For music lovers in Pensacola, the first week of April will likely be filled with tough decisions.
From April 1 through April 7, daily events throughout Pensacola, Gulf Breeze, and Pensacola Beach are set to make the 30th anniversary of Pensacola’s JazzFest the largest party in the festival’s history.
With over 40 venues and dozens of musicians participating, the week will culminate with JazzFest itself on Saturday, April 6 and Sunday, April 7. The Jazz Society of Pensacola (JSOP) organizes the festival, which is held annually in Seville Square, and is free to the public.
“There is so much going on, it’s going to be difficult to choose where to be,” said JSOP President Crystal Joy Albert of this year’s schedule. Choices range from JSOP’s standing Monday night event at Unique Café to a Gospel Concert at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, a second line from Apple Annie’s to the Blue Wahoos Season Opener, and a special jazz-themed Gallery Night, among many others.
Titled “Viva Pensacola Jazz!” the celebration coincides with the statewide “Viva Florida 500” initiative, marking the 500th anniversary of Juan Ponce de Leon’s voyage to Florida, the first documented European expedition in North America.
Funds for JazzFest come from regular JSOP Monday concerts including Jazz Gumbo at Seville Quarter (a cup of gumbo comes with admission), “Blue Monday” at Five Sisters Blues Café, and open jam sessions at Unique Café in Gulf Breeze.
Donations from corporate and private sponsors as well as donations for VIP access to JazzFest ($100 a person) also helps provide additional funding for the festival.
As part of even broader “Viva Pensacola Jazz!” programs, JSOP Partnered with West Florida Public Library and Pensacola Museum of Art to bring jazz to the public in a variety of mediums.
Having hosted lecture series at WFPL in the past, this year JSOP partnered with the library (which recently won a grant funded by the American Library Association, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Tribeca Film Institute) for a film and discussion series on American Music at the library’s Downtown Branch.
Each Thursday from March 21 through April 25 will feature a presentation on a single genre, followed by a film and discussion. Two live performances will also be held at the library in support the lectures, both on Fridays (March 29 and April 5).
Likewise, in the past, JSOP had partnered with PMA for jazz-focused photo exhibits, and the 30th anniversary seemed like an appropriate time to hold another.
Until April 20, “Jazz in Black and White,” a selection of Duncan Scheidt’s photos from an over 70-year career will be on display at PMA. The exhibit will be a fitting stop on the April 5 Gallery Night, which was moved to coincide with the JazzFest activities.
From the beginning, JazzFest has involved numerous community partnerships and participants. Pensacola has long been a musical town, but a formal jazz society didn’t develop until the decision to host a local jazz festival, and JSOP formed as a support organization.
“Local musicians had discussed a jazz society for years before opportunity for JazzFest occurred. We were all afraid it would be ‘too much work,’” recalls Dr. Norman Vickers, who pitched the idea of a jazz festival to then WUWF Station Manager Pat Crawford and Diane Magie of the Pensacola Arts Council—later the Northwest Florida Arts Council—in 1982.
With much work and coordination, the first JazzFest was held shortly thereafter in 1983, and was a collaborative effort between JSOP, WUWF, and Pensacola Arts Council, all of which alternated as lead organizations over the years. In 1999, JSOP took over as JazzFest’s sole parent organization, taking on management and financing of the festival.
Though typical JazzFests are planned over the course of 11 months, planning for the 30th anniversary event began two years ago. With the encouragement of Buck Mitchell at Seville Quarter, Albert and the JSOP team—comprising over 20 committees and over 100 volunteers—proceeded with planning a week’s worth of festivities.
This year’s headliners, all of whom play both days of the festival, are pianist Rossano Sportiello, saxophonist Harry Allen, and vocalist Giacomo Gates. Each of the headliners performs internationally, and will share a bill at Pensacola’s JazzFest with numerous local professional and student musicians.
In fact, though Vickers and Albert list past headliners such as Bucky Pizzarelli, Rebirth Brass Band, Johnny Frigo, and Frank Vignola among the most memorable past performers, Albert says one of her favorite parts of the festival is, “seeing the tremendous growth of the school bands. They rival the playing of many professionals. Sometimes you can’t tell if they are middle school or university!”
Like the JazzFests before it, this 30th anniversary celebration promises to hold something for everyone, with five more days to enjoy.
VIVA PENSACOLA JAZZ! JAZZFEST 2013
WHAT: Week Long Celebration for the 30th Anniversary of Pensacola JazzFest
WHEN: April 1 through April 7; JazzFest itself April 6 and 7
WHERE: JazzFest in Seville Square, “Viva Pensacola Jazz!” events throughout Pensacola
DETAILS: For a full calendar of events, visit jazzpensacola.com