Jazz Festival tunes up for 36th year

If your ears long for live Jazz, the 2015 Jacksonville Jazz Festival is soon here with swingin’ groups, traditional trios, and Klezmer bands who will grace several stages downtown during Memorial Day weekend. National acts Spyro Gyra, Tito Puentes Jr. Orchestra, and Michael Franks appear along with Jacksonville’s own Mama Blue, The Kelly/Scott Quintet, and the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra.

Keeping the beat in Avondale

Keeping all that jazz in sync is drummer and festival veteran Eric Mason of Avondale. Mason first played percussion at age 5 when he accompanied his ragtime piano-playing grandmother by arranging pots and pans, then playing them with wooden spoons.

JazzMason_01At 16, Mason and his family moved to Jamaica where he discovered that “Jamaica is not just straight up reggae but has a thriving jazz scene…infused with Caribbean and Afro-Cuban music styles.” There he earned a certificate in Afro-Cuban Music Studies from the Jamaica School of Music, Kingston.

Back in the U.S., Mason performed with UNF’s inaugural jazz program class at the Jacksonville Jazz Festival in 1987. “The UNF Jazz Program and Jazz Festival grew together and helped the Jacksonville music culture to grow” said Mason, who has backed Toots and the Maytals, Arturo Sandoval, and the Drifters, among others.

Balancing family life, playing music full time, and working in orthopedic and medical sales, “…is always challenging” for Mason, whose day job allows him selectivity with performances. Mason’s love of jazz echoes concern and hope: “Jazz is about lineage and history and the generation that appreciates it are out by attrition.”

Mason wants to “play and advocate for young people for traditional jazz” and sees “amazing musicians taking the art form to mind-blowing levels of musicianship.” Mason can be seen with the TBA Big Band, Windjammer the Band, and Jimmy Parrish and the Waves.

Jazz bridges the river

Jazz rhythms and horns are natural aural accomplices and jazz trombonist Gary Roberts, owner of Roberts’ South Bank Pharmacy in San Marco, is happy to play that sound. Though an accomplished player, Roberts’ decision to become a pharmacist rather than professional musician happened during college. The Ortega Forest resident explains, “I was a music major before pharmacy but switched because I had to take either band or chem lab, which were at the same time. I only wanted to perform and so few make a living there – but I had skills in math and pharmacy which led to the switch.”

JazzRoberts_01Roberts, who plays for the West Jacksonville Jazz Ensemble during worship services at West Side Baptist Church, enjoys music with horn parts and textures. “Whether I have good or bad feelings during the day, I always feel better after playing…jazz creativity, how it all comes together…always draws something out in me.”

Roberts said he’s lucky to have a family who allows him time for the trombone. “Playing jazz trombone is not like work; being able to play music is a God-given talent to use for good, and I’ll continue to do so…I can take music further in life than athletics (for example) – long as I have wind, I’ll play!”

When Dan Mullis, former West Side Baptist Church musician, now Director of Music Missions for Operation Mobilization, contacted Roberts seeking donations for children to attend the Jacksonville Jazz Festival Music Clinic, Roberts’ Pharmacy provided funds to sponsor up to 50 children. Music can be a life-long pursuit, according to Roberts: “It has no definite end point. I have friends in their 80s who are great musicians.”

Professional jazz in Murray Hill

JazzYorio_01Adding depth to that jazz sound is saxophonist Joe Yorio of Murray Hill, who first picked up the saxophone in 1980 at the age of 8 and knew he would one day be a pro. Yorio’s musical interests began with John Coltrane and continued into the saxophone after hearing Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are.”

Today, Yorio is the professional he imagined as a child. A UNF Performance Major teacher and professional player, Yorio describes himself as “…an extrovert in the body of an introvert” who “can more fluently express myself as a musician because there is more truth in sound and vibration than there is in words. I almost feel like it’s the process of Jazz that’s so captivating and good for my own personal development.”

Along with sax, Yorio resumed playing the clarinet because of its expressiveness and likes feeling its “channel of air under my fingers” because it’s more attached to the music. “The clarinet strikes a chord with people. Whenever I play it, I always get a compliment after the show.” Yorio performs with the band Gary and the Yehudas at this year’s Festival and can be seen with Windjammer the Band.

Admission to the Jacksonville Jazz Festival is the sweet sound of free, while VIP and Preferred Day Passes are available for a charge and good from Thursday, May 21 through Sunday, May 24.

JazzYorio_02All ages and instruments are welcome; reservations are required. Call (904) 630-3690 for more information. As you enjoy the music, browse the work of artists and craftspeople from all over the U.S. at Art in the Heart of Downtown during festival hours. Head to www.makeascenedowntown.com/Events/Jacksonville-Jazz-Festival-05-28.aspx for complete information on the Jazz Festival. Your ears will thank you.

By Vince Iampietro
Resident Community News

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