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70,000 flock to 4-day jazz festival

An hour-long drizzle near dusk did little to dissuade more than 10,000 people from enjoying the final night of the 1990 Clearwater Jazz Holiday on Sunday. The festival, which enjoyed near-perfect weather during its four days, drew nearly 70,000 people for a cross section of jazz that included the lightest tunesmiths to some extremely heavy hitters. Chief among the big leaguers Sunday was the group TanaReid, which featured bassist Rufus Reid and pianist Mulgrew Miller. Reid is a longstanding member of the jazz elite while Miller has made a meteoric rise in the past five years with his work as a sideman and soloist on several high-profile releases. Their set Sunday included a number of original tunes by Reid as well as several instances of his harmonically and technically creative bass playing.

The Jeff Rupert Band opened the day with young faces doing justice to some old tunes. Jimmy Heath's Gingerbread Boy received a workout, with especially interesting playing from tenor player Rupert and pianist Kenny Drew Jr. The Rich Shemaria Band, a jazz orchestra filled with New York musicians, showed how energetic and vital this kind of ensemble still is. Pianist/composer Shemaria, originally from the Orlando area, contributed a funky and poetic tune called Cowgirls. A brass-choir opening, complete with echoes of Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring, gave way to a hop along cowboy-in-the-city funk and plenty of room for extended soloing.

The band featured a number of talented musicians. Guitarist Randy Johnston, took an inspired ride on the band's opening tune that would have sounded at home with the dirtiest Chicago blues band. The tune also had some interesting writing, including a saxophone section break that had the bottom line doubled by the tuba. The unfortunate problem for any big bands that play the festival, however, is that the inner subtleties of the music are difficult to mike properly with so many different voices on stage.

It prevents any big band, even one as talented as the Rich Shemaria Band, from generating the kind of excitement a smaller electric group or vocalist can whip into the french-bread-and-brie crowd at the festival.

It's one reason the holiday's organizers chose to end with local entertainer Fred Johnson's group rather than a big instrumental group. Johnson knows few things better than working a crowd, and the masses loved him.

Jaqueline Jones and her band a.k.a. and Brazilian-sound pianist Kim Pensyl were the lighter entries in the day's schedule. Jones, who sang a swing version of Paula Abdul's Straight Up, can do little more than work a crowd, and Pensyl's tuneful set lacked bite but drew audience approval.

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