After two-year hiatus, the Sarasota Jazz Festival packs Nathan Benderson Park.
As the Sarasota Jazz Festival came to a close March 20 after a week-long run at Nathan Benderson Park, those who attended experienced both ends of the music spectrum.
One renowned musician performed, along with another who is a rising talent.
"I'm not going to say we saved the best for last," Sarasota Jazz Club President Ed Linehan said. "But we saved the most energy for last."
Closing out the festival, which began March 13, were Tampa jazz band La Lucha, and jazz trumpeter, pianist and composer Arturo Sandoval, who has won both Grammy and Emmy awards.
La Lucha, which consists of Alejandro Arenas on bass, John O'Leary on piano, and Mark Feinman on drums, has often been invited to serve as a backup rhythm section for visiting artists at the festival. However, for the first time, the musicians took the stage as featured performers.
For the finale of their performance, La Lucha was joined by two guests from earlier in the week: Houston Person, who played saxophone and Ken Peplowski, who played clarinet.
"I heard La Lucha at the jazz festival four or five years ago," Sarasota's Roger Skidmore said. "John O'Leary is a really smashing piano player. They know how to play."
Skidmore said La Lucha has a way of playing "under the surface" as an accompanying artist to push the artist who receives top billing to the front.
The appearance of Arturo Sandoval also drew praise from those who attended. "This guy is one of the best in the world," said Joe Bruno, Jr., a Tampa Bay-area musician.
After the festival took a couple years off due to the pandemic, this year's event allowed the Jazz Club of Sarasota to resume a long-continuing tradition.
This year was the first time the festival had been held at Nathan Benderson Park, with past locations including the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, the Riverview Performing Arts Center, and the Municipal Auditorium. Linehan said that holding it outdoors was beneficial not only because of COVID-19 uncertainty at the time the festival plans were made, but also because of its proximity to I-75 as well as to the The Mall at University Town Center.
He called the event "Our most ambitious festival in years," and he said that after the hiatus, that was an appropriate goal. "It's how we want it to open," he said. "We wanted to come out stronger. And I think we succeeded."
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