Allred Vache Florida All Star
05 Dec 2017
jazz festivals
Tuneful TravelTuneful Travel

2017 Suncoast Jazz Classic shines with a mix of new & familiar bands

The 27th annual Suncoast Jazz Classic was held over the weekend of November 17-19, 2017 in sunny Clearwater Beach along the Gulf Coast of southern Florida. The festival featured 18 bands and personalities, playing all genres of jazz including traditional, swing, big band, zydeco, and Latin. A high school jazz ensemble inspired the audience with their young talents, and informal jam sessions entertained late night listeners and allowed amateur instrumentalists the chance the play with the pros.

Clearwater Beach Florida
Clearwater Beach: what a location for a jazz fest!

First a disclaimer: I love the beach, so any concert venue located right on the ocean’s edge instantly appeals to me. The Sheraton Sand Key Resort, key venue for the Suncoast Jazz Classic, boasts 10 acres of private shoreline, and I enjoyed taking a break from the music one afternoon to walk along the beach and even take go swimming in the ocean.

The Sheraton Sand Key Resort in Clearwater Beach, FL (photo credit: hotel website)
The Sheraton Sand Key Resort in Clearwater Beach, FL

This was my second year at this jazz festival, which is held the weekend before Thanksgiving (see my review of the 2016 festival here).  The concerts were held in various rooms in the Sheraton and nearby Marriott hotels as well as a few other locations around Clearwater Beach. Often there were bands playing in the bar areas which also serve food.

A few of the great bands which played during this weekend included (in alphabetical order):

Al Downing All Stars with Synia Carroll. From St. Petersburg, FL, this group carries on the jazz tradition of the late Tampa Bay musician Al Downing.

Allred-Vache Florida All Stars. Co-leader and trombone player Bill Allred celebrated his 81th birthday on Sunday during the festival and proved what I’ve often thought, that playing music keeps one young.

Cornet Chop Suey. Hailing from St. Louis, MO this group presented a special set about Louis Armstrong.

This video features the group’s trombone player, Brett Stamps:

Dave Bennett Quartet. From Michigan, Dave Bennett on clarinet/vocals/piano and his musicians perform Benny Goodman standards mixed with lively Jerry Lee Lewis Rockabilly tunes and modern ballads.

Here the quartet performs an original composition, “Heavy Heart”:

High Sierra Jazz Band. From California, this group has been around for 40 years with various musicians and plays traditional jazz.

High Sierra Jazz Band
High Sierra Jazz Band

Professor Cunningham and His Old School. This group from New York City made its initial appearance at the Suncoast fest to great audience approval. They play originals and jazz standards.

Here the septet performs a class rock ‘n’ roll number:

Tom Rigney & Flambeau.  Also from California, this group features Tom Rigney on violin/vocals, and plays a mixture of zydeco, boogie woogie, originals, and waltzes.

Wally’s Warehouse Waifs. From Michigan and other parts of the Midwest, this group plays Big Band and Swing favorites.

My Takeaway…

This festival offers a great opportunity to hear a variety of music styles performed by world-class musicians in an informal setting. The Sheraton Sand Key Resort is an easy-to-navigate hotel with spacious rooms and several eating venues. If you want to explore the city of Clearwater Beach, there is a free trolley service that stops at the Sheraton, Marriott, and other city locations. The sunny and warm weather during November is a definite plus in my book. Finally, the volunteers who make this festival possible (along with the business and individual sponsors) are friendly and have the running of the festival operations down to a science. If you’re considering dipping your toe into the jazz festival circuit, this is a great place to start!

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