Suncoast Jazz Festival brings together both familiar and new jazz artists | Deviations

CLEARWATER — For the past 32 years, jazz fans from across the country have gathered on Florida’s west coast the weekend before Thanksgiving to attend the Suncoast Jazz Festival on Sand Key in Clearwater Beach.

This year’s annual event runs from November 18-20 and will take place at indoor venues at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort, 1150 Gulf Blvd., Clearwater Beach; and Marriott Suites on Sand Key, 1201 Gulf Blvd., Clearwater Beach.

The festival will offer fans the chance to experience live performances by more than 80 jazz musicians in a resort setting overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.

A variety of admission tickets are available with six options ranging from $40 for evening admission after 6 p.m. to $225 for three days of nonstop music.

For tickets and information, visit, email or call 727-248-9441. Students on presentation of an identity document are admitted free of charge on Saturdays and Sundays.

Several great “jazz legends” will be honored, including Houston Person, John Lamb and Johnny Varro. The musical lineup also includes dozens of local, regional and national musicians ranging from Judy Carmichael, New York’s Grammy-nominated pianist/singer/composer/radio host, to New Orleans jazz trumpeter and singer Kermit Ruffins.

Joan Dragon has been director of the Suncoast Jazz Festival for 15 years and a member of the non-profit organization’s board of directors for 20 years.

“We are committed to preserving and promoting jazz,” Dragon said. “We offer an indoor and intimate setting in rooms at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort and Marriott Suites on Sand Key with the addition of the Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Clearwater Beach for nearby accommodations with gulf views.”

The Jolley Trolley offers a free shuttle between hotels and free parking at Sand Key Park.

“We encourage locals and foreigners alike to enjoy three days on the beautiful Sand Key for some of the best live performances of American Songbook Jazz, New Orleans trad, swing, blues, Zydeco, a bit of rockabilly, swing dance, bands aspiring youth and gospel on Sunday mornings,” Dragon added.

This year’s performers include new additions and a number of returning favorites, such as Diego Figueiredo, Jason Marsalis, Professor Cunningham and His Old School and others,

Figueiredo is considered one of the most talented guitarists in the world today. Winner of the Montreux Jazz Competition and the VISA prize, Figueiredo has released more than 20 albums to date, three DVDs and several educational books. His music is a fusion between jazz, bossa nova and classical.

Figueiredo’s unique renditions, along with his phenomenal technique and emotion, created an explosion of adoring fans and audiences. To date, Figueiredo has performed in over 40 countries around the world.

Marsalis made his festival debut at the Suncoast Jazz Festival in 2019. The son of pianist and music teacher Ellis Marsalis and his wife Dolores, and the younger brother of Wynton, Branford and Delfeayo, he is well known for his extreme drumming.

Marsalis studied percussion at Loyola University in New Orleans and worked as an accompanist in mainstream jazz, funk, and jazz fusion bands. He worked with his father’s band, as well as pianist Marcus Roberts, while honing his playing in two of modern jazz’s most demanding trios.

In 2013 Marsalis released “In a World of Mallets” on Basin Street Records, displaying his expertise on vibraphones. That same year, he was recognized as the 2013 Rising Star in Downbeat magazine’s annual Critics’ Poll. “In a World of Mallets” features his original music, songs by his bandmates, and more.

Marsalis also plays marimba, glockenspiel, tube bells, vibraphone and xylophone on the album as he expands on his “disciplinary” overdubs of recent years.

His most recent studio album on Basin Street Records is “Melody Reimagined: book 1”, the first in a series exploring the possibilities of creating new compositions based on the chord progressions of existing compositions. He also released “Jason Marsalis Live” in 2020 on Basin Street Records.

Professor Cunningham and His Old School are one of the most sought after bands on the international swing scene, performing around the world at major events and festivals. This award-winning band performs the swingiest, most groovy repertoire deeply rooted in New Orleans tradition.

Renowned trumpeter Ruffins co-founded the Rebirth Brass Band – a band that revolutionized the New Orleans brass band community – while still in high school. The growth and success of Rebirth reinforced the rejuvenation of the New Orleans second-line culture that now flourishes.

A few years later, Ruffins and his Barbecue Swingers had become a New Orleans institution. Ruffins influenced the musical direction of the city in the 21st century. Dozens of young musicians and bands play essentially the same music that Ruffins kicked off with his solo number. They sing into retro microphones, dress in dandy costumes and perform the timeless tunes that defined an era decades past.

With over 15 albums to his credit, including live albums capturing his inimitable stage presence, a collaboration with his brothers Rebirth Brass Band, a holiday album and a tribute to traditional New Orleans jazz, the New Orleans trumpeter -Orleans shows no signs of slowing down.

Among the other notables on the national tour who will perform:

• Cornet Chop Suey – Named after a composition by Louis Armstrong, Cornet Chop Suey has released nine CDs, including their “Saint Louis Armstrong,” featuring songs they perform on their Louis Armstrong show. The band includes Brian Casserly on trumpet, Tom Tucker on comet, Jerry Epperson on reeds, Brett Stamps on trombone, Paul Reed on piano, Jay Hungerford on bass and John Gillick on drums.

• Dave Bennett – This young clarinetist from Michigan has made a name for himself playing in a style and sound inspired by his personal hero, Benny Goodman. Bennett fuses serious jazz improvisation with a host of modern pop influences. He cites Alice Cooper, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Chris Isaak among his influences.

• Tom Rigney and Flambeau – Rigney, violinist and composer, has teamed up with some of the best musicians from the San Francisco roots music scene to form Tom Rigney and Flambeau. In their second decade of performing, Flambeau showcases Rigney’s passionate and virtuoso violin playing. The band specializes in both Cajun and Zydeco stages, blues and funky New Orleans grooves.

Many local favorites will perform at the festival, including Nate Najar, Daniela Soledade, Jeff Rupert Quartet, La Lucha, Ed Metz, Jean Bolduc, Synia Carroll, Pepper and Fine Thyme, Theo Valentin, Bryan Hughes, Betty Comora, Mike Evans, Bob Price, Bakey and Betty, and the Al Downing All Stars.

Najar is an American guitarist, music producer, and songwriter who primarily performs as a fingerstyle guitarist playing classical guitar. He released a follow-up to his acclaimed 2016 album “This Is Nate Najar”. On “Under Paris Skies,” his 2018 album, Najar explores his passion for French jazz and pop with deeper commitment and purpose than ever before.

Najar will perform several times throughout the three-day festival on different stages with other guest musicians. Among those who share the stage with him is Daniela Soledade.

Soledade may initially seem like a new name in Brazilian music, but the singer’s impact immediately strikes a chord as seen on her bold and subtle 2019 debut album, “A Moment of You.” Released by Blue Line Music Records, this neatly curated set of bossa nova gems manages to sidestep the more obvious choices and add Brazilian standards and original songs. The album was created in partnership with Najar as producer/guitarist. The collaboration frames the bright tone and mature interpretive powers of this talented singer, singing in both English and Portuguese.

Soledade’s story adds depth to her ongoing musical career. She is linked to a line of great Brazilian artists, ranging from her grandfather Paulo – collaborator of Antonio Carlos Jobim, Vinícius de Moraes, Baden Powell and other Brazilian legends – and her father Paulinho, who worked as a producer and partner with Ivan Lins and Gilberto Gil.

Growing up, she spent time in top studios in Rio de Janeiro, watching and playing with her father. She studied flute at the Villa Lobos Conservatory of Music in Rio at age 14 and continued her music after moving to Florida at age 16.

Ada J. Kenney