For two decades and change, the Clearwater Jazz Holiday has provided Bay area jazz fans with a respite from the doldrums. It's also offered an inviting local getaway for folks less enamored of saxes and solos. CJH is held in verdant Coachman Park. And it's free. What's not to like? Well, over the years, jazz diehards have quibbled about the lineups, which is only natural, and they fairly went into conniptions a handful of years ago when the festival looked to be tilting heavily in a smooth-jazz direction. The organizers have since rediscovered a sense of balance, though, and this year's fest offers, as they say, a little something for everyone.
Let's take a look at the lineup a day at a time:
Thursday, Oct. 17 — Most jazz festivals make room for some blues/boogie, and Deanna Bogart (9:15-10:30 p.m.) fills the bill for this year's CJH. She should provide the opening night with a rollicking finish. Saxophonist/composer Jack Wilkins (7:30-8:45 p.m.), associate professor of jazz studies at USF, will perform with an eight-piece band. He's as accomplished at arranging as playing and composing, so the octet should deliver some spirited swing with interesting voicings and a big sound.
The fest opens with the local singer Suzette Jennings and Mood Swingz, her three-piece backing band. The Detroit native slides from old R&B to standards to jazz and more.
Friday, Oct. 18 — Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All-Stars — think bebop. Their namesake was one of bop's key progenitors in the '40s. Trumpeter Jon Faddis, he of the prodigious upper register, leads an ensemble that also includes four Diz alumns: trombonist Slide Hampton, pianist Billy Childs, bassist John Lee and drummer Dennis Mackrel.
Astral Project (8:15-9:30 p.m.) could be the sleeper of the event. The quartet includes a roll call of New Orleans' forward-thinking jazz musicians. Saxophonist Tony Dagradi is joined by bassist James Singleton, guitarist Steve Masakowski and drummer Johnny Vidacovich, one of the Crescent City's premier stickmen. The group blends a modern jazz sensibility with the unique feel of their hometown.
Consider Ghetto Love Sugar (6:30-7:45 p.m.) as this year's space-jazz entry (maybe the fest's first space-jazz entry). The local ensemble mixes funk, psychedlia, dub and other styles into free-form jams.
Saturday, Oct. 19 — The Big Event of this year's CJH is the appearance of the Chick Corea Elektric Band (9-10:30 p.m.). The fabled keyboardist unveils his recently reassembled fusion group at CJH. All of the original members have returned: drummer Dave Weckl, bassist John Patitucci, saxophonist Eric Marienthal and guitarist Frank Gambale. The band is known for its mixture of power and finesse, with tricky melody lines and lots of instrumental expertise. Corea, a Clearwater resident, is one of the few artists in jazz annals who has proved equally comfortable in acoustic and electric formats.
Another Clearwater inhabitant, Jeff Berlin (7-8:15 p.m.) is recognized as one of the world's true wizards on electric bass. He can effortlessly bounce between bop, world music, rock, and heavy fusion. He'll be joined by drummer Danny Gottlieb, an original member of the Pat Metheny Group, and local savant Richard Drexler, who is a master of both piano and acoustic bass.
Storied saxophonist James Moody (5:15-6:30 p.m.) started with Dizzy Gillespie's big band in 1947.
He actually scored something of a hit, rare for a bebopper, called "Moody's Mood for Love." His tone is warm and he swings with plenty of elan. Veteran singer Marlena Shaw will join Moody's combo for part of the set. She fogs the barriers between jazz, blues, R&B and pop. Her style has been likened to that of Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan.
Trombonist Hampton (3:30-4:45 p.m.) returns to the stage with a tribute to Antonio Carlos Jobim, the man who popularized flowing bossa nova in the early '60s. Hampton will be joined by guitarist Vic Juris and a few players that hail from Brazil, the home of bossa nova.
St. Petersburg-based Larry Camp (1:45-3 p.m.) is a guitar animal. He excels at fluid lines in a mainstream context, but plays with more than the standard bite. Joining him on the bandstand will be fellow Bay area luminaries Drexler (piano, bass), Mark Neuenschwander (bass) and Steve Moretti (drums).
Trumpeter Dan McMillion (noon-1:15 p.m.) has led a big band locally for many a year, a truly remarkable feat. The Woody Herman alum and his ensemble will bring a brassy, swinging sound to the park.
Sunday, Oct. 20 — This is the day for smooth-jazz fans to turn out. Jonathan Butler (6:45-8 p.m.) started on the streets of South Africa; his journey led him to top concert halls and major label recording contracts. His sound is fluid and mildly funky.
Just about everyone is familiar with Lou Rawls' (5-6:15 p.m.) seductive baritone. Although not particularly aligned with the jazz world, he does have an innate sense of swing. His No. 2 hit "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine" (1976) certainly represents the highest chart position of any artist to grace the CJH stage.
A former Rippingtons percussionist leads Steve Reid's Bamboo Forest (3:15- 4:30 p.m.). Expect a gentle new agey style. Saxophonist Mike MacArthur and his group (1:30-2:45 p.m.) play Bay area clubs, blending jazz, fusion, R&B and unk. MacArthur did a stint with Maynard Ferguson.
Jes' Grew (noon-1 p.m.) — as in "We weren't born, we jes' grew." Guitarist Tony Green leads a group that transforms the music of Bob Marley, Outkast, Sly, P-Funk and others into an undulating, seductive funk-jazz sound.
Contact Associate Editor Eric Snider at 813-248-8888, ext. 114, or [email protected] weeklyplanet.com.