Jazz as a living, breathing art form just doesn’t get its due in St. Petersburg, if you ask David Manson. As the architect of the long-running St. Petersburg Jazz Festival, and this weekend’s all-Latin offshoot at the Palladium Theater, Manson is focused on taking the medium out of the museum and putting it on a stage where it can flex and freeform, and become part of the local musical lexicon.
“Florida,” says the veteran St. Petersburg College professor of music, “is just full of wonderful musicians, and yet they don’t really get the exposure they deserve. That’s one of my operating procedures for anything I do – to bring those artists to the attention of our people.
“The big performing arts centers are in love with outside artists. It’s always somebody from New York or L.A. or Chicago, whatever. But there are great artists here.”
Cuba-born bassist, composer and bandleader Mauricio J. Rodriguez, for example, is a teacher at St. Leo University. The one-time member of Fervet Opus Quartet, one of the most important Latin jazz bands in Cuba in the ‘80s, has a new recording, Luz, co-composed with Vicente Veloria. His band (July 9) is augmented by Richie Viruet on trumpet, Renesito Avich on Cuban Tres and guitar and Orlando “Landy” Mosqueda on percussion and piano.
Rodriguez is the St. Petersburg Jazz Festival’s “go-to” guy for putting together bands to play with visiting touring musicians; he also subs for Alejandro Arenas occasionally in the St. Pete Brazilian outfit O Som Do Jazz.
That particular group, which features Manson on trombone, his wife Andrea Moreas on vocals and La Lucha’s rhythm section (Arenas and drummer Mark Feinman) plays the Palladium July 11, with University of Florida music professor José Valentino Ruiz playing flute and saxophone.
Among his many awards and accolades, Dr. Valentino Ruiz is a record-holding 52-time Downbeat award winner, and received Latin Grammy Awards in 2019 and 2020.
He is also a bay area native and a graduate of the University of South Florida.
Joining O Som Do Jazz on the 11th will be Brazilian guitarist Tabajara Belo, one of South America’s most outstanding younger players. He will also perform solo. “Taba” is doing his Ph.D studies in Composition at the University of Florida; Manson says they’d never met before deciding to try working together for this concert.
Gumbi Ortiz is, of course, a familiar face to St. Petersburg Jazz Festival fans. The master percussionist, a longtime resident of Gulfport, will play July 10 with his band New Groove City. “These are people with international reputations, like Gumbi, who’s toured with Al Di Meola for 30 years now,” notes Manson.
A few years back, Manson caught a righteous fire in his belly when he watched pianist Kenny Drew, Jr., who lived in St. Petersburg, playing a jaw-dropping show at SPC … for a very small crowd (Drew passed away in St. Pete in 2014).
“That really was the turning point for me, to see a world-class jazz pianist like that just not getting the respect and the gigs that he should have here in Florida,” Manson says. “I mean, he would go off and play in Europe and everybody loved him there.
“He was playing ‘Sophisticated Lady’ with his left hand only. And he wasn’t left-handed. He was laying down a bassline, a melody and chords. Just a world-class musician.
“There are so many of them here. Because, who doesn’t want to live in Florida?”
Additional details, and tickets, are here.