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Don't be downbeat, take a Holiday with a jazz rhythm

The first cool days of fall once again bring the sound of music to Coachman Park. Thousands of jazz fans are expected tonight as the 13th annual Clearwater Jazz Holiday opens.

The free music continues through Sunday.

"Everyone is excited and all the entertainers are ready to play their hearts out," Barbara Werder, chairwoman of the festival, said Wednesday afternoon. "The weather looks good."

In addition to T-shirts, sweatshirts and posters, a souvenir pin with a design similar to this year's promotional poster will be sold for $3.

"Profits from the pin will go to helping keep (the festival) free," Werder said. In addition, "a huge Plexiglas bin will be placed at the festival for people to throw donations," she said. "These changes are being made because we really want to keep it free to the community."

Hundreds of folks turned out Wednesday evening for a kickoff party featuring contemporary jazz vocalist Roseanna Vitro, who has been included in the lineup of past jazz festival performers.

Traditionally, each year's Jazz Holiday scholarship winner performs at the annual kickoff party, but this year's winner, Randall Goodgame, was unable to get away in time from classes at Birmingham-Southern College in Alabama, where he is a freshman majoring in music and biology.

Goodgame, 18, a pianist, is the son of Dr. John T. Jr. and Beth Goodgame of Druid Road in Clearwater. The annual $1,000 Jazz Holiday scholarship is matched again this year by $1,000 from Barnett Bank.

Werder, a member of the Jazz Festival committee since 1986, said organizers have received many telephone calls inquiring about the festival, and "people have come out of the woodwork to make sure jazz is preserved."

"The importance of special events in the community is really mind-boggling," Werder said. "It was gratifying to know that all the effort of the volunteers is paying off."

Spectators should bring a visor or sunglasses to watch the daytime acts. After the sun sets, winds blowing across Clearwater Bay get chilly, so bring long pants and a jacket for maximum comfort, as well as a blanket or lounge chair.

Free after-hours jam sessions are scheduled again this year after performances Friday and Saturday in the lobby bar at the Holiday Inn Surfside, 400 Mandalay Ave., Clearwater Beach. The sessions begin about 11 each night.

A variety of restaurants and concessions will offer specialty foods, or festivalgoers may bring a picnic basket with their own favorite fare.

No pets, alcoholic beverages, glass containers or skateboards are allowed and recording the music is forbidden.

Parking is available in the old Maas Brothers and Clearwater Library parking lots, nearby streets, several downtown lots and the Park Street and Garden Avenue parking garages, free after 6:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday and all day on the weekend.