Music, Music Everywhere
By Anne McKay Garris
"Parasol Paraders" celebrate the music at the Suncoast Dixieland Jazz Classic
You could feel the joy -- floating around you, reaching out to you, bouncing off the walls -- at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort the weekend before Thanksgiving. Strolling down the hall of the hotel, your eyes were entertained by stalls offering decorated parasols, feather boas, glitter decorated everything - hats, shirts, jewelry, tote bags. Your ears were entertained by the sound of music, all of it Jazz.
It was the occasion of the Eighteenth Suncoast Dixieland Jazz Classic, an event which filled the Sheraton, the Marriott Suites across the street and the Holiday Inn Hotel and Suites just over the bridge. Both Sheraton banquet rooms, the bar, and a tent beside the pool at the Sheraton simultaneously rang with music. At any moment, attendees had their choice of three or four concerts to enjoy. Twenty-one jazz bands from nine states were performing. There were also four local youth bands, including Sonny LaRosa's America’s Youngest Jazz Band, the Ruth Eckerd Youth Big Band, the Tarpon Springs Jazz Ensemble and the Boca Ciega High School Jazz Ensemble.
There was something for everyone.
Beginning at noon on Friday, Wally's Warehouse Waifs played a list of favorites, then lead the "Parasol Paraders" on a parade through the hotel to kick off the merriment. Parasol Paraders are spectators who enjoy celebrating the music with parades around the music hall, carrying decorated and bedecked parasols and inviting the audience to join in the fun. The custom is based on the celebrations in New Orleans where colorful parasols are a traditional part of the music.
On Sunday morning, the Barbary Coast Dixieland Band from Bloomington, Minnesota, presented a Gospel Service which began with the Sunday School favorite, "This Little Light Of Mine," and went from favorite to favorite of the old Gospel hymns, through "Amazing Grace," and ending with "When The Saints Go Marching In."
A stop at the hotel bar found Eddie Graham and Friends reaching far back in time to sing "Hardhearted Hannah, The Vamp Of Savannah," to the delight of the oldtimers present. Typical of the casual and friendly atmosphere of the event was the trombone player from the Wally's Warehouse Waifs band who showed up in the bar and played a tune or two with the Eddie Graham group before heading back to his own band.
Everyone at the Sheraton was walking with a lilt to their step, even the employees, except one lone hotel guest who sat with a scowl on his face, seemingly oblivious to the happy celebrations going on around him. It would not have been surprising if someone had asked him to dance.
Begun in 1990 at the Belleview Biltmore Hotel, the Suncoast Dixieland Jazz Classic has outgrown several venues before landing at the Sheraton Sand Key. The event now uses the entire downstairs of the hotel and needs 300 volunteers to make it work smoothly.
This year's festival director was Joan Dragon. Clearwater Beach residents will remember Joan as the lady who provided delicious sandwiches at the Black Cat Deli on Baymont Street, years ago. She now presides at the Wildflower Cafe on South Fort Harrison.
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