By Adam Zubek
The St. Petersburg Jazz Festival kicked off its 2016 event on Wednesday, with a performance by the James Varnado Funk Band. The festival, which took place from 24th to the 28th, featured some of the most talented jazz artists around, including Bird & Diz, the Silano Monasterios Trio, Fred Johnson and the Helios Jazz Orchestra.
The first show of the festival took place on the 24th, with a concert featuring the James Varnado Funk Band. The group played several original and cover songs through two sets that were an hour long each. The bands line up was as follows: James Varnado: Drums, Justin Green: Saxophone and Jack Berry: Bass. The concert included appearances by guest singers Troy Nichols, and Synia Carrol, plus Butch Thomas as a guest Saxophonist.
The show struck a chord with many of the concert goers, including Martha Downes who said “Everybody is so talented, I loved the signers, and I’ve never heard a stand up bass played like that before! I loved the show.” The centerpiece of the band is the drum stylings of James Varnado, who has shared bookings with such artists as Carlos Santana and BB King. His riveting and fast paced style of drumming inspired awe the entirety of the tiny venue.
The small, private setting of the St. Petersburg College Palladium allowed the concert to give an intimate, and personal touch. Jazz music has been around for decades, and has been a personal favorite for generations of people thanks to its sound, personality and style. “I’ve listened to jazz music all my life, my father played jazz, and he bought me a saxophone when I was in the fifth grade.” put Henry Ashwood, a local jazz musician in attendance.
“I loved the variety of musicians, and the way the were able to intertwine with each other on the spot.” Ashwood continued about the nights show. As a musical style, jazz gives the musicians more flexibility than any other genre of music, which makes way for colorful and expressive sounds. “I really like the mellowness, and the coolness. Being able to feel what the musician is feeling is an awesome thing” said Jim Bennett, a life long jazz lover,
The festival was directed by David Manson, who is expected audience of almost 200 for every show that the festival featured. Regional and international artists made appearances at the festival, but Manson made it clear that big names weren’t something he was interested in. “We just want excellent musicians who play jazz impressively. We want everyone to walk away saying That was amazing!”
The Jazz Festival, which is in its eighth year, had several sponsors, including, but not limited to: St. Petersburg College, EMIT, the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, and the City of St. Petersburg, as well as several foundations, businesses and private donors. Mason says the sponsorship base is growing continually, and expects the event to become a major jazz festival within a few years.