Musical Fest, Visual Past
The Clearwater Jazz Holiday is a four-day/four-night live music festival that’s become an institution in Tampa Bay, sprawling out across Coachman Park on the Harborview Bluff of downtown Clearwater, a verdant patch of gradually elevated land with a postcard view of the Intracoastal Waterway.
The idyllic beauty of the location, the saltwater-infused breezes, boats bobbing in the marina and shorebirds flying by converge with October’s pleasant early-fall temperatures to create a Florida-riffic concert experience. The scene attracts thousands of tourists and residents of all ages and tastes, which partly explains why the Jazz Holiday has evolved and grown over the past 36 years to include more artists and a wider range of musical styles.
Likewise, the annual poster for the Clearwater Jazz Holiday has evolved through the years with recurring motifs and a creative approach to portraying local landmarks and iconography — palm trees, sea creatures and other aquatic or Florida motifs — which capture the Clearwater Jazz Holiday’s unique amalgam of scenery, revelry and music.
In 1980, the first year of the fest, there was only one major national headliner at the Jazz Holiday, Woody Herman, but the posters aren’t on record until 1981, when Buddy Rich headlined the fest. Oddly, the art in that year’s doesn’t show a drummer like Rich but various hornsmen and a piano player.
Some stylish graphics and art can be seen in the early years of the poster. One standout, in 1985 — when attendance at the fest reached 50,000 for the Count Basie Orchestra — adopts a Warhol-inspired triptych of color-tinted photos depicting the jazz legend in profile blowing what looks like a plume of smoke with a fin at the end.
As the years progressed, artists and graphic designers borrowed from a wide range of influences such as African and Latin folk art to acknowledge the diversity of the headliners and ever-increasing eclectic nature of the lineup.
Organizers of the Clearwater Jazz Holiday, on and off, presented contests to seek out artist submissions for the posters and have attracted works that ingeniously capture the fest’s locality and musicality.
For around a decade, during the ’90s, the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times) worked with the Jazz Holiday as a sponsor and provided artwork from the paper’s NewsArt department.
Dale Kleine worked in the marketing department of the newspaper and also served on the board of the Clearwater Jazz Holiday. She even headed up the entire event as chairperson for a few years in the late ‘90s, providing hundreds of volunteer hours and attracting high-profile sponsorships to the event.
Now a Realtor with Coldwell Banker in St. Petersburg, Kleine reminisced over the phone about working on the posters with Times artists such as Gray McGhee, who created a stunning illustration depicting a sax player with balloons against a black background for the 1993 event.
Sadly, McGhee died of leukemia not long after that, in 1998.
“He was known at work for going far beyond the call of duty to share his creative skills, his wealth of knowledge about computer hardware and software, and a ready smile,” wrote former Times Design Director Ron Reason, McGhee’s life partner in an obituary tribute to the artist. Kleine, McGhee’s roommate during the Times-Jazz Holiday collab years, named her son Gray after her beloved pal, who also worked as art director of the Times advertising department.
Kleine, who helped conceptualize the posters, says her personal favorite is the 1996 poster by James Berdy, which depicts a fish blowing bubbles through a sax.
Dunedin-based artist Lorraine Potocki shared the imaginative influences behind her illustration for the 2010 poster : “I walked around Clearwater and took many photos. What struck me the most were the lamp posts. As I began sketching what I photographed, the ridges in the lamp post looked like guitar strings, so a guitar was the start. Horns appeared to hold the large light bulbs, so that worked. I suspended them on musical notes. The bulbs themselves needed to have Clearwater scenes, so one was the Coachman Park sign, another was Chris Botti who had been in one of the Jazz Holidays, and the last image was interesting: I had painted a pastel of Pier 60 and the pier looked like a piano keyboard to me.”
Artists from around the world contributed art for Clearwater Jazz Holiday posters. Coral Springs-based artist Ramirez Cotrino, born in Colombia, won $1,000 as poster contest winner in 2012. In a Times story that year, he explained that he tried to evoke the happiness of people listening to music in his piece. The 2015 poster was created by Port-au-Prince native Junior Polo, who shares art techniques with young people at events in Tampa.
“One year we brought a hollowed-out piano onto the beach and took a photo there,” Kleine recalls with a laugh. There was a lot of thought and a lot of planning and a lot of luck that went into doing those posters.”
This year’s Clearwater Jazz Holiday takes place October 13-16 at Coachman Park in downtown Clearwater. Kool and the Gang and the Commodores headline on Oct. 13; Trombone Shorty and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band on Oct. 14, the Mavericks on Oct. 15 and Potter, Houndmouth and the Lone Bellow on Oct. 16. UB40 has replaced Daryl Hall, who had to drop out due to illness, as Saturday’s featured headliner.
Special thanks to former Clearwater Jazz Holiday chairpersons Vicki Scott and Dale Kleine, the Tampa Bay Times, Lucy Frasca, Lorraine Potocki and Ron Reason for their assistance with this report.