CARROLLWOOD — If you don't follow jazz, you might not realize that west-central Florida has a reputation for excellent big band jazz.
There are a few reasons, including a great big band jazz program at the University of South Florida. But jazz promoter Rick Gee said we mainly owe thanks to our climate.
"I'm not saying it's New York or New Jersey or Cleveland or Chicago," Gee said. "But a lot of musicians from places like that retired here, and they still want to play."
Seventeen retired pros formed the Sarasota Jazz Project two years ago. They've been a favorite with swing lovers ever since.
"They're the best in the area, bar none," Gee said. "They do it for the love of the music, and it shows."
On one hand, Gee should know. He has been a jazz fan all his life. And as soon as he retired from his career in sales, Gee, now 77, started promoting jazz shows.
But he's a bit biased about the Sarasota Jazz Project, because he's promoting the band's upcoming concert, tonight at the Carrollwood Cultural Center.
The project came together in 2010, when George McLain and George McLean gathered some retired players, along with some local music educators and active professionals.
The idea was to build a repertoire that combines the music of the classic big bands — such as Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and Duke Ellington — with that of more modern composers, including Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter and Gil Evans. They also continuously search for great new works in their genre. Then they get some of the best arrangers in the jazz world to give a coherent sound with a contemporary feel.
"They have great charts," Gee said.
Gee started promoting jazz concerts at the Carrollwood Cultural Center in April, when he brought vocalist Lorri Hafer to the center. This is his fifth, and audiences have grown from one concert to the next.
But even Gee says he's surprised by the early reaction to this concert.
"I've had a lot of advance orders," he said Tuesday. "That's unusual, because usually people want to wait."
Marty Clear is a Tampa freelance writer. He can be reached at [email protected]