ST. PETERSBURG – As an undergraduate writing major in New York City who grew to love jazz, I was not around during the heyday of Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker or Billie Holiday, but I frequently visited the Apollo Theatre and more intimate jazz clubs in the Village.
When I walked into the nightclub-like setting on the lower level of the Palladium Theater on the evening of April 18, I felt as if I had stepped back in time. The Henry Ashwood Quartet was jamming and people were intensely engaged with every smooth note that bebopped around the room.
Sitting in one section of the room was a group of high school musicians ingesting every note that emanated from the quartet on stage. As for me, I was back home in an intimate jazz club in the Village.
Last Wednesday night, however, was very special. It was about a gradual changing of the guard in the local jazz scene. Enthusiastic, talented and young high school jazz musicians gathered together to compete in the Omega Psi Phi Talent Hunt of 2018.
Unlike most competitions of this nature, these young men and women were not scattered across the room or in separated dressing rooms. They were all sitting together at one table, sharing their experiences, encouraging each other with smiles, handshakes and hugs. The post-millennial generation is going to be alright and great leaders one day, I could not help but think!
James Jackson, III was the Master of Ceremony for the evening, while Tony Love set the mellow tone by welcoming everyone to the competition. The talent hunt adjudicators were Phyllis Gessler, Bill Shideler and Dawne Wisner Eubanks.
Gessler recently retired as a voice instructor to musical theater majors at Gibbs High School. Shideler is a life-long performing artist in musical theater in the U.S. and abroad on international tours. Eubanks currently teaches voice at Eckerd College and Gibbs. She has graced the stage of Carnegie Hall and all the major stages in the Tampa Bay area.
As Frank Brunson and Grant McMillan proceeded to the stage to present the top jazz awards, the contestants held each other’s hand. The big winners for the evening were instrumentalists Johnny Liles (2nd place) and Garvin Ard (1st place).
Other recognized musicians included Maya Baptiste, Ja’Nabre Flowers, Amaya Glover, Erik Hempel, Megan Holmes, Xavier Kernodle, Dylan McHann and Jessika Parker.
Congratulations to all who participated in the 2018 Omega Psi Phi Talent Hunt. You are clearly all winners.