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The Role of Jazz in Society


By: Ben Hedblom and Nicholas Stanger


            Jazz Societies play an important role in Florida’s local music scene. These outstanding organizations thrive by offering the local community something you just cannot get anywhere outside these establishments. The many Jazz clubs, groups, and society’s home to Florida, are institutions born of necessity. Their prominent presences truly “describes the rich social life that has emerged around the collecting and sharing of jazz recordings by associations of listeners in” the greater Metropolitan Tampa Bay Area (Pyper). Jazz Societies are on-going processes, happening behind the scenes in the community.

            Jazz societies are a conduit that fuels new live jazz performances. More than likely, there are regular Jazz happenings going on in a city near you because of these societies. The fluidity of and accessibility of the local jazz scene is made possible in part due to the continually maintained ebb and flow of organized local jazz talent. These musical societies are found all over Central Florida but are not limited to this particular region of Florida; they also appear spread all throughout the Sunshine State, from Miami to Jacksonville and nearly everywhere in-between.

            What exactly is being supplied by all these jazz societies? The vital answer lies in their shared vision: connecting people with music not easily available in the popular music media landscape. These local jazz institutions makes it evidently clear that share a common goal: the quest to preserve and further jazz music, art, and culture. Jazz is still very much alive, and these jazz societies are making a long term investment in the music, guaranteeing that it will exist in live performance in the future.

            These jazz organizations perform fundamental task of jazz exposure through media outlets. Often it is these societies that organize events, concerts, and annual festivals on the local level. Societies also offer the unique extended ability to build, strengthen, and support individuals and their communities. One of their most vital roles is their mission to provide support for young and aspiring musicians.  Most of the jazz societies offer scholarships and grant opportunities for youth.

            Jazz is deeply rooted in the past but will never be stuck in the past thanks to all support and hard rewarding work made possible by these organizations. Crucially, Jazz societies inform the various communities of Tampa Bay through their monumental presence, importance, prominence, and relevance.  The social cultural dynamic in which Jazz Societies thrive here in our local communities, mirrors the Jazz Societies of South Africa, a topic that scholar Brett Pyper has conducted extensive research on. He has correlated specific information illuminating the way in which Jazz Societies create “a semi-public culture of listening…that is distinct from the formal jazz recording, broadcast and festival sectors, and extends across various social, cultural, linguistic and related boundaries to constitute a vibrant dimension of vernacular musical life.” (Pyper). Gathered below is a short yet comprehensive list of some of the more local Jazz societies, also listed are a few other Jazz sources and Links, followed by a closer look at three Tampa Bay Area Jazz societies.

The Al Downing Jazz Society

            The Al Downing Jazz Society arranges “Jazz Jams” every first Monday of the month at The Hangar Restaurant in St. Pete. They also schedule artists every first Saturday of the month, and encourage people to come enjoy a friendly and creative environment with no cover charge! The Al Downing Society makes a tremendous effort to introduce jazz to youth through their “Outreach Program” that focuses on exposing students in primary and secondary public schools to the art form. Their aim is to inform young students about the history of Jazz, and also to encourage the pursuit of this cultural art form to help advance and improve it within the Tampa Bay area.

Al Downing: “Building A Legacy”

            Al Downing was born in Jacksonville Florida in 1916, and lived a life full of creativity and compassion. From a very early age, he established himself as a very intelligent musician, as he formed high school jazz bands and eventually was accepted by Ernie Calhoun to be an organist in the “Ernie Calhoun and The Soul Brothers Band.” Later in his music career, he started his own band called “The All Stars”, which transcended racial boundaries in a time that was very much defined and segregated by race. Mr. Downing also taught in the Tampa Bay area for over 20 years before beginning the Al Downing jazz society in 1981. Then in 1989, the Al Downing Jazz society merged with the Tampa Bay Jazz society to form the Al Downing Tampa Bay Jazz society.  The Al Downing Tampa Bay Jazz Society meets weekly for events, and uses their concerts to help advance and preserve the art form. Al Downing passed away in 2000, however his legacy still lives on, through his organization that impacts not only Jazz as an art form, but also the culture of Tampa Bay. 

The Jazz Club of Sarasota

            The Jazz Club of Sarasota remains one of the most prominent and active jazz societies within the state of Florida, and also the nation. The club has currently over 500 members, and is growing every year. Hal Davis established the Jazz Club of Sarasota in 1980. It began with just a few of his neighbors, and continues to grow. The annual Sarasota Jazz festival is considered to be a major United States Jazz festival, and has been running successfully for over thirty-five years. The success of this festival has allowed The Jazz Club of Sarasota to grow and extend its impact to the masses, not just their members. They have also made a notable effort to help aspiring musicians, contributing over $200,000 to students at every level of education. These large donations inspire people to pursue jazz as not only a subject of study but also as an activity that can serve as a creative outlet. Every Friday, The Jazz Club of Sarasota holds the “Jazz at Two” concert series. This concert series showcases a wide variety of musicians, and is held at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Sarasota from 2:00-4:00 P.M. This society showcases talented and prestigious musicians weekly while also contributing generously to youth, holding annual events like the Sarasota Jazz Festival. Through these actions, they are able to not only preserve Jazz music, but also foster future jazz musicians and fans within the local area.

Tampa Jazz Club

            One of the more recently established jazz organizations in the Tampa Bay area is the Tampa Jazz Club, which was created as a non-profit organization in 1995. Partnered with the Hillsborough Community College’s Student Activities Program, they focus on preserving and performing the art of Jazz in the Tampa area. Their scholarship program is more recent, but their contributions to the youth and the future of the art have been crucial. They have awarded 14 high school graduates with over a total of $15,000 to help maintain the great level of jazz music in the area, and also to help open opportunities for future jazz musicians. Their concerts are held at Hillsborough Community College’s Performing Arts Building on their Ybor Campus, and frequently showcase very popular jazz artists such as Dick Hyman and Whitney James. These concerts are complimentary for HCC students, and persons under the age of ten. This young society shows promising growth due to their dedicated affiliation with HCC and also their ability to consistently showcase accomplished jazz musicians.



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