The Ft. Pierce Jazz and Blues Society

| October 17, 2017

The Ft. Pierce Jazz and Blues Society
A Musical Find on the Treasure Coast

October 16, 2017

By Lynn DiMenna for Cabaret Scenes

South Florida has a lot to offer. East or west coast, there are beautiful beaches, gorgeous gated communities, golf courses galore, and entertainment that rivals anything you might experience up north — or nationwide, for that matter. In fact, it’s often the musical “snowbirds” who regularly come down to Florida in-season who contribute greatly to the overall entertainment scene here on the Treasure Coast.

On the eastern coast— more specifically, north of Palm Beach and south of Orlando — much of the action takes place in Ft. Pierce where The Ft. Pierce Jazz and Blues Society holds numerous events and workshops throughout the year to help present, promote, and preserve the art of performance in the jazz and blues genres. The in-season weekly jam session/open mic is held in the “black box” next to The Sunrise Theatre in the relatively small but quaint downtown Ft. Pierce and, under the watchful eye of veteran jazz pianist and president Don Bestor, Jr., the 501(c)(3) organization is thriving.  

Don Bestor, Jr.

Don took over the reigns nine years ago and has worked tirelessly to apply his own very strategic formula to building a loyal and supportive following. No easy undertaking, as anyone will tell you who’s tried it. So, just how has he done it?

By his own admission, he has a passion for the music and he likes “doing things for other people.” As the son of the famous orchestra leader Don Bestor, Sr., and a child prodigy himself with years of experience “on the road,” his standards are high. He insists on as professional a presentation as possible, using only the best musicians in the area who all know and play a familiar repertoire that the audience can relate to. In fact, there’s even a clearly stated PERFORMER BILL OF RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES laid out by him and his distinguished board of directors. The goal is for everyone, vocalists and instrumentalists, to be as comfortable as possible communicating with each other on stage while, at the same time, entertaining the audience to the best of each participant’s ability.

On our first visit there several months back, my husband and I were not only personally welcomed at the door by a very gracious and helpful group of volunteers, but we were also introduced to —and I wound up accompanied by — some of the finest musicians in the Treasure Coast area.

This past June, in addition to continuing a bi-weekly jam session/open mic, they held their annual Summer Jazz Camp for local instrumentalists, and their second annual week-long boot camp for singers or, as we all came to call ourselves, vocal instrumentalists. From beginner to professional, under the tutelage of clinician and jazz vocalist extraordinaire Lisa Kelly and her husband, ace trumpeter J.B. Scott, the dynamic duo from Jacksonville took eager participants at all levels and gave them a top-notch musical experience to build on.

J.B. Scott and Lisa Kelly

J.B. is an Associate Professor of Jazz Studies at The University of Northern Florida and Director of the Great American Jazz Concert Series in Jacksonville. He teaches trumpet and directs the flagship UNF JE 1 big band. Other area instrumentalists include pianist/director Larry Brown, drummer Claudio Berardi, drummer, Dave Einhorn on bass, and Gene Bruno on saxophone.

Kelly is an award-winning, highly regarded jazz vocal song stylist who got her masters at UNF just a few years ago, but has been teaching music theory and jazz improvisation for many years at the middle school, high school, and college levels. She skillfully managed to cram into two mornings about a semester’s worth of theory, including scales (interval patterns and solfege), triad chords, a transposition chart, a circle of fifths diagram, a refresher in correct singing techniques, and a relatively easy-to-follow guide in the art of scatting with good scat syllables to use to get us started. Whew!

The entire week was designed to be encouraging, enlightening, and empowering and Kelly succeeded, by any measure, in opening all our ears to a new way of listening to some of the great jazz vocalists of this and the last century. The rest of the week focused on mastering a half to a full chorus of an improvised scat we all added to the song we chose for our final night’s performance, greatly enhanced by the staff of professionals who had been working with the instrumentalist students all week.

This was the second year of the vocal addition to the camp and, as participants, our instructions were clearly laid out. We had to introduce our song, the key we were singing it in, the style and tempo of the song, and how we wanted the intro played. Then came the count-off! That is usually the most critical and challenging part for any singer participating in an open mic or professional performance situation. One false count, wrong key, or miscommunique between singer and musicians and you could be headed for a regretful and very embarrassing “train wreck!”

With our esteemed president as an accompanist, from beginner to professional, each participant rose to his or her individual challenge and delivered a polished performance, much to Kelly’s and the other musicians’ delight. She was proud to point out that “the vocal addition to the camp was a big success! Every student, even those who had never sung before, conducted a piece confidently, improvised a chorus and thoroughly entertained the audience.”

One performer, Sondra Burke, was equally effusive in her praise. “I feel we all developed a very special bond through the week. We had an ultimate goal to succeed in our performances, but I’m sure we did not expect to find such warmth and compassion. Everyone had his or her own personality, but we were all ‘great together.'”

Given that the instrumentalists from the camp had all performed earlier in the evening, it was now time for the instructors to show us how it’s REALLY done!  Lisa Kelly took to the stage with J.B. Scott and the rest of the week’s all-stars, and proceeded to show the audience assembled and the boot camp grads precisely why she has earned her reputation as one of the finest jazz stylists, both nationally and internationally. Using her time to run an arrangement she’d be presenting at a jazz festival in Pescara, Italy later in the month, the southern jazz bird breezed through a version of “Estate” in perfect Italian, and followed it with her own arrangement of “The Very Thought of You” done in a swing tempo as a tribute to the great Ella Fitzgerald in this, her centennial year.

This December, Kelly will be part of the annual Midwest Clinic International Band & Orchestra Conference & Exhibition held in Chicago and she plans to bring some of the material she honed in Ft. Pierce and Pescara to the prestigious gathering of over 17,000 music professionals and aficionados.

The society, too, hopes to continue building on the success of this year’s instrumental and vocal camps and looks to expand the number of students participating in next year’s season.

Anyone in the Vero Beach, Port St. Lucie, Palm Beach, or the Ft. Pierce area who is interested in finding out more about the Ft. Pierce Jazz and Blues Society is encouraged to contact

Don Bestor
772.460.JAZZ (5299)
email: don@donbestor

Lisa Kelly
email: kellyscotmusic14@att.net

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Category: Cabaret Features, Florida, Florida Cabaret Features, Regional

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