Matanzas to fan jazz flame

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  • | 4:00 a.m. June 2, 2011
Chad Wilkinson wails on the saxophone during rehearsal in the MHS band room. PHOTOS BY SHANNA FORTIER
Chad Wilkinson wails on the saxophone during rehearsal in the MHS band room. PHOTOS BY SHANNA FORTIER
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The North East Florida Jazz Association will host a concert event June 5, featuring vocalist Stephanie Jordan and the Matanzas High School Jazz Orchestra.

As jazz croons quietly from a stereo in the kitchen, Muriel McCoy — president of the 24-year-old Palm Coast-based North East Florida Jazz Association — describes her nonprofit’s upcoming concert event, June 5, at Daytona Beach’s Museum of Arts and Sciences.

The show, organized with the intention of “keeping jazz alive,” will feature New Orleans-based vocalist Stephanie Jordan, along with the mostly freshmen, 21-piece Matanzas High School Jazz Orchestra as warmup.

The inside of McCoy’s home is a testament to her love of music. Portraits of jazz performers, painted by her late husband, Jeep McCoy, color the rooms; a guitar leans on a stand in a back office; speakers are built into crevices in the walls; a chubby spaniel named after Charlie Parker, the saxophonist, waddles and wags its tail.

“When we moved here, there wasn’t any music,” McCoy said of 1980s-era Palm Coast. “(In NEFJA), we try to bring in a caliber of jazz that’s not readily available, at affordable prices. And then, of course, we give scholarships.”

In support of young musicians who will grow to perpetuate the art of jazz — what McCoy describes as “America’s only indigenous art form” — NEFJA has given out 39 $1,000 scholarships to college students with at least 30 credits in a jazz studies major.

Scholarship funds are raised through concert events, member dues and donations, and McCoy said that several NEFJA scholarship recipients have gone on to become professional jazz performers and educators, the most well-known of which is probably Vincent Gardner, who plays for Wynton Marsalis’ Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, in New York.

NEFJA is currently a 200-member organization.

“If we don’t do something to bring the young ones up, there’s going to be nobody to listen (to) or play in the later years,” said Steven Knob, MHS band director.

The school’s orchestra, which focuses on jazz standards is only two years old but has already won major competitions, including the best-in-class award in instrumental jazz, at the Disney Jazz Celebration.

“I would hope that the public in Palm Coast would support both the North East Florida Jazz Society — because they’re trying to bring good music here; and support the school jazz groups and music groups — because we’re developing the kids that will play down the road,” Knobb said.

Previously, NEFJA helped to raise funds for the University of North Florida’s music department; it set up training workshops between UNF and Flagler Palm Coast High School students. Last year, it sent Matanzas students to a UNF jazz camp.

Although McCoy’s husband, Jeep, died in 2002, Muriel credits him for NEFJA’s formation, as well as her general interest in the music form.

“Some guys would bring you candy and flowers,” she said of their courting in 1956. “He brought me records. He introduced me to jazz.”

Today, every NEFJA season opens with a Jeep McCoy Scholarship Concert Supper.

But jazz isn’t an easy sell, McCoy said. You’ve really go to listen to it; it isn’t background music — it’s something more.

“We’d like to have (people) develop an appreciation for jazz … Get people excited about it, and help (to) perpetuate it,” McCoy said

The Matanzas High School Jazz Orchestra will take the stage at 1:30, Sunday, June 5, at the Museum of Arts and Sciences.

— Shanna Fortier contributed to this story.


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