CLEARWATER — Natalie Cole, Tony Bennett, Buddy Rich, Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Mann and the Count Basie Orchestra.
At one time or another during the past 30 years, these household names have provided firepower for the Clearwater Jazz Holiday, the city's signature jazz fest held in Coachman Park.
Well, the jazz is back and the festival is still free.
Headliners include Dr. John and the Lower 911, Norman Brown's Storming Jazz with Brenda Russell and Jessy J, Soulive, and Tampa's Eric Darius.
A nice, eclectic mix? Yes.
But some say this year's lineup is a bit lackluster and that the festival may be veering away from its true jazz roots.
In a blog, Philip Booth, a contributing writer for a number of magazines and newspapers, including Billboard and the St. Petersburg Times, frets that "there isn't a single major jazz artist" on the lineup.
"For fans of real jazz, the festival is almost a total washout," he blogs on Between the Grooves with Philip Booth, www.betweenthegrooves.wordpress.com.
"Anyone who's watched the festival over the years can't help but have noticed its decline from a major cultural gem, packed with some of the major jazz artists of the day, to a nice free outdoor event with some occasional good music and a tiny bit of actual jazz."
Sherri Callahan, president of the Clearwater Jazz Force, jumped to the festival's defense.
"We are very pleased and very excited," she said. "We think this is a great jazz festival and just as good as previous years."
She said some major stars had been on tap — at one point.
She wouldn't say who, just that "we had verbals."
Bob Seymour, jazz director for WUSF-FM 89.7 and one of the hosts for the station's all-night jazz programs, has emceed for past jazz festivals.
But now he wonders if the Jazz Holiday has gone on vacation.
"It's taken a step backwards," he said. "It pains me to say this because I'm friends with these people, but I'm disappointed.
"There is not a bona fide major name in the jazz world in this festival. They've had a real proud history of straight-ahead jazz, but I think they've made themselves pretty inconsequential.
"It just seems like a down year."
Seymour said he's a big fan of Little Feat, which will play before Dr. John on Thursday night, "but they're not a jazz group. They're a funky rock band."
He did heap praises on the "quality local talent" appearing at the festival.
This year's homegrown appeal includes Jarred Armstrong, the Organic Trio, O Som Do Jazz and Helios Jazz Orchestra, Sean Chambers and Friends, Level 10, Mark Barrios and the Ruth Eckerd Hall/Clearwater Jazz Holiday Youth Jazz Band, which performs with Eric Darius on Sunday afternoon.
Jazz or not, the headliners have noteworthy credentials in their own right:
• Dr. John is a New Orleans cool cat, around since the '50s and '60s, known for his voodoo style and hits like Right Place Wrong Time and Such A Night. He is a 2011 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominee.
• Norman Brown is a smooth jazz guitarist who will be joined by Brenda Russell, a Grammy-nominated recording artist and songwriter, and Jessy J, a Latina singer and saxophonist.
• Soulive is a soul-funk trio, a fun, upbeat jam band.
• The spirited Eric Darius, a hometown favorite from Tampa, rounds out the festival with some smooth "saxy" jazz sounds.
After this year's lineup was announced in August, Allon Sams, chairman of the music committee, said it was designed to appeal to a wider audience.
"We have new artists that we've never featured before and we're excited about that," he said. "Hopefully, it will expose some new crowds to the jazz festival."
Callahan said it's still "the largest free four-day jazz event in the Southeastern U.S."
And few would argue with that.
Certainly, the collaboration between the Clearwater Jazz Force, the Clearwater Jazz Holiday Foundation and the city of Clearwater in the orchestration of this size event has to be admired.
It takes more than a thousand volunteers, a multitude of sponsors and the loyalty of tens of thousands of fans to pull it off.
"I acknowledge this is the way many major jazz festivals have gone for years, and recognize all the work that goes into this event from so many people," Seymour said. "They do a nice job for the audience they're trying to reach."
And that audience is the bottom line. As Seymour put it, "It's always a good time and people do have a lot of fun."
Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.