Jazz Great Makes Jacksonville Surprise Appearance

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by Cole Pepper
August 8, 2013

This sort of thing happens in New Orleans or New York or Chicago all the time. But in Jacksonville?

Tuesday night at the Grape and Grain Exchange in San Marco, jazz trumpet legend Wynton Marsalis dropped in to jam with piano player Marcus Roberts. Why Jacksonville on a Tuesday night?

Bob Smith, owner of Grape and Grain Exchange explains:

“Wynton Marsalis came to Jacksonville to celebrate his friend (jazz pianist) Marcus Roberts’ 50th birthday. Also, 60 minutes is doing a biopic on Marcus, so they wanted to see him play a gig as part of the background for their piece. Basically, Monday evening Marcus and Wynton were jamming with Jim Daniels, who is a mutual friend of Anthony Norton (a managing partner at Grape and Grain Exchange). Wynton asked Jim if he knew of a venue that was available for them to play a gig on tuesday evening, and Jim called us!”

Smith didn’t promote the appearance on social media, only mentioning the possibility that Marsalis could show up to a few friends and customers. By 9pm, the word had gotten out and a line was forming outside the door of the Parlour, the speakeasy at the back of the Grape and Grain Exchange. Around 100 got to experience Marsalis and company while more than 200 were turned away.

It wasn’t just Marsalis and Roberts who wowed the crowd. Three young musicians from the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts joined the pros on stage. They will have a story to tell the rest of their lives.

Come to think of it, anyone who was there (and I was) will have a story to tell. The only other time I’ve been in a small room with an artist of this caliber performing it was Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend of “The Who” at a press conference before Super Bowl XLI in Miami. They played three songs with Townshend on acoustic guitar. You can check it out here. It was great, but its wasn’t the same as Tuesday night in Jacksonville. This was right here in a little back room in my home town. That made it special for a lot of people who experienced that night.Wynton3

It also made it special for Grape and Grain and the Parlour.

“Tuesday night was a real validation for me that there is still a thriving jazz scene in Jacksonville and it needs to be supported,” Smith said. “Too many times over the years I hear people moan about not having any good Jazz clubs and that Jacksonville lacks culture. Music scenes don’t happen by accident and they don’t thrive on lip service. We hope to be a driving force over the coming months and years to bring Jacksonville’s jazz and blues scene back to the forefront of our community.”

As for the next surprise jam session?

“We have reached out to Charlie Hunter and a few artists who we follow and love,” Smith said. “Honestly, though, after Tuesday’s recognition, there’s really no telling what’s going to happen next!”

—photos by¬†Debbie Smith and Jackson Somphonhakdy

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