Art Snax: High School Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra performs at Spring Music Spectacular in Tampa

Just as performance venues begin to reopen after a year of COVID-forced shutdowns, the Straz and the Patel Conservatory are celebrating a Spring Music Spectacular on April 21 that will feature some of the Tampa Bay Area's top high school student performers.

While all types of music will be played that night, keep your ear perked for the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra.
“Afro Latin jazz utilizes the off-beat bass line that’s indicative of Latin music. It adds such a funky feel to it, but it sounds so natural. There’s a lot going on with counterpoints and rhythms. It sounds really good and builds up the emotions of the listener,” says Conductor James Crumbly with the Straz Jazz Project's High School Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra. 
This orchestra is comprised of students from high schools all over the Tampa Bay Area, but many of them attend special arts education programs offered at Blake in Tampa and Gibbs in St. Pete. There’s no formal audition set up to be a part of this orchestra except that they are at a higher level and have been recommended by their high school music teachers since the music is much more challenging.
“We meet once a week on Saturdays for two hours. We don’t just rehearse the music we are performing, but we go over some fundamental jazz, blues, and improvisational exercises as well. That helps them not just read through the music but be able to utilize some of the skills we’re developing,” Crumbly explains. “One of the instructors Rene Avich, who is a virtuoso guitarist, is getting the kids acclimated to the style of Afro Latin, getting them to loosen up, and how to not just to read the music but to really feel and experience it at an emotional level.”
The Friday performance will be held in Morsani Hall at the Straz with social distancing protocols in place. Only about 600 seats will be occupied in the 2,600-seat hall.

"The evening includes jazz, gospel, classical, and musical theater performances, and culminates in a tour-de-force performance of John Rutter’s “Requiem” for choir and orchestra,'' according to a news release.

If you can’t get enough of the music at this performance, a few of the members also will be performing at the Arts Legacy REMIX Performance Jazz, Jazz, Jazz on May 21.
“A lot of these kids come from an environment where they are the top dog. To put them in a situation where they might not be the best or are a member of a group that has a lot of really good players, it’s a form of encouragement for them. They also get someone else’s conducting and rehearsal flavor compared to their own teachers back at their school. We talk about all the different styles of jazz that make the world of jazz such an interesting thing to be a part of,” Crumbly says. “They’re playing some really nice stuff, just flowing all over the keys. It’s cool to see the level that these students are at.”
To find out more and get your tickets, visit the Patel Center's events calendar or the Straz Center's events calendar.

Read more articles by Caitlin Albritton.

Caitlin Albritton is a freelance writer based in Tampa with a BFA from Savannah College of Art and Design and a MFA from Maryland Institute College of Art. When she's not looking at art throughout town, she can be found making it. You can keep up with her visual art on Instagram @caitlinalbritton or on her website. Visit her recent line of inlay “wearable paintings.”
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