The St. Petersburg Jazz Fest kicks off Feb. 25 with the James Verdano Funk Band at 7:30 p.m. at the ARTpool courtyard in downtown St. Pete. Featured events go through March 1 and include an 18-piece big band with legendary vocalist Kevin Mahogany, eclectic NYC modern jazz group The Claudia Quintet, killer B-3 grooves from the Shawn Brown Group and a post-festival jazz session party at the historic Manhattan Casino.
Originally dubbed the St. Petersburg College Jazz Fest, the event has evolved into a city-wide celebration now in its seventh year. SPC music professor, trombonist and composer David Manson started the event in 2009 as a way to build appreciation for what he calls a dying art form. He spent part of his sabbatical in 2013 working on cultivating sponsors for the event, which include the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Chamber Music America, St. Petersburg College & EMIT.
“Jazz is a real niche art form,” said Manson, who started music technology courses at SPC in the mid-1990s and is a founding developer in the MIRA (Music Industry/Recording Arts) program.
“Part of the mission of the festival is make people aware that it’s still alive … Students come to me afterwards and say they are blown away because it’s the first jazz concert they’ve ever been to.”