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Florida-centric St. Pete Jazz Festival begins Wednesday

Bill DeYoung



Jazz flautist Nestor Torres

Trombonist David Manson is the man behind the curtain for the Helios Jazz Orchestra, Glorious Brass and other jazz ensembles in the bay area; as the founder of the progressive arts series EMIT, he’s responsible for delivering a plethora of wide-ranging music here, from world to electronic to experimental jazz and beyond. And EMIT – well, David Manson – invented the St. Petersburg Jazz Festival in 2008.

Eleven years later, Manson – a Doctor of Musical Arts at St. Petersburg College – remains a magnet for talent and a treasured curator. That’s evident in the lineup for the 2019 Jazz Festival, Feb. 27-March 3 at the St. Pete College-owned Palladium Theater. Because the majority of these five shows take place in the 175-seat Side Door – the intimate and ultra-cool downstairs room at the Palladium – they’re as close to the New York basement “jazz club” vibe as humanly possible.

Here’s the rundown:

Wednesday, Feb. 27, 7:30 p.m. at the Side Door: The Valerie Gillespie Ensemble, with Jody Marsh (piano), Steve Boisen (bass) and Dave Rudolph (drums). Saxophonist and vocalist Gillespie, an adjunct faculty member at the University of South Florida in Tampa, frequently solos with the Florida Orchestra and is a familiar presence at the Suncoast Jazz Classic and The Clearwater Jazz Holiday.

Thursday, Feb. 28, 7:30 p.m. at the Side Door: Saxophone legend Sam Rivers, who passed away in 2011 at the age of 88, spent the last quarter of his life in Florida, where he mentored, wrote and performed with numerous musicians who went on the become cornerstones of the state’s modern jazz revival. This show, called Remembering Sam with Rivers Lost, features members of his RivBea Orchestra playing his free jazz tunes and reminiscing about working with the great man. Players: Doug Mathews (bass), Rex Wertz (saxophone/flute), David Pate (saxophones), Bobby Koelble (guitar) and Anthony Cole (drums).

Friday, March 1, 7:30 p.m. at the Side Door: Flautist Nestor Torres, the recipient of a Latin Jazz Grammy Award, famously blends Latin rhythms, world music, pop and other sounds. The Puerto Rico-born Torres has recorded 15 albums, most recently Jazz Flute Traditions, on which he pays homage to his flute-playing jazz forebears including Herbie Mann, Eric Dolphy and Hubert Laws. He performs with the Nestor Torres Quartet.  “It is a rare occasion that I have to consult a thesaurus to find enough superlatives to describe this flautist’s performance,” wrote Allan Kanovsky of “Nestor Torres is a maestro, a professore, technically perfect, with a tone that is beyond belief; imagination and creativity pervade every solo.”

Vocalist Alexis Cole

Saturday, March 3, 7:30 p.m. in Hough Hall: In the upstairs theater proper comes David Manson’s own Helios Jazz Orchestra, playing behind sexy, sinewy vocalist Alexis Cole. Born in New York, Cole is a longtime resident of Florida, and spent seven years (2009-2016) in the United States Army, during which time she not only sang all over the world with the Army Big Band but recorded a string of well-received albums. Her most recent, Dazzling Blue – The Music of Paul Simon, sets this song stylist loose on a dozen of the singer/songwriter’s lesser-known tunes, a bold move described by Jazz de Gama as “beautifully atmospheric, growing out of darkness into dazzling light, and is most striking in the sense of magic and mystique that Cole brings to each and every tune with a sense of detail that is almost embarrassingly glorious.”

Sunday, March 3, 7:30 p.m. in the Side Door. The Martin Bejerano Trio.  Afro-Cuban pianist Bejerano, “while informed of the jazz tradition, creates his own rhythmic and harmonic pathways for an original and delightful musical journey. Martin Bejerano, thankfully, reminds us once again that jazz and the piano trio format are alive and thriving with freshness and creative vitality” (Don Williamson, Along with his trio, Berjerano – a resident of Miami and a professor at the Frost School of Music – also performs and records with drummer Roy Haynes, guitarists Russell Malone and  Jonathan Kreisberg and others.

Tickets, and additional information, can be found here.


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