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  1. Music

Stageworks Theatre makes room for jazz nights

TAMPA — Lauren Smalls doesn't get out much, so she's picky about when and where she goes for entertainment.

One place that's always a must-do is Stageworks Theatre, the playhouse tucked inside the Grand Central at Kennedy in the Channelside District.

So when Smalls, who lives in Clearwater, learned the theater was reviving its Kool Jazz series, she made sure to attend last month's concert.

"I had a wonderful time," she said. "I truly missed them. I look forward to getting out (to more concerts)."

Smalls was one of about 50 people who gathered at Stageworks to enjoy a full dinner before grooving to the sounds of On Que Players as the Tampa band pumped out a string of jazz and R&B jams, including Frankie Beverly and Maze's Joy and Pain and a medley of songs from the Jackson 5 and Michael Jackson.

Although billed as a jazz event, the selection was purposely mixed, said band director Al Chisolm.

"We just wanted to bring some variety," he said.

The series is a feature at the theater that's almost as popular as its plays, said Karla Hartley, Stageworks' producing artistic director.

It began last year with musicians putting on jam sessions after shows. The impromptu shows soon took on a more formal structure with meetups happening every Monday.

After a solid run through the winter, the shows went on hiatus earlier this year.

With summer winding down and the new play season revving up, now seems like the right time for the series' return, Hartley said.

Music concerts at Stageworks may appear out of place but theaters have long served as a place for all kinds of art forms, she said.

Doing things out of the norm is part of the mission at Stageworks, which frequently offers productions that focus on controversial or out-of-the-box topics.

So the music series is a perfect fit for Stageworks, Hartley said.

"We want to make sure we're providing well-rounded programming and fulfilling any needs our community may have," she said. "We're going to see how it goes and see how people respond to it."

Moved out of her seat to the crowded dance floor more than once, Nancy Stewart described the evening as "electric".

"It's so genuine," said the Clearwater Beach resident. "It's just a fantastic experience every time."

Contact Kenya Woodard at