Jazz(isms) and where to find them

Aficionados can find exciting sounds scattered around the Bay area.

click to enlarge La Lucha at The Palladium’s Side Door venue. - Phil Bardi
Phil Bardi
La Lucha at The Palladium’s Side Door venue.

Courtesy of a fake ID, I sipped one of my first adult cocktails at the Jazz Cellar’s piano bar — so called because the actual bar had painted-on ivories. Nagel-esque ladies wearing shoulder-padded dresses strolled arm in arm with wealthy older boyfriends as my friends and I loitered awkwardly in the dark. At that time, “The Wave” played jazz on 102.5-FM, long before the bandwidth was occupied by Cowhead and “The Bone.”

The Jazz Cellar scene and “The Wave” were definitely niches unto their own, and the late 1980s may have been the closest Tampa’s been to having a bona fide contemporary jazz scene.

Then again, “jazz” and “scene” don’t always go together for those who enjoy adventurous, experimental styles of the genre. There’s plenty of jazz standards, bebop and smooth jazz to enjoy at the Fox, an upscale lounge on Kennedy and West Shore, and Ellington vet Buster Cooper is still blowing trombone at The Garden on Friday and Saturday nights for a treasured limited time. But you have to do a little legwork to find the more exciting sounds around the Bay area.

Among the wide-ranging noteworthy talents, Blue Muse mines the most arcane Old World treasure trove. The ensemble — Misti Bernard on lead vocals and hammered dulcimer, cellist Tom Kersey, percs man Michael Washington and Rick Olsen on keys, guitar and hand percussion — performs selections from a library of 13th century Spanish and Portuguese devotional music, but with a contemporary feel. As La Lucha, bassist Alejandro Arenas, drummer Mark Feinman and pianist John O’Leary create luminous jazz/pop textures and Latin-inspired rhythms. And bassist/guitarist Ray Villadonga has been around a while, currently performing exotic, mellifluous compositions as Rayzilla with local jazz heavyweights like Jeremy “Sax God of the Tampa Bay Area” Powell (also on keys and other electronics), guitarist Alfredo Rivero, Joe Bencomo on percussion, and Shankhachur “Shankenstein” Lahiri on tabla and vocals.

For live shows on the more avant/exotic tip, start with the Friday Morning Musicale’s schedule. The historic venue in Hyde Park often features international headliners. Palladium Theater’s Side Door concert series delivers fresh and global-flecked sounds along with more traditional forms, while USF’s SYCOM (Systems Complex for the Recording and Performing Arts) or The Venture Compound in St. Pete present new forms of electronic music. USF’s Barness Recital Hall and Sykes Chapel at UT can be relied upon for world-class acoustic forms, and a handful of drinking establishments and restaurants — like the Independent in Tampa, Skipper’s Smokehouse, New World Brewery and the Local 662 — occasionally deliver new jazz sounds as well.

What’s lacking on the live jazz forefront can be made up for in spades on the radio. Tampa Bay is blessed with one of the best jazz DJs in America: Bob Seymour, who’s been jazz director at WUSF-89.7 FM since 1981. Tune in to his show with Mike Cornette Monday-Thursday, 9 p.m.-5 a.m.; Friday, 11 p.m.-6 p.m.; Saturday, 1-6 a.m., and Sunday, 10 p.m.-5 a.m.

Jazz(isms): Infinite Groove Orchestra, La Lucha, Rayzilla, O Som Do Jazz, Blue Muse, Nate Najar, Stolen Idols.
Mark your calendar: The Sixth Annual Dinner and Jazz Series, Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, 6:30-9:30 p.m. Fridays, July 26-Aug. 30, fine-arts.org; Rayzilla’s Dreamboats, Aug. 16, New World Brewery, Ybor City (also Aug. 25, The Independent Bar & Cafe, Tampa); O Som Do Jazz, Sun., Sept. 8, 2 p.m., Museum of Fine Arts; EMIT Concert: Tatsuya Nakatani with Dr. Eugene Chadbourne, Fri., Nov. 8, 8 p.m., Salvador Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, emitseries.org.

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