can be found at 

But since we’re already here — And a one, and a two…

The festival starts nice and easy with Jazz in the Park at noon Sunday in Phillippi Estate Park, 5500 S. Tamiami Trail. This free concert has been a festival favorite since 1988. It features three acts: a high-school band, a small combo and a popular band. 

“It’s a great all-ages event,” Linehan says. “Bring your cooler, your folding chair. Sit down, you'll have three different experiences on that Sunday afternoon.”

On Wednesday it's a whole different scene when the 23rd annual Jazz Pub Crawl begins rolling from the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, starting at 5:30 p.m. Five trolleys will make the rounds for some organized, group club-hopping, stopping at 11 downtown locations. 

Jazz legend Dick Hyman, a Sarasota Jazz festival mainstay, will be back to headline Thursday's concert.(Photo courtesy of Carol LoRicco)

This is an extremely popular event, Linehan says, In fact it’s the one event they had to rein in. “Last year, we had 800 people at this event,” Linehan says. That was more club-hoppers than the clubs could handle. “This year, we're limiting it to 700.”

Along with the three big evening concerts Thursday, Friday and Saturday inside the Sarasota Municipal Auditorium, another feature of the festival will be “Jazz Party,” from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, March 14.

This is the annual festival-within-the-festival, taking advantage of the close proximity of five venues: the municipal auditorium, Holley Hall,  Art Center Sarasota, Bayfront Community Center and David Cohen Hall, each featuring a different style of jazz: blues, classic, Latin, contemporary and, for the first time, top high school bands. 

It’s like five concerts on a single ticket, Linehan says. And that ticket was just for the jazz party.

One of the most important features about the festival, he said, is it’s menu driven. 

“You don't have to buy a ticket for the whole festival,” he says. “You see what you like, you can just buy the tickets for those pieces that you're interested in. 

Booking an act like The Manhattan Transfer for the finale was one more way of expanding the variety, Lineham says. Cost-wise it was a risk, but with two weeks before the festival, ticket sales for Saturday were way up, Linehan says, “So that has told us that if you bring in anchor performers who are still deeply rooted in jazz but who have a big enough name we can greatly expand our audience for the festival.”

Linehan says the club believes within five years, the Sarasota Jazz festival could be one of the top festivals in the country.

“Location, convenience, great talent, a variety of formats — I hesitate to say it but we have something for everybody, including the range of styles of jazz music.” 

Detailed information and tickets can be found at, or by calling 366-1552.

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