In jazz music, timing is the nucleus of a song and without it, the music loses its shape. As half of one of Jacksonville’s musical power couples, jazz vocalist Lisa Kelly understands the value of perfect timing. Kelly has been an instrumental force in Jacksonville’s jazz scene for the better part of two decades. During that time, she and her husband, trumpeter J.B. Scott, created a name for themselves as part of the city’s cultural elite as players, teachers, and mentors. It was that spirit of fostering fresh, new talent that initially prompted Kelly to help cultivate an improvisational jazz jam session at the annual Jacksonville Jazz Festival nearly 20 years ago. “We were all mentored by someone and, in turn, we are obliged to turn around and pass the torch so the music has that continuum,” she says. “It’s a rite of passage we all do.”Post to Post Links II error: No link found for term slug "The Kelly/Scott Quintet" will be host of the official “‘Round Midnight Jam Session” Jazz Jam from 9pm to midnight, Saturday, May 24th on the Breezin’ Stage at The Jacksonville Landing. The jam session features performances by up-and-coming musicians, local and regional artists, and festival performers. Participating artists are encouraged to bring their own horns, guitar, voices, and talent to join in.
The Kelly/Scott Quintet features a collection of world-class jazz artists including Kelly, who is a five-time DownBeat Magazine award-winning vocalist and 2013 Jacksonville Jazz Festival “Hall of Fame” inductee; Yamaha trumpet artist and UNF trumpet professor J.B. Scott; award winning pianist Joshua Bowlus, Arturo Sandoval, bassist Dennis Marks, and former Navy Commodores drummer Clyde Connor, provide top-notch musical support for the artists who turn out each year to play.
For Kelly, the jam session is the most highly anticipated element of the jazz fest. “I really enjoy hosting that jam session. It’s always intriguing because it is different every year,” she says. “It gives musicians the opportunity to come up and be well supported musically by a very high quality rhythm section and have the chance to have that authentic jazz fest experience.”
As an internationally traveled artist, Kelly quickly realized there was a golden opportunity to host a local jam session in her home city similar to those she experienced while performing at many European music festivals. While they were open to performers of any age and skill set, it was crucial for players to be familiar with the material and understand the mechanics of timing.
When Kelly served as a volunteer with the committee that orchestrates the Jacksonville Jazz Piano Competition, she discovered the perfect platform to stage a jam session that would benefit both the artists who still wanted the chance to play without the pressure of the competition and the patrons who wanted to keep the music going once the festival wrapped for the day. “It really gives a chance for the younger artists to get in there and play and to learn. You learn just as much by sitting and watching and observing the more seasoned players interact as you do from interacting,” Kelly says. “Many students over the years have grown up coming through that jam session and learning how to play tunes and how to improvise and interact in an authentic jam session. They come back years later and talk about how much they’ve learned and how much they look forward to it.”
While Kelly touts the efforts of the festival directors and area promoters to keep the music going in various venues throughout the downtown area, she says the jam session is the perfect vehicle for young performers who may not be old enough to walk into a bar or don’t yet possess the courage or the expertise to sit in on other sessions. Students in middle and high school-level music programs are invited to open the festivities and the result is often pure magic. “That’s why I am trying to start the night by letting them have the chance to come up,” she says. “You just never know who is going to show up.”
As the revitalization of downtown Jacksonville continues full steam ahead, Kelly says the timing is right for a someone with an entrepreneurial spirit to step up and reclaim the city’s lost jazz scene, so there will always be a place for young musicians to practice their craft in their hometown. “It’s sorely needed. We’ve got a major university and two other universities all with quality jazz programs that draw students from all around the state and other parts of the country that produce very high-level musicians. A number of the musical artists end up making Jacksonville their home and raising their families here,” she says. “One of the first things people coming to town ask is where is the live jazz? There doesn’t seem to be the jazz club scene that there used to be. It’s amazing how much music is in Jacksonville that people aren’t even aware of because it’s never been presented year round, but the music is definitely here.”