A newly formed group of musicians thinks the art of jazz is dying and that it is their duty to help keep it alive _ at least in Hernando County.
"The arts is a lost cause in the U.S.," said Joe Perrotta, president of the new Hernando Jazz Society. "It is our responsibility to keep it alive."
The jazz society met Sunday to elect officers and provide an afternoon of jamming and dancing. The event drew more than 170 musicians and music lovers to the Spring Hill Civic Center on Kenlake Boulevard.
"It was packed," said Sally Whited, chairwoman of the membership committee. "We were so amazed at the enthusiasm."
The goal of the society is to bring the love of music _ jazz, as well as other styles of music _ to children.
"We want to get younger musicians involved," said Ben Fichera, who led the push to start the Hernando society. "Our prime objective is to expose children to our kind of music and to keep the interest alive."
The jazz society plans to bring in guest performers from throughout Florida and the nation to join its monthly jams.
"We're trying to get Jerry Jerome," said Roy Daniels, vice president of the society. "He played sax with some of the best, like Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller."
During last weekend's gathering, the West Coast Swing Ensemble performed, playing swing pieces like The A Train and C Jam Blues. Soloist Carl Triolo performed scat singing to a rendition of Lady Be Good.
More than 15 different musicians took turns jamming. They brought their saxophones, trumpets, guitars, clarinets, drums and trombones. One musician brought his harmonica along. While musicians played, dozens of couples filled the dance floor.
"If you're a talented musician, we can use your help," Perrotta said. "We're all doing this for the love of music."
Perrotta said the jams are not limited to jazz styles like swing, Dixieland, progressive and bop. Any popular style of music is encouraged.
John Persico, 25, of Spring Hill was one of the few younger musicians at the jam. He played the drums and was elected to the society's board of directors.
"I was going to the Citrus Jazz Society jams in Crystal River," Persico said. "Now I won't have to travel so far to play some good, quality music."
Along with other members of the board, Persico hopes to nurture young musicians.
As a result, the society will hold workshops for young musicians to teach the art of improvising jazz.
"We will be interacting with the schools," Perrotta said, "and plan to invite young jazz players to perform."
The non-profit group belongs to the American Federation of Jazz Societies and plans to donate any money it makes to the music programs in Hernando County schools.
Daniels said he would like to see swing band competitions in the local schools.
"It's a little ambitious at this stage," he said, "but it's a goal. It's so hard to hear a big swing band these days. Separately, we're nothing, but together we can change what's being listened to."
The Hernando Jazz Society will hold monthly meetings and jams beginning in September. Dates and location will be announced later. The cost for non-members will be $3.50.
The group's newsletter, All That Jazz, also will be available.
"The Hernando Jazz Society does more than just entertain," Perrotta said.
Officers of the newly formed Hernando Jazz Society include: Joe Perrotta, president; Roy Daniels, vice president; Bill Whited, treasurer; and Darlene Meier, secretary. Members of the board of directors include: Guy Bishop, Ben Fichera, Edward Meier, John Persico and Marvin Rosenberg. Family and individual society annual memberships are $25 and $15, respectively. For information, call 683-6372.