Monday, November 20, 2017
Tampa Bay Music & Shows

Jazz Club continues to lend support to the art form

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TAMPA — Bob Seymour may have stepped down earlier this year as WUSF Radio's jazz don, but he hasn't fully embraced retirement.

Although he's no longer on the airwaves daily, Seymour remains Tampa's unofficial ambassador of the genre through his work as president of the Tampa Jazz Club.

The club, celebrating its 21st anniversary this year, consists of a group of jazz aficionados with a mission of "generating interest in preserving, understanding and performing jazz."

Perhaps the best way the club has done this is through its long-standing practice of hosting concerts throughout the county, including Hillsborough Community College's Mainstage Theater, the Springs Theatre in Sulphur Springs, and at the Gorilla Theatre at its former home in Tampa's Drew Park.

The next concert takes place this weekend and honors someone very special to Seymour.

Manfredo Fest was a Brazillian bossa nova and jazz pianist who worked with Sergio Mendes and other notable jazz artists before settling in the Tampa area in 1987.

He died 12 years later in relative obscurity, although he was well-known in the bay area, Seymour said.

Seymour hopes that Sunday's concert – which features Manfredo's guitarist son Phil and drummer Tom Carabasi – will revive interest in Fest, whom he regards as a close friend.

"He would call me when I was on air," he said. "I would put on a long record and put my feet up. He loved to talk."

Seymour said Fest — a classically trained musician — "never got his due" while alive, perhaps because he was off the jazz radar.

"He had his own sound just a real captivating sound," Seymour said.

The demise of jazz's popularity in recent years puts the onus on groups like the Jazz Club to be the genre's armor bearer of sorts to generate interest and ensure its survival, Seymour said.

"A big part of the way the music stays in front of people is because of nonprofit organizations," he said.

One way to keep the music alive is to support emerging musicians like Karlea Boswell Edwards.

The Blake High School alum is a freshman at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. She got there thanks in part to the group's Vic Hall Scholarship.

Boswell-Edwards said she almost did not apply because she thought the board would favor jazz players over vocalists.

So she was glad to add the Jazz Club to her "village" of supporters when she received the scholarship.

"It made me feel like I'm doing the right thing, that there's nothing wrong with singing jazz," she said.

Recently, the Jazz Club increased its mission's territory with the adoption of the University of South Florida's Monday Night Jazz Series.

In its 21-year existence, the series has featured world-renowned jazz artists who visit the campus to teach a master class and play in concert with faculty and student ensembles. Hammond organist Bobby Floyd and Canadian saxophonist and composer Christine Jensen are among the artists on this year's schedule.

Financial difficulties in recent years, however, prompted USF jazz professor Chuck Owens to contact Jazz Club board members at the start of the fall semester and pitch a partnership.

"We kind of felt like we could help each other out," he said. "We wanted to help build an audience and perpetuate the art form to ensure the (series) lives well into the future."

The association will extend beyond the concerts and include the Jazz Club's sponsorship of the closing concert at next May's International Jazz Composers Symposium at the university, Owens said.

The series' importance to the development of student's skill cannot be understated, said graduate student David Gambino. The series feature of premiere jazz musicians attracts great attention to USF's School of Music.

"It's one of the best things ever," said Gambino, who plays the baritone saxophone.

The series also pulls in top students from all over the country," said graduate student Zach Bornheimer, a tenor saxophone player.

"Most people come back to school just for the guest performers," he said.

Bornheimer said he's looking forward to the Jazz Club working with students to revive Tampa's jazz scene and rope in a younger audience.

"Jazz is dead, for all intents and purposes," he said. "Exposing people is important."

The partnership with USF "just seemed like a great idea," Seymour said.

"I've always thought the series was one of the jewels on the cultural scene here," he said. "The band at USF is terrific."

What's also terrific is the wealth of talented musicians in the Tampa area and the Jazz Club will continue to do its part to bring them, and jazz, to light, Seymour said.

"There's nothing like it and more people should get into it," he said. "There's a vibrancy to this music … that isn't found anywhere else."

Contact Kenya Woodard at [email protected]

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