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Tony Bennett will help kick off Clearwater Jazz Holiday tonight

Jack Spalding of Dade City, left, and John Borycens of Clearwater help get a large sign into position Wednesday afternoon during preparations for the Clearwater Jazz Holiday at Coachman Park. The free, four-day event begins today.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Jack Spalding of Dade City, left, and John Borycens of Clearwater help get a large sign into position Wednesday afternoon during preparations for the Clearwater Jazz Holiday at Coachman Park. The free, four-day event begins today.

CLEARWATER — At the first Clearwater Jazz Holiday, bands played on the bed of a flatbed truck at a beach tiki bar. Over three decades, the festival has evolved into the city's signature event.

Tonight the magic begins again.

For four days and nights, downtown's population will swell by some 50,000 souls. With a hot lineup of talent playing at the free festival, organizers are praying for good weather and looking forward to a packed Coachman Park.

Tonight's main attraction is living legend Tony Bennett. Other headliners this weekend will include alto saxophonist David Sanborn, funky pianist Joe Sample, swing combo Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Grammy winner Patti Austin. And that's not even mentioning all the locally based bands and solo artists.

"It's a great lineup — something for everyone. We're expecting a capacity crowd every day," said Jazz Holiday administrator Michelle Gallagher. "With Tony Bennett on opening night, we're telling everybody to get there early."

Now in its 29th year, this remains one of the longest-running free jazz events in the country.

New this year: an outdoor art show Saturday and Sunday along the 400 block of newly renovated Cleveland Street, between Fort Harrison and Osceola avenues.

"The premise is to continue to grow and evolve — to bring something new and fresh to the event," said Gary Hallas, the Jazz Holiday's consultant. "What better way to showcase the redevelopment of downtown Clearwater than with an art show?"

Lining the block will be 25 artists from around the country displaying their works. Dubbed Clearwater Jazz 'N Art Walk, the juried art show will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Street performers will play music throughout the day. And one winning artist will be commissioned to create the poster for next year's 30th annual festival.

Still, the focus of Jazz Holiday is the jazz.

The festival's organizers seek a lineup of musicians that will appeal to a broad base of fans. Typically, throngs of people flock to the waterfront park. It gets more crowded during the evenings, filling to capacity by the end of each night.

This evening, the gates open at 5 p.m., and the music starts at 5:30. Parking is available at City Hall, the Garden Avenue parking garage and the Municipal Services Building, among other places.

"There's free parking around Jazz Holiday if you get there early enough. You just have to be willing to walk a few blocks," said city spokeswoman Joelle Castelli.

Another thing: Some people object to having to buy food and alcohol from the huge concession tents ringing the park, instead of being allowed to bring it from home, picnic-style. Organizers say those tents help keep the Jazz Holiday free.

"That's usually the big hang-up: People try to bring in coolers," Gallagher said. "There's no outside food or beverages allowed in the park."

The other reason Jazz Holiday is free: The army of more than a thousand local volunteers who make it all happen.

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4160.

Clearwater

Jazz Holiday

Tonight through Sunday, Coachman Park

Bring: Lawn chairs, blankets, sunscreen, still cameras

Don't bring: Coolers, food, drinks, pets, tents, backpacks, umbrellas, audio or video recording equipment, laser pointers, skateboards, weapons or fireworks

Tips: Arrive early for the best viewing. Turn off cell phones and pagers during performances.

Parking: Available in nearby lots and garages.

Tonight's schedule

Bernard "B.K." Jackson, 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.: The local alto saxophonist makes his solo debut. Jackson attends Tampa's Blake High School for the Performing Arts in Tampa.

Kyle Eastwood Band, 7-8 p.m.: The son of actor Clint Eastwood played rock 'n' roll and R&B as a teenager and switched to jazz while studying film at college.

Tony Bennett, 8:30 to 10 p.m.: Whether it's I Left My Heart in San Francisco, The Good Life or dozens of his other hit songs, the pop and jazz icon keeps on rolling at age 82.

More info: (727) 461-5200 or www.clearwaterjazz.com

Tony Bennett will help kick off Clearwater Jazz Holiday tonight 10/15/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 15, 2008 10:02pm]
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