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Your weekend arts forecast: Jazz legend Billy Cobham; Free Museum Day

Jazz fusion, an adventurous and powerful blend of styles hammered together to send something complex (and entirely new) out of your stereo speakers, arrived in the late 1960s.

Although he wasn’t the first musician to blend electric guitars, electric keyboards and other plug-ins with more traditionally acoustic instruments of jazz – nor would he be the last – English guitarist John McLaughlin put fusion on the map (and on the charts) with a group he dubbed Mahavishnu Orchestra.

With the albums Birds of Fire, The Inner Mounting Flame and Apocalypse, Mahavishnu was instrumental in introducing complex time signatures, virtuosity and improvisation to a young audience that literally didn’t know what hit them.

The door, then, was opened for a conga line of progressive jazz/rock fusion bands including Return to Forever and Weather Report.

Billy Cobham, who’s playing Saturday (Sept. 21) at the Central Park Cultural Arts Center in Largo, was Mahavishnu Orchestra’s drummer during those crucial early years, when the maps were being re-drawn. The polydextrous Panamanian is considered one of the grand old men of fusion, and has gigged and/or recorded with pretty much anyone who works the genre.

(Including Miles Davis, whom many considered fusion’s founding father. Cobham, along with McLaughlin in their pre-Mahavishnu days, were part of the Davis band in the all-important Bitches Brew period.)

Cobham’s Crosswinds Project band includes Fareed Haque (guitar), Tim Landers (bass), Paul Hanson (bassoon/sax) and Osam Elelwy (keyboards).

Trumpet legend Randy Brecker is listed as “special guest.”

Details and tickets here.

Museums are free

Hey! Saturday is Free Museum Day, across the USA, and here in St. Pete any and all can get into these wonderful places with no admission charge all day: The James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art, the Museum of Fine Arts St. Petersburg, Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum, Imagine Museum (first floor only), the Florida Holocaust Museum, and the Dali Museum (Pinellas County residents with ID only).

Bay watch

Local playwright Bill Leavengood (Webb’s City The Musical, Drilled!) is at the Palladium this weekend with a “concert” version of his show Crossing the Bay, a fictionalized re-telling of St. Petersburg’s early days. It’s a multi-character musical (with songs by Lee Ahlin) set in the pre-railroad era of the 1880s.

The three shows (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) include “all songs and libretto performed but staged in a concert style, with standing mics and almost no scenery,” Leavengood says, “and the majority of the show played ‘out’ toward the audience. Very cinematic.” Historical St. Pete images will be projected behind the performers.

The cast includes Shannon Wright, Cameron Kubly, Amanda Ladd, Chris Jackson, Adam Workman, Julia Marquis, Eric Jacobson, Bailee McQueen, Chas Reynolds, Kaylie Horowitz and, as they used to say on TV, a “host of others.”

Details and tickets here.

Banned, on the run

Wordier Than Thou has a unique fundraiser tonight (Thursday, Sept. 19) at St. Pete Shuffle, 559 Mirror Lake Dr. in celebration of Banned Books Month – that’s this month, folks – a select group of bay area drag queens will read from a what’s what of some of the world’s most notorious banned books. Confirmed are Matthew McGee, Stephanie Stuart, Vanna T. Scarlett, Aura Gasmique, Lola Mayhem and Lovonda Deck. Yes, it’s called Banned Books Are a Drag.

The evening will also include racy readings from local authors, trivia and games (Banned Books Bingo!) and other stuff.

It starts at 7, and tickets are available here.

Don’t forget …

The Dance Hall Project is in full swing at thestudio@620, with performances by the modern dance company RogueDance Saturday and Sunday. Read more here.

Another tip o’the hat to Banned Books Month, the musical revue Banned Together, has a free show Monday (Sept. 23) at the Palladium. It’s sharing the bill with Love v. Death, a chamber opera by St. Pete composer Tom Spivak. Read about that one – if you’ve got the stomach for it – here.

  • Are you a performing arts space, large, small or in-between, an art gallery, a bookshop or any place where public cultural events take place? Please put us on your email list – we can’t publicize you if we don’t know what (or who) you are! The address is Thanks



Bill DeYoung

Bill DeYoung was a St. Petersburg Times correspondent at the age of 17. He went on to a 30-year career at newspapers in Florida and Georgia. He is the author of "Skyway: The True Story of Tampa Bay's Signature Bridge and the Man Who Brought it Down," "Phil Gernhard, Record Man" and "I Need to Know: The Lost Music Interviews." He loves the Beatles and is, more or less, a cat person.

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