by Liza Mitchell
that time of year again when the city’s downtown core transforms from a typical urban streetscape to a vibrant street festival for the 2012 Jacksonville Jazz Fest. The area will be saturated with free, live music on three stages over Memorial Day weekend.
Festival patrons can stroll through the various musical hubs established throughout the heart of Downtown Jacksonville at Hemming Plaza, Main Street, the Snyder Memorial and the Jacksonville Landing. Artists will perform on the Swingin’ Stage, the Groovin’ Stage and the Breezin’ Stage.

Outer fest activities include the Jacksonville Piano Competition, Wine Down/Brew Town Tastings, Art in the Heart Downtown art show and sale and much more. The Jacksonville Jazz Piano Competition will serve as the official start of the event Thursday, May 24 at the Florida Theatre. While the festival performances are free, tickets for the piano competition are $10. Doors open at 6 pm and the competition begins at 7 pm. Five finalists will be selected through a “blind-judging” process and the winner will be determined during the festival, earning a cash prize and a performance slot. Jacksonville musician Noel Freidline will host the competition. The judges panel consists of festival performer Brian Culbertson, Per Danielsson and John Thomas. Drummer Clyde Thomas and bassist Dennis Marks will provide accompaniment.

The festival itself kicks off at 5 pm on Friday, May 25. The diverse lineup includes Sonny Rollins, Patti Austin with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, Brian Culbertson, the Rippingtons and local jazz players the Just Jazz Quartet.
Renowned jazz artist and Grammy Award winner, Sonny Rollins has over five decades of experience under his belt. He has penned such noteworthy hits as 2004’s ‘Without a Song,’ written for the 9/11 concert memorial. He was also honored as the first jazz artist to be awarded the prestigious Edward MacDowell Medal in August, 2010. President Barack Obama also presented Rollins with the Medal of Arts, which is the nation’s highest honor for artistic excellence, in March, 2011.
Local players the Just Jazz Quartet give their own spin to classic jazz standards by such legendary artists as Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Jerome Kern and George and Ira Gershwin. The band is comprised of pianist Bill Lewis, drummer Melanie DiLorenzo, bassist Lloyd Hoppe and Ernie Lombardi on the trombone.
An artist from an early age, Brian Culberston was honing his jazz chops on the piano and drums when he was still in elementary school. By age 12, he had mastered the trombone and the bass, as well. These skills are evident on his 12 albums and celebrated by his status as a Billboard chart topping artist. Culbertson has performed with everyone from fellow festival artist Patti Austin and R&B sensation Brian McKnight to acoustic guitar legend Earl Klugh and Parliament Funkadelic’s William “Bootsy” Collins.
Multiple Grammy winner and jazz singer and pianist Karrin Allyson closes Friday’s performances with excerpts from her vast musical catalog. Described by peers as a “musician’s musician,” Allyson is revered as a great bandleader for her intimate camaraderie with her bandmates on stage. She released her 13th studio album, Round Midnight, last March.

Beginning at 11 am on Saturday, May 26, festival patrons will be treated to a wide array of sounds featuring Patti Austin with the JSO, the Rippingtons, Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue, Raul Midon, Cindy Blackman Santana & Another Lifetime, Jazz Crusaders, the Soul Rebels, Linda Cole & the Joshue Cowlus Quartet and Michael Mossmon and Antonio Hart with the UNF Jazz Ensemble.
A favorite on Billboard Jazz charts, Patti Austin will perform her Grammy award winning hits with members of the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra. Austin has 17 solo albums to her credit and has performed her songs on the Grammys and the Oscars.
One of the younger performers to appear at the Jacksonville Jazz Festival, New Orleans native Trombone Shorty, 23, has translated his musical studies into style and substance. He attended the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts and has a commanding stage presence that has garnered the attention of Norah Jones, rapper Juvenile and jazz songstress Diana Krall.
Cindy Blackman Santana is no stranger to the stage. Married to the legendary Carlos Santana, Cindy Blackman Santana has garnered attention for her virtuoso drumming skills and her commitment to pushing creative boundaries. Her innovative style and sound has captured the attention of her fans with its unique flavor and powerful beats.
Also performing Saturday are the Rippingtons, who have earned Grammy awards for their contributions to contemporary jazz. The Rippingtons are celebrating 25 years together with the most recent release Cote D’Azur, which was inspired by guitarist Russ Freeman’s passion for the French Riviera. Freeman formed the Rippingtons in 1985 and has been instrumental in launching the careers of many notable jazz musicians.
Performing with the University of North Florida’s Jazz Ensemble I on Saturday night are Michael Mossman and Antonio Hart. Mossman is a “hard-bop jazz trumpeter” who has earned multiple Grammys and Hart is a renowned alto-saxophonist who has also been awarded Grammys for his contributions to the field. Mossman regularly appears on the Latin jazz circuit, having played with such greats as Tito Puente, Chico O’Farruill and Michel Camillo. Hart is a full-time professor of jazz studies at the prestigious Aaron Copeland School of Music at Queens College City University of New York.

On Sunday, festival patrons can enjoy a Jazz Brunch at the Omni Hotel Jacksonville before venturing out for another full day of live music with Poncho Sancho Latin Jazz Band with Terrence Blanchard, Corea, Clark and White, Madeline Peyroux, J.B. Scott’s Swingin’ Allstars and the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts Jazz Ensemble I.
Jazz artist Chick Corea has been nominated for a Grammy award over 50 times with a staggering 14 wins. He is known as one of the most important composers in the jazz world. He will be joined by Stanley Clark, known for starting the 70s “bass revolution,” and drummer Leonard “Lenny” White, who first appeared with Miles Davis on the classic recording ‘Bitches Brew.’
Georgia-native Madeline Peyroux was named Best International Jazz Artist in 2007 at the BBC Jazz Awards and recently released her 5th album Standing on the Rooftop.
Local trumpeter J.B. Scott, former musical director of the Dukes of Dixeland, will host his band of Swingin’ Allstars featuring wife and vocalist Lisa, Kelly, vocalist and banjo player Ken Calhoun, trombonist Dave Steinmeyer, former Dukes member and clarinetist Jim Snyder, bassist Stan Piper and drummer Eric Mason.
Poncho Sanchez and his Latin Jazz Band featuring Grammy Award winning jazz trumpeter Terrence Blanchard will also help close out the festival weekend. Sanchez earned his reputation by infusing traditional jazz with gritty yet melodic soul.

Most of the events taking place during the Jacksonville Jazz festival are free, but preferred seating and VIP packages are available to those patrons wishing to experience the performances on a more intimate level. Daily VIP packages offering preferred seating are available for $70 on Friday, May 25 and $80 for Saturday, May 26 and Sunday, May 27. A $10 discount will be applied to all advanced purchases. A comprehensive VIP package is also available for $240 plus a $5 processing fee and includes seating at all stages, a ticket to all outer fest activities, complimentary drink tickets, festival merchandise and more.