By: Barbara Salter
On her 92nd birthday, Palm Coast resident Muriel McCoy will be doing what she loves best: listening to live jazz music by some of the best musicians around. She hopes you'll be there, too.
Recently, McCoy and North East Florida Jazz Association were thrilled to learn that its 2022 Jazz Appreciation Month show would go on, now that fears of the pandemic have subsided. World-renowned saxophonist Gary Bartz will be the headliner. A Grammy Award winner, Bartz has recorded 40 solo albums and more than 200 as a guest musician or sideman. He has performed with Miles Davis, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, McCoy Tyner, and many other great jazz artists and is the head of the Jazz Studies Program at Oberlin School of Music. Accompanying Bartz will be the Doug Carn Trio featuring Carn on piano, John Lumpkin on drums and Lawrence Buckner on bass.
The concert will be at 2:30 p.m. on April 3 at the Daytona Beach Museum of Arts & Sciences. Tickets are $40 for members and $45 for nonmembers. You can get them at Chez Jacqueline’s in Palm Coast, on www.nefja.org, or by calling 386-445-1329.
McCoy has been leading the charge to keep jazz alive in Northeast Florida for more than 35 years.
When jazz arrived in Palm Coast
In 1985, long before Palm Coast became an official city, McCoy and her late husband “Eugene” Jeep McCoy retired and moved to Palm Coast from Teaneck, New Jersey.
They loved everything about their new home with one exception. They missed attending live jazz performances. In New Jersey, their proximity to the Big Apple made it easy to catch live jazz.
McCoy credits Jeep with turning her on to jazz. “Other guys would bring flowers or candy, but Jeep wooed me with records,” she laughed. “He’d bring me a new 45 every time he came over. I think he loved my record player (he didn’t have one) more than he loved me.”
After a short jazz-filled courtship, he proposed to her on the legendary A-train.
“One of the first things Jeep taught me about jazz is that there is nothing like live jazz,” McCoy said. “You’ll never hear the same tune played the same way twice. The artistic expression during a hot solo is electric, whether it’s a jazz legend like Miles Davis or an unknown aspiring young musician possessing tremendous talent. It’s magic how the music comes together.”
In Palm Coast, the McCoys figured that if they were missing live jazz, there might be other kindred spirits in the area as well. They sent out a note to local organizations and businesses inviting jazz lovers to their home for a meeting to see if there was enough interest in starting a jazz organization.
More than 40 people showed up that night, and the North East Florida Jazz Association, popularly known as NEFJA, was born. Its mission was to help keep jazz alive by providing live jazz performances to local audiences and by awarding scholarships to talented young music students enrolled in a jazz studies program at a Florida college or university.
In 1987, NEFJA began bringing live jazz concerts to the area.
“The very first concert was held in what is now the Daytona State College amphitheater," McCoy recalled. "We had the Stetson University Band, followed by bands from Bethune Cookman, Daytona State College, Florida A&M and the University of North Florida." Other early concerts featured talented military bands.
The McCoys were responsible for finding the entertainment. They made contacts wherever they went.
“Our search for jazz resulted in our meeting a number of musicians who performed for our concerts,” she explained. “A restaurant in Daytona featured Dave Burke’s great band every Monday. They were very excited about the new jazz society and introduced Jeep and me to the always-large group of dancing regulars. We went every Monday and made many contacts. Burke's band played for us several times.“
One of their biggest triumphs was booking the legendary jazz pianist Dorothy Donegan. The McCoys “met her on a Jazz Cruise, maintained contact and brought her here from California. She was fabulous!” McCoy said.
Jeep’s sudden passing in 2002 was a major blow to NEFJA.
“We decided the best way to honor him would be to hold a musical celebration of his life," McCoy said. "Doug Carn was a new member at the time, but he stepped up and organized it. It was held at the Flagler Auditorium. More than 700 people attended. The musicians played their hearts out. It was amazingly heartwarming."
The outpouring of love for Jeep and for jazz reinforced the importance of what NEFJA was doing and helped spread the word. It also energized the group and attracted new members. Determined to keep Jeep’s dream alive, Muriel agreed to serve as president, a position she has held for the past 20 years.
Carn, an internationally recognized organist and jazz icon from St. Augustine, became NEFJA’s vice president in charge of musical programming.
Adapting to the pandemic
NEFJA continued to grow. Over the years, the group has presented more than 100 concerts and dozens of scholarships. Then, the COVID pandemic hit and the curtain came down on NEFJA’s live concerts beginning with the 2020 Jazz Appreciation Month concert.
“Jazz Appreciation Month has always been a great time for NEFJA to reach out to remind people of the beauty of America’s unique art form. Having to cancel the JAM concert was beyond disappointing,” McCoy said.
The pandemic changed the organization, she added, "but we used the ‘down’ time to get stronger—and prepare NEFJA for the future."
NEFJA held Zoom meetings, began updating its website, and kept members informed of live streaming concerts.
“Many of our scholarship winners have gone on to become professional jazz musicians and educators," McCoy said. "This is an ongoing project. We’re posting the videos on the website as they’re completed. It’s a great way of showing how NEFJA is contributing to the future of jazz.”