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Jazz in Florida

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On occasion my “New York Beat” column reaches outside Gotham to inspect jazz activities in various places. Last year, while in Paris, I wrote a two-part series on the music scene in the City of Light. Presently, I’m in Florida doing radio interviews and working on another jazz book. I’ve made dozen of such trips here in recent decades and have found it is time to update matters on what is becoming an increasingly important area for jazz musicians, club owners, writers, media folk and, of course, fans. This reporting will focus on the so-called “Treasure Coast” which covers the southeast part of the peninsula from the Palm beaches to Miami.

Last weekend at the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale, the tragic death of Bob Berg (a neighbor of mine in East Hampton, NY) was commemorated in a benefit concert organized by Cedar Walton. Bob Berg was Cedar’s band mate in the group “Eastern Rebellion” which created quite a stir in New York clubs in recent years. Berg was a first-call soloist for bands all over the globe and his death is a great loss to the jazz world. It was somewhat comforting to see fans turn out to pay respects in a location far from Berg’s roots.

The same evening (January 18) The Glenn Miller Band played a concert at the Coral Ridge series also in Fort Lauderdale. Big band swing has a solid following in Florida that is increasing steadily. The ghost bands (Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, Larry Elgart, etc.) have long held sway down here and new bands are arriving to fill demands for the neo-swing craze. P.J. Doogie’s in Deerfield has a variety of swing bands appearing nightly. Veteran musicians who have moved to Florida from points north fill the chairs and play memorable charts from the big band era while introducing new compositions in their omnipresent efforts to remain hip. Jimmy Cavallo, an outstanding saxophonist (who provided me with invaluable anecdotes for my biography of Clifford Brown) holds court regularly and the club is usually packed.

One of the major concert showcases in the northern part of the “Treasure Coast” is the auditorium at Florida Atlantic University. A 2500+ seater, it hosts opera, Broadway shows, symphony performances and jazz concerts. On February 13th George Shearing will arrive and I’m told that tickets are going fast.

One of the most enduring South Florida jazz organizations is the Gold Coast Jazz Society. These folks are mostly producers responsible for bringing a variety of jazz styles into various venues. This week Cheryl Fisher headlined a show at the Pompano Beach Civic Center. The top ticket price of $15.00 is quite representative of the modest costs jazz fans encounter down here.

This month I’ve focused on concert venues but next month I’ll report on the multifarious clubs that feature international jazz stars, important latino jazz activity and the long list of small clubs that host local jazz talent and occasional “sitter’s-in” from the north. All of these goings-on make up quite a list.

If you come to Florida to escape one of the coldest northern winters in many years, just email the Allaboutjazz website. I will gladly provide more information.


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