CLEARWATER — Nancy Blacklin recently got the surprise of her life while watching jazz star Chris Botti in concert.
Blacklin, a huge jazz fan, was up in the balcony of a concert hall in Ohio. The Clearwater grandmother had recently lost her husband of 46 years, and her granddaughter had persuaded her to fly up North for a visit and to see Botti perform.
Midway through the show, Botti stopped and said, "Where's that beautiful grandmother from Florida? Nancy, where are you? What are you doing way up there?"
This had been set up by Blacklin's granddaughter. Botti had Blacklin come down and sit in the middle of the front row. The versatile jazz trumpeter then dedicated a song to her.
"I think I was in a state of shock," Blacklin recalls happily.
Then he said he'd see her in Clearwater.
Botti (pronounced BO-dee) is the Friday night headliner of this year's Clearwater Jazz Holiday. Blacklin will be in the VIP seats up front, watching her favorite trumpet player perform one more time.
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Nancy Blacklin, 77, grew up to the sound of jazz. Her father, a Baltimore steelworker, always played Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and other big-band jazz greats.
In 1963, she married her sweetheart Roy Blacklin. They raised three sons. They played jazz records and supported live music, even attending the first Jazz Holiday in 1980. They went to countless concerts together — until Roy began to suffer the symptoms of post-polio syndrome.
This is a little-understood condition that sometimes strikes people like Roy Blacklin decades after they first contracted polio. It weakens and paralyzes people. Roy started using a wheelchair. He moved his orthodontics lab into the south Clearwater home where the Blacklins had lived since 1978.
This January, he died of lung cancer.
"He was my whole life because I did everything for him," Nancy Blacklin said. "Sometimes I wonder what I'm going to do now."
Emily McCord, the oldest of her eight grandchildren, had a thought.
McCord, an announcer on a public radio station in Ohio, scored some passes to a Chris Botti show up there. She knew Botti was one of her grandmother's favorites.
Blacklin has all of the musician's CDs and DVDs and has seen Botti every time he has performed at Jazz Holiday or at Ruth Eckerd Hall.
McCord lured her grandmother up for a visit. Unbeknownst to Blacklin, her granddaughter had been reaching out to friends of friends, secretly arranging for her to meet Botti in person.
Blacklin got to meet the musician just before his Sept. 26 concert at Clark State Performing Arts Center in Springfield, Ohio, a venue similar in size to Ruth Eckerd.
But the biggest surprise came during the concert itself, when Botti called her down front.
Blacklin took the steps two at a time. Once she took a seat, he played a song for her.
"He's the best trumpeter I've heard in my life," Blacklin said. "This has all been mind-boggling, especially coming on the heels of Roy's death."
The song: My Funny Valentine.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4160.