Friday, June 29, 2007

Jazz at Grille 29; and the Arts in Tampa

This week, I finally visited the Wednesday night jazz jam session at Grille 29 in the Channelside District, a place that I've played with my own groups, including Greenwich Blue and the Philip Booth Quartet, as well as bands led by saxophonist (and friend) Joe Teston.

Denise Moore and Then Some, led by the longtime Tampa singer with lots of support from trumpeter Dwayne White, did a great job performing standards and playing host to a long line of veteran players and college students who showed up to sit in on the likes of "All Blues" and "Song For My Father" -- those are the tunes I got to play, with drummer Don Capone (who also plays in my Trio Vibe group), guitarist Ryan Pate (now a grad student at Manhattan School of Music), Dwayne (who played with my quintet at the recent Child of the Sun festival in Lakeland) and others.

It was great hearing and seeing so many area players, including my old high-school bandmate Jody Marsh, piano, and his son Ryan Marsh, drums; young bass talent Jennifer Medina, a St. Petersburg College student; saxophonist George Allgaier; trombonist Andy Foertsch; singer Karen Benjay; and several other singers and instrumentalists whose names I didn't catch.

It was nice, too, catching Denise's fine bassist, Alejandro Arenas, a Colombian-born musician who studies jazz at USF. Alejandro and Ryan Marsh are among the above musicians who can be found on MySpace, as USF student bassist Matthew Wengerd (also on MySpace) pointed out in a recent post on the Tampajazz blog

I should mention here that Don also plays the Monday-night jazz jam sessions at the venerable Ringside Cafe in St. Petersburg. And Jody (Citiheat's keyboardist) and Ryan play together in a trio, Tuesday and Wednesday nights at the Ramada Inn in Plant City.

Another treat, Wednesday night: I ran into five guys who I met during my stint as the pop music critic for the Tampa Tribune (1988-96). All except one have moved on to other area newspapers or to communications positions.

One of those old-line reporters on hand was Paul Wilborn, formerly of the Times and Trib, and just released from his position as the "arts czar" for the City of Tampa. Paul, a singer-pianist whose bands have included Denise, is one of too many City employees who lost their jobs on Thursday. The silver lining, I guess: They have 90 days to clean out their desks.

Paul has worked for Mayor Pam Iorio for four years, fulfilling the vital function of spearheading the efforts to make Tampa more friendly to the arts, which in turn has the effect of attracting more businesses and more young professionals, and thus more economic muscle, to our city.

So making an all-out effort to pump up the arts in Tampa is not important for our community, but spending $12 million on an indoor training facility for the Bucs (after the Tampa Bay area already coughed up $168 million for Raymond James Stadium) IS vital? Talk about screwed-up priorities.

As is often the case with artists and supporters of the arts, it behooves us to create our own scene(s), to find a way to generate creative activity without waiting for the perfect situation to do so. It's reassuring to know that folks like Denise and her bandmates are taking on just that task, and finding success. Here's hoping that Grille 29 and the Ringside continue supporting jazz.

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