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St. Pete jazz, history and fine art to come together this weekend

Bill DeYoung



Saxophonist Henry Ashwood Jr. organized Saturday's jazz event at the Historic Manhattan Casino. Photo provided.

Jazz at the Deuces, a marathon, multi-part concert, will take place this Saturday, Oct. 12 at the Historic Manhattan Casino on 22nd Street South (a.k.a. The Deuces).

“That was our downtown,” says saxophonist Henry Ashwood Jr., the concert organizer, who grew up in the area. “Back in the day, there were black businesses all up and down the street.”

Times, of course, have changed. Built in the late 1920s, the Manhattan Casino was the hub of activity in the predominately African American neighborhood for the better part of 40 years. Designed an historical landmark in 1994, the two-story, 12,000-square-foot building was purchased by the City and assigned grand plans for revitalization. Every once in a while, the lights burn late and the dance floor shakes.

Still, notes Ashwood, “It’s a ghost town up there on the weekends, in most cases.” A few years ago, Ashwood organized a jazz show an old-school dance at the Manhattan, once a month as a part of the citywide First Friday celebration. For various reasons, it only lasted seven months.

“That’s something I would like to get started again,” he says. “One day out of the month to have it poppin’ against would be great for the people, as well as the neighborhood.”

Saturday’s event is more than just the next best thing. It will be, according to Ashwood, a full-bodied blend of music from the best jazz players in the city.

“We’ve got more players here in St. Pete than Clearwater, Tampa or Sarasota, it seems to me,” Ashwood explains. “People come to St. Petersburg because there’s a pretty viable jazz scene here.

Jeremy Carter

“We’ve got some of the better players around anywhere. Jeremy Carter, for one. He goes around doing Coltrane concerts. Who does that? And we got Le Jazz with Hiram Hazely; they play every Thursday at Ruby’s Elixir.” He mentions trumpeter James Suggs, the trio La Lucha, keyboard player Stretch Bruyn and the legendary bassist (and former member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra) John Lamb.

Of course, not everyone was able to play for Jazz on the Deuces – some already had gigs booked elsewhere.

The official lineup includes (6-7 p.m.) Fred Johnson with Michael Ross; (7-8 p.m.) the Shawn Brown Band; (8-10 p.m.) The Jeremy Carter Group: The Soul of Jazz. Each show is considered an individual concert, requiring its own $20 ticket, although $60 will get you in the door for the entire evening (reserved VIP seating is $100). All tickets are here.

Like Vanessa Williams, Ashwood has saved the best for last – from 10 to midnight, many of the city’s pro players will gather for a jazz jam. Confirmed are James Suggs, John Lamb, Michael Ross, Paul Gavin, Ben Winkler, Butch Thomas, Larry Camp and most, if not all, of the musicians from earlier in the evening (admission to the jazz jam is free with any ticket purchase, or $25 at the door).

As it happens, a good number of jazz players will be in the neighborhood already, playing for the Arts Alliance of St. Petersburg’s 2nd Saturday ArtWalk. The October edition of this monthly gallery- and studio-hop has a jazz theme, and there’ll be bands and combos set up and playing for visitors as they trolley (or walk) on in.

Henry Ashwood, for example, and his group will be jamming at Duncan McClellan’s gallery, which is in the Warehouse Arts District and just two blocks away from the Manhattan Casino.

Here’s the full lineup of ArtWalk performances:

Trolley Stop 1– Craftsman House Gallery, 2955 Central Ave.

. . . Jason Charos Ensemble from 5-9 pm

Stop 2 – Charlie Parker Pottery, 2724 6th Ave. S.

. . . Stretch Bruyn Quartet from 5-9 pm

Stop 4 – Duncan McClellan Gallery, 2342 Emerson Ave. S.

. . . Ashwood Jazz Project from 8-9:30 pm

Stop 5 – ArtsXchange Gallery, 515 22nd St. S.

. . . James Suggs from 6-8 pm

Stop MC – Manhattan Casino, 642 22nd St. S.

. . . Jazz on the Deuces, 5pm-Midnight

Stop 6 – Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American History Museum, 2240 9th Ave. S

. . . Al Downing Tampa Bay Jazz from 5-9 pm

Stop 7– Morean Center for Clay, 420 22nd St. S.

. . . EMIT 5tet from 5-9 pm

Stop 12 – Florida CraftArt, 501 Central Ave.

. . . Erik Hempel Trio from 5-9 pm

Stop 15 – Woodfield Fine Art and Urban Arts Gallery, 2253 and 2323 Central Ave.

. . . Sugar Cane Combo with JJ Pattishall & Friends from 5-9 pm

Stop SD 18 – Sundial, 153 2nd Ave. N.

. . . Lakewood High School Jazz Band & Madeira Beach Fundamental Swing Rays from 6-8 pm.

Here’s the map of all the free trolley stops.

Pioneering St. Pete businessman Elder Jordan built 642 22nd Street South in 1925; it opened (as the Jordan Dance Hall) in 1931.

Historian Gwendolyn Reese will speak at Saturday’s jazz event on the historical significance of the Manhattan Casino. In its heyday, she says, it was known as “The Home of Happy Feet.”

The Manhattan, Reese explains, is significant for several reasons. “During Jim Crow and segregation, it was one of only a few places in the community where the African American community could gather,” she says. “And so, at the Manhattan Gibbs High School had their proms, various churches would hold social events there, various civic and social organizations would host their affairs there.”

On top of that, the segregated South meant, for entertainers, traveling what was unceremoniously known as the Chitlin’ Circuit. You played black clubs, in black neighborhoods – and even the performers who eventually “crossed over” and got booked into white clubs or hotel ballrooms still weren’t allowed in the front door.

How’s this for a who’s who? Sarah Vaughan, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Dinah Washington, Ray Charles, Ike and Tina Turner, Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland, Mahalia Jackson, Fats Waller, the Ink Spots, James Brown, Cab Callaway, Nat “King” Cole, Otis Redding, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie. They all played the Manhattan.

“Whether it was gospel or jazz or blues or R ‘n’ B, that was the only place that they could play,” says Reese.

“But even more importantly, during the time of segregation, there were many times when the audience at the Manhattan was not segregated, because white people would come there in order to hear these black musicians.

“So it is very much a part of the history of not only St. Pete, or African Americans in St. Pete, but it’s a part of the national picture.”

An evening with Satch

Friday (Oct. 11) from 8-10:30 p.m., Your Real Stories will be at the Manhattan Casino with Satchmo & St. Pete: A Love Story. Described as “an evening of live theatre, music and dance,” the multi-disciplinary event is based on interviews with Louis Armstrong’s daughter Sharon Preston Folta, her mother and others who lovingly recall seeing the great Satchmo perform on both sides of Central Avenue. A VIP reception precedes the performance, at Callaloo restaurant inside the facility. All tickets here.











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