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    Cool sounds, sunset greet fans

    Music lovers arrive early and settle in as the Clearwater Jazz Holiday begins its 21st annual rendition.

    [Times photos: Andrea Bruce Woodall]
    The opening band for the jazz festival, Orquesta Infinidad, warms up back stage just before performing. Paul Von Adam is one of the band's trumpet players.

    By MAUREEN BYRNE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published October 20, 2000


    CLEARWATER -- Larry and Maritza Walsh planned to go to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game against the Detroit Lions on Thursday.

    photo
    Eric Reed leads his band from the piano Thursday night at the Clearwater Jazz Holiday.
    But before the Clearwater couple made the trek to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, they sat on a bench at Coachman Park listening to infectious Latin music and watching a beautiful sunset.

    "We just wanted to see the opening (act) and then go to the game," said Maritza Walsh, 49, who works for the Social Security Administration in Clearwater.

    But most of the hundreds of people gathered at the waterfront park didn't seem to have football on their minds. They wanted to hear music by Orquesta Infinidad, pianist Eric Reed and vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater, the acts for the opening day of the 21st annual Clearwater Jazz Holiday.

    photo
    The Rev. Gary Maier of St. Petersburg Beach enjoys a hand-dipped chocolat bar while waiting the start of the music. "I like jazz better than anything in the world," he said from his front row seat.
    By 6:15 p.m., about 1,500 people filled Coachman Park, according to Clearwater police Lt. M.J. Sahr. Some were lying on blankets catching the day's last rays. Jesse and Mary Ann Casarez of Dunedin arrived at the free event about 30 minutes before Orquesta Infinidad took the stage. They sat in blue and white lawn chairs waiting for the music to begin.

    "We've been coming here for years," said Jesse Casarez, 68, a retired air traffic control specialist. "We've been jazz fans all our lives."

    Willis Williams, 56, plans to catch all four days of the festival. The Albany, N.Y., resident flew here specifically for the Clearwater Jazz Holiday.

    Williams' friends Nero Jones, 66, and Lyn Litwa, 53, of Largo attended the Clearwater Jazz Holiday for the first time last year. They enjoyed it so much, they told Williams he shouldn't miss it.

    "They have a lot of variety each year," said Jones, a retired federal employee.

    Tonight's lineup includes Lavay Smith and her Red Hot Skillet Lickers and bassist Stanley Clarke. Musicians scheduled to perform Saturday and Sunday include the Yellowjackets, singer Patti Austin, trumpeter Terence Blanchard, and Jerry Gonzales and the Fort Apache Band.

    "Every night has a Saturday night headliner," said Chuck Sullivan, president of the Clearwater Jazz Holiday Foundation. "We anticipate that this year's festival is going to draw record crowds. So a word to the wise is: Come early."

    For the first time this year, a King Sax and Queen Diva were crowned. The mock coronation took place Thursday at Station Square Park in downtown Clearwater. Robin Gomez and Bennetta Slaughter beat out eight other community and business leaders in a competition to raise money for the Clearwater Jazz Holiday Foundation, Clearwater Main Street Association and the charity of their choice.

    More than $10,000 was raised from the contest, Sullivan said.

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