PANAMA CITY BEACH — Beach life gets sweeter this weekend as the 16th annual Seabreeze Jazz Festival continues its smooth star-packed weekend through Sunday at Aaron Bessant Park.
On Tuesday, festival producer Mark Carter was recruiting a few helping hands to unload nine pallets of Seabreeze Jazz Festival Private Label wines in advance of the event, which began Thursday.
“The wine freight truck showed up Monday at 8 o’clock from California,” said Carter, who runs WSBZ-FM The Seabreeze 106.3 radio station with his wife, Reneé. “We also have TeQava, a tequila sparkling wine, never before offered in the state of Florida. We had to get a special permit; it wasn’t licensed. The tequila is infused with strawberry and cucumber lime and agave. We will be able to introduce it to Panama City Beach.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, Carter said, less than 100 tickets were left for Saturday.
Though there was no large venue for jazz in the area when the Carters founded the festival, Seabreeze now attracts more than 25,000 from multiple countries for a celebration with the world’s best jazz musicians against the backdrop of Northwest Florida’s beaches. The festival transforms the park into a sea of brightly-colored umbrellas and wide-brimmed hats with white tents hovering over painted canvases in oil, watercolor and pastel.
“We moved some tents off the field this year and opened it up as much as possible,” said Carter, who is expecting Aaron Bessant Park to reach its full capacity.
Amidst the smooth sounds, the smell of barbecue and seafood beckons from food trucks, many offering Southern coastal cuisine.
“I have so many great memories at Seabreeze Jazz Festival,” said saxophonist and vocalist Mindi Abair, who will debut her new album, “Wild Heart,” at the festival.
Though the album is not officially released until May 27, autographed copies will be available at the CD release party from 1-3 p.m. Friday at Pompano Joe’s in Pier Park.
“I am going to sell it at the festival and make it a special thing,” said Abair, originally from St. Petersburg. “This is just one of the greatest jazz festivals we have. We all know each other and we don’t get to see each other all the time and hang out. And since I’m from Florida, all my family and friends are coming from all over Florida to see me. The CD release weekend is special for me.”
“It’s been a really interesting few years since I made the last CD,” admitted Abair, whose last solo album, “In Hi-Fi Stereo” was released in 2010. “I started playing on ‘American Idol’ as their saxophonist for a couple of years, and I got to play with Phillip Phillips. Then Steven Tyler asked me to go on the road with Aerosmith. I did 26 shows with them. It was fun to sit on stage and watch 30- or 40,000 people out there and I thought, ‘I want to bring this mojo, extreme abandon to my career.’”
Abair brings a fresh edge to jazz.
“I come from a pop and rock background,” she said. “My songs are written with definite form with a melody and chorus and, hopefully, you walk away singing with us. But what I think brought us into the jazz world is our improvisation; when you get live, anything can happen. I can take a song on my record and morph it, sound different every night. I figure the audience coming to see the show has the record. They know what my record sounds like. Why would I want to sound exactly like the record? I want to keep it fresh for me and them.”
The title of her new album is representative of her free spirit.
“How do you represent music that’s not jazz, not rock, not pop, but harks back to time when saxophone was a mainstream instrument?” she asked herself. “I went in the direction of explaining myself and my spirit. I look back at my career and it has been an unexpected journey, and I have ended up touring and playing with a lot of different people along the way, from Adam Sandler to Duran Duran to Aerosmith and Max Weinberg to ‘American Idol.’ I wanted to bring these people into my career instead of going into theirs.”
Though Abair had a hand in writing all of the songs on her new album, she invited respected artists to write with her.
“The record evolved on its own,” she said. “People started saying ‘yes.’ With Trombone Shorty, we recorded in his hotel room, and I recorded with Joe Perry in Florida and Gregg Allman in Savannah, Ga., in a teeny studio in the back of a pharmacy. I went into the studio and went for it. I didn’t think it’s a jazz record or rock record, but everything in my heart and soul.”
Though her CD-release party is sold out, Abair will be playing a show at 2 p.m. Saturday.
“Mindi has two surprises for her show,” Carter said. “Famous guitarist Jim Peterik from the ’80s band Survivor will appear on stage. He co-wrote ‘Eye of The Tiger.’ … He co-wrote some of the tracks with Mindi for the ‘Wild Heart’ CD. She’s also doing a part of her show with local bands marching from the back of the venue into the show. … The bands have been learning the music and practicing with Mindi via Skype.”
She said the Navarre High School Marching Band will march out into the amphitheater and play “Amazing Game,” one of her new songs.
“It will totally be a show stopper,” Abair said. “For many years, Seabreeze has reached out to the community. I think that’s so important. I was a complete product of school band from the fourth grade on. Once I found music, it spoke to me, a huge part of my growing up.”
South Walton High School also will join the Navarre Band for the show. The Arnold High School Jazz Band and Booker T. Washington High School in Pensacola will play at the festival on Sunday.
A portion of the festival’s proceeds goes to Music in the Schools, which funds scholarships and instrument purchases for high school band students.
On Saturday night at 8 p.m., Abair returns to the stage with the Dave Koz Summer Horns featuring Dave Koz, Gerald Albright and saxophonist Richard Elliot. The Summer Horns CD was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Pop Instrumental Album of the Year Category.
“These are some of the finest saxophone players of the world,” Abair said. “These guys are world class musicians and human beings. … We’re all solo artists but really come together and celebrate horn bands. .. We found four saxophonists and the great power that yields. I have to say the show is incredible.”
On Friday night, jazz keyboardist Alex Bugnon and his friends R&B/jazz artists Jonathan Butler and Norman Brown will take the stage to close out the day’s jazz celebration.
“It’s the best feeling in the world, nothing like it, especially this time around Seabreeze to be on stage with really good friends. Every time we play together we always sync well. It comes together really spontaneous, a must for a crowd,” Bugnon said.
The trio’s playlist will include top hits to R&B soul inspired songs.
“I have come through too many times to count,” Bugnon said. “I try to have fun, be funky, I try to groove, swing and try to put as much jazz history as I can into a performance.”
Bugnon’s 12th album pays homage to his new home, “Harlem,” in New York and showcases his diverse style and range. Released on Xela Records in 2013, it is a mix of original compositions and his personal take on well-known songs including the classic, “A Night in Tunisia.” With a career spanning more than 20 years, he has become known for his mix of traditional jazz, contemporary jazz and R&B.
“There was not much of a scene in Switzerland, which is why I came to the states,” said Bugnon, originally from Montreux, Switzerland. “The summer festival thing (in Montreux) was mostly American musicians, not really any way to make it in music in Europe if it’s not pop. A classic establishment like jazz was really not viable, (or) appreciated. Ever since I can remember, it’s never been a conscious choice in my life, always in me or around me. My father was a jazz musician playing in the house, all the time, lots of jazz musicians coming in and out.”
Bugnon, who has been in the U.S. for 35 years, had early friendships with award-winning musicians such as Herbie Hancock. And Bugnon’s uncle is the legendary Donald Byrd. He left Montreux to continue training at a music conservatory in Paris and then he went on to the Berklee School of Music.
“We took piano lessons and daily practice at the age of 6,” Bugnon said.” I started with piano and played drums, but piano, to me, was always the most complete instrument on the side of composition, efficient.”
His first album, “Love Season,” in 1989 hit No. 2 on R&B charts and his second album, “Head Over Heels” earned him Black Radio Exclusive’s Best New Artist Award. That same year, his “107 Degrees in the Shade” received the Soul Train Award, and he went on with numerous best selling albums.
“I realize now my first album was really different from what was out then, very successful but not near where it is today,” Bugnon said. “It’s better to push the envelope. This is just funky, contemporary jazz. It’s approached with an acoustic live approach, not necessarily radio friendly.”
In celebration of 16 years of Seabreeze Jazz festivals, WSBZ-FM The Seabreeze 106.3 is presenting a free Sweet 16 After Party at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville in Pier Park on Sunday night. The party will include special guests Maysa, Phil Perry, Kim Waters and more.
Admission is free, but a cash bar and full restaurant menu will be available.No tickets are needed, but space is on a first-come basis until the restaurant is full.
SEABREEZE JAZZ FESTIVAL
When: Continues today through Sunday; general admission at 6 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday; rain or shine
Where: Aaron Bessant Park Amphitheatre in Pier Park, Panama City Beach
Seating: Bring lawn chair or blanket for general admission lawn seating; lawn chairs available for $15 per day
Admission: $80 per single day ticket, $150 for a Weekend Pass good for Friday-Sunday; free admission for local middle and high school band students, and one parent, wearing their band T-shirts; ages 12 and younger free in general admission area when accompanied by an adult
Ticket outlets: Cash only at Creative Gems on Jenks Avenue in Panama City; cash and credit cards accepted at Florida House Fashions and Pompano Joe’s in Pier Park; military discount available at Tyndall Air Force Base – MWR Office (cash and credit cards) andNaval Coastal Systems Center; SeabreezeJazzFestival.com or 800-595-4849
Details: 800-653-7519 or Facebook.com/SeabreezeJazzFestival
Friday, April 25
Gates open at 4 p.m. at Aaron Bessant Park Amphitheatre.
5 p.m.: Jones and Company
6:15 p.m.: Eric Darius
8 p.m.: Jonathan Butler, Norman Brown, and Alex Bugnon
Seabreeze Jazz Festival After Party All-Star Jam hosted by Nick Colionne at Pompano Joe’s is sold out.
Saturday, April 26
Gates open at 9 a.m. at Aaron Bessant Park Amphitheatre.
10 a.m.: Music In the Schools Presentation
11 a.m.: Vincent Ingala and Jonathan Fritzen
12:15 p.m.: Chieli Minnuci and Special EFX
2 p.m.: Mindi Abair
4 p.m.: Brian Culbertson
6 p.m.: Will Downing
8 p.m.: Dave Koz & Friends Summer Horns featuring Richard Elliot, Gerald Albright and Mindi Abair
Saturday night After Party All-Star Jam hosted by Brian Culbertson is sold out
Sunday, April 27
Gates open at 9 a.m. at Aaron Bessant Park Amphitheatre.
10 a.m.: Music In the Schools Presentation
11 a.m.: “Generation Next” featuring Nicholas Cole, Julian Vaughn, Lin Rountree, and Lebron
12:15 p.m.: Cindy Bradley
2 p m: “Jazz Funk Soul” featuring Chuck Loeb, Jeff Lorber, and Everette Harp
4 p.m.: The Family Stone
6 p.m.: “The Seabreeze Smooth Jazz All Stars” featuring Brian Simpson, Kim Waters, Phil Perry, and Maysa
10 p.m.: “Sweet 16” All-Star After Party Jam Show at Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville in Pier Park; presented by WSBZ-FM The Seabreeze 106.3