Nestled just east of Destin Florida is one of the best kept secrets in Smooth Jazz today. The Seabreeze Jazzfest has been attracting some of the top artists for the past several years. With its beautiful surroundings and attentive audiences, the festival has become a favorite for both performer and locals each spring.
Two good Frisbee throws and you're on the pristine white gulf beaches. The warm breezes off the water make conditions ideal for a relaxing day. The festival takes place between rows of condos on a grassy area that becomes both an outdoor auditorium and dance floor. General admission seating assures that those earliest in line are sure to have their pick of spots to sit. A VIP section is also available that includes covered tables, chairs and amenities. Good food and drink as well as a multitude of craft vendors, boat and car displays are there for the choosing. The artists latest recordings, as well as a meet and greet tent, make the festival complete. It is well run with a host of volunteers as well as knowledgeable friendly staff that make this one of the better festivals I've ever attended.
Those who have been attending the festival for several years show extreme pride in where the festival is today. They tell great stories of former performers and the size of the crowd from year to year. Past year's t-shirts and hats can be seen in the crowd as old acquaintances are renewed. Many people stay in the condos, but a large percentage park along the roads to walk in or are transported via bus from a remote parking area.
Ohio-based Urban Jazz Coalition began the day, and got the crowd warmed up after a riveting set. Spyro Gyra played many of their classics and crowd favorites before closing with Morning Dance. Beckenstein was in rare form as he played soprano on many of the tunes. Crowd favorite Brian Culbertson burst on the stage (along with his dad, and latest sax phenom Eric Darrius) as they began the set with “Say What” from “Come On Up.” The crowd came alive as they danced their way through most of the set that included a song from his forthcoming disc. Norman Brown closed out the day with material from his six discs (as he announced) and brought the day to an end with that guitar everyone loves.
The second day started with a rousing start from Jones and Company followed by one of the new super groups, Sax Pack. Comprised of Jeff Kashiwa, Marion Meadows and Kim Waters, the three played a lot of their individual material while occasionally joined on stage by one of the other artists. Kashiwa's “Peace of Mind” began a nice bass solo before launching into his title track from his latest disc. They all finished the set with Hyde Park, and it had never sounded so good. As was the case Saturday, Sunday's third group got the house dancing as Down To the Bone took the stage with their infectious riffs, and hard back beat.
Neil Angilley was burning up the keyboards while Paul "Shilts" Weimar entertained on his sax. I believe they hated to leave the stage because of how much fun they were having!
Jazz Attack featuring Rick Braun, Richard Elliot, Jonathan Butler and Peter White finished out the weekend. All played wonderfully together and it was nice to see White and Butler trading licks on guitar as well as Elliot and Braun on other songs. I don't want to ruin any surprises, but these four knew how to work up the crowd and did so perfectly as they finished this glorious set.
The location and time of next year's show was still in question at press time, but if you're anywhere close to the area it will be well worth the time to check this one out. You'll be glad that you did!
- Harvey Cline