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Festival hits the high note (again)

In some ways, you have to feel a little sorry for Clearwater Jazz Holiday organizers.  The public’s anticipation over this event runs so high.

In planning the 2015 event, Clearwater Jazz Holiday organizers not only had to live up to the event’s past success; they had to up the ante even more on Saturday to toast the City of Clearwater’s 100th anniversary. Clearwater Jazz Holiday Foundation CEO Steve Weinberger said Jazz Holiday and the City have enjoyed a great relationship, and the organizers jumped at the chance to help the city celebrate.

Talk about high expectations. How do you get stronger acts than Bonnie Raitt in 2013 or Earth, Wind and Fire in 2014? How do you reach new audiences better than with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros? How do you draw jazz legends more respected than Dizzy Gillespie or the Count Basie Orchestra?
Oh, don’t worry. To the delight of us all, Jazz Holiday has done it again. Opening night features the “Empress of Soul,” Gladys Knight. Friday brings legendary guitarist Buddy Guy, the guitarist Eric Clapton once referred to as the best in the world.

Saturday’s headliner is Sheryl Crow, whose work covers numerous genres: pop, folk, Southern soul and, most recently, country. (Even HCA West Florida Pinellas County Hospitals fireworks are going to have a hard time following that show.) And for the closing act on the event’s final day, organizers signed the Avett Brothers, an Americana band with a core fan base of young adults. The Avett Brothers are back in part because they were hugely popular in the 2012 lineup.

Those are just the headliners. Leading up to those performers are a host of other well-known acts that together represent the broad, diverse scope of today’s jazz. As anyone who has been to Clearwater Jazz Holiday in the past 10 years or so can attest, much has changed about jazz. This genre cannot be defined in narrow terms, like “smooth” or “straight-ahead.” Its influence has expanded and encompasses those and other styles.

“The genres have evolved over time from blues to folk to jam-band to indie folk rock to bluegrass, while still maintaining the core of jazz,” Weinberger said.  “This (event) helps increase awareness of the genres. You will always find classical jazz, but you also are going to find a great mix of music.” 

Clearwater Jazz Holiday started with jazz players playing from the back of a pickup truck. Even then, it drew a couple thousand people. The last few years have brought tens of thousands of music lovers from the Tampa Bay area to Coachman Park, as well as visitors from across the southeastern United States. People come for the entertainers they know and leave introduced to other expressions of the art. 

This year’s Jazz Holiday takes place Thursday – Sunday, Oct. 15-18. Tickets can be purchased for individual days, for the weekend shows and in a four-day package that covers the whole event. Kids age 12 and under are admitted free when accompanied by a paying adult. Food cannot be brought into the event grounds but can be purchased onsite from various vendors. More details can be found at The website has all kinds of helpful information that is regularly updated.

As of early August, even before the full lineup had been announced, VIP seats were almost sold out.  People may not know all the players, but they know it’s going to be a great show.

“There’s a lot of really great jazz in the lineup this year: straight-ahead, Latin, smooth, funk,” Weinberger said. "I think there really, truly is something for everyone.”


Experience Clearwater Jazz Holiday

Photos from the Clearwater Jazz Holiday