Just about every week, the Jazz Club of Sarasota fields phone calls from local residents and visitors asking what its hours are, whether it has a liquor license and if it’s nonsmoking.
Jazz Club President Dave Walrath kindly tells them, “We’re a jazz club, not a jazz venue.”
There may be few venues exclusively dedicated to jazz in Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte counties (like Ocean Blues is to the blues), but the Jazz Club of Sarasota can boast a membership of 600 jazz lovers, and jazz can be found — in some form or another — at any number of places from Bradenton to Punta Gorda, from Anna Maria Island Beach Café to Valenti’s Allegro Bistro.
There are Jazz Club-sponsored Jazz At Two concerts every Friday; the Jazz Club kicks off its 33rd annual weeklong Sarasota Jazz Festival on Sunday, and the South County Jazz Club holds true to its mission of presenting live jazz music nearly every week at a variety of places in Venice, Englewood, North Port and Sarasota.
Without the Jazz Club, founded in 1980 by the late Hal Davis, the genre might not survive in this area, Walrath says.
“If jazz were to be left alone, it would die a slow death,” he says. “To keep it a vibrant part of Sarasota nightlife, it takes constant work. It takes education. We go into the schools, we’re members of the Arts Education Task Force, and getting younger people involved is very important.
“Hal was a career person with Benny Goodman. When Hal started the Jazz Club here, it grew and more musicians came here to live or retire. There are so many musicians who won’t and don’t stop playing. There are literally hundreds in a three- or four-county area, and they all want to play. Hal saw a need to promote and foster it, organize it. That’s why the Jazz Club was born. That’s our function.”
Jazz appeals to older folks because they grew up with it, Walrath says, but more younger people are developing an affinity for it.
“The only problem is, jazz just doesn’t pay the way rock does,” he says.
33RD ANNUAL SARASOTA JAZZ FESTIVAL
Sunday (March 3): 2-4 p.m. Free “Jazz in the Park” concert at Phillippi Estate Park. Manatee High School Jazz Ensemble and the Kenny Loomer Jazz Quintet. 5500 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota.
Tuesday (March 5): 7:30 p.m. J.B. Scott’s Swingin’ Allstars at the Players Theatre, 838 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. $30; $25 Jazz Club of Sarasota members; $5 students. 365-2494.
Wednesday (March 6): 6:30-10:30 p.m. Jazz Caravan by Trolley. A tour of local venues, including Caragiulos (Mike Markaverich and Ernie Williford); the Floribbean (Metro Connection); Gator Club (Katt Hefner); Hotel Indigo (Melanie Massell); Hyatt Boat House (David Pruyn Group), Marina Jack (The Venturas); Salute! (Al Hixon Group); Salvatore’s (Diane Linscott); Senior Friendship Center (Betty Comora). $15 pre-event; $20 at trolley. Tickets: 366-1552.
March 7: 7:30 p.m. Giacomo Gates at the Players Theatre. Winner of the 2012 Downbeat Critics Poll’s “Rising Star Male Vocalist.” $35; $30 club members; $10 students. 365-2494.
March 8: 7:30 p.m. A Tribute to Benny Goodman presented by the Terry Myers Orchestra at the Players Theatre. $40; $35 club members; $10 students. 365-2494.
March 9: 7:30 p.m. The Four Freshmen at the Players Theatre. $40; $35 club members; $10 students. 365-2494.
For more information: jazzclubsarasota.org/jazz-festival.html.