Locals took a break from the heat to listen to cool jazz at the Daytona State College amphitheater in Palm Coast. The North East Florida Jazz Association hosted its annual Summer Jazz Fest with headliner the Melvin Smith Jazz Ensemble at the shaded venue on Saturday, Aug. 12.
NEFJA president Muriel McCoy introduced opening band the Tyler Snell Collective by touting saxophonist Tyler Snell and drummer Ethan Grussgott, who received the organization’s 2023 music scholarships.
“I really appreciate this performance,” McCoy said. “It isn’t often we get to hear the students we give the scholarships to. This was a real treat.”
NEFJA’s first concert, in 1989, featured Stetson University musicians playing at the same amphitheater. Pianist Warren Williams received the first scholarship, which totaled $500. NEFJA now awards two $2,000 music scholarships to college or university students each year. The students must be registered in their school’s jazz studies program and have completed at least 30 semester hours by the time they submit their application, according to the NEFJA website.
Snell is entering his third year at UNF. He started playing the clarinet, but switched to the saxophone after listening to his brother Rhys Snell play the instrument in middle school. Both of them attended the Osceola County School of the Arts in Kissimmee.
“I wasn’t raised with it (jazz),” Snell said. “Honestly, it came out of nowhere. In the beginning of my life, there was no jazz, at all. I didn’t even really know what it was. I started hearing my brother play saxophone and I was like, ‘Huh, that kind of sounds bad.’ When I started fully getting into jazz, I realized that it was actually beautiful. I then had a newfound appreciation for it.”
I wasn’t raised with it (jazz). Honestly, it came out of no where. In the beginning of my life, there was no jazz, at all. I didn’t even really know what it was. I started hearing my brother play saxophone and I was like, ‘Huh, that kind of sounds bad.’ When I started fully getting into jazz, I realized that it was actually beautiful. I then had a new found appreciation for it."
— TYLER SNELL, saxophonist
With fellow UNF students — drummer Grussgott, bassist Justin Archina and keyboardist Brian Little — he launched the Tyler Snell Collective. They’ve been performing together for two years.
“I’m happy to see that there is a lot of involvement with younger generations now with jazz,” Snell said. “Like with the John Lumpkin Institute in Jacksonville, he reaches out to elementary and middle schoolers and just gets them playing something — even if it’s a triangle — it gets them into that music.”
Snell said the group’s goal is to push each other to excel in music and succeed in the music industry. Snell wants to become a professor of jazz studies or music in general.
Grussgott started playing drums in middle school and continued at Flagler Palm Coast High School, where he graduated in 2021. His mother, Jamie Perreault, said he began playing in band and marching band in high school and has loved it ever since.
“I learned about jazz through my son,” she said. “I was not a big jazz fan. I wouldn’t listen to it until he did it. He was so involved.”
Grussgott’s stepmother, Mydris Grussgott, has long loved jazz and loves Ella Fitzgerald, like her stepson. But she credits Ethan’s musical lifestyle to his father’s influence.
“It takes parents to nurture and invoke this love,” she said.
NEFJA also grants four high school students scholarships to attend the University of North Florida’s summer music camp, directed by Dr. Michael Bovenzi. At the six-day overnight camp, UNF faculty teach campers in areas of musical interest from classical chamber music and jazz rhythm sections to symphonic bands and music theory.
This year’s camp scholarships went to Flagler Palm Coast High School students Emma Harris and Morgan Chafe and Matanzas High School students Chance Miraballes and Timothy Abruzzo.
“It works two ways,” McCoy said. “The University of North Florida has a fabulous jazz studies program, and they (campers) also are being introduced to what college life is like because they stay on campus for a week. We are getting good feedback on that.”
McCoy’s late husband, Jeep McCoy, introduced her to jazz, courting her with flowers and jazz records. She had the record player, and he had the vinyl.
“It (jazz) kind of grabbed me,” she said. “He turned me onto it, and it’s carried me through a lot.”
In 1985, the couple moved to Palm Coast. McCoy said they loved the city and loved their house. But it was a jazz desert. They sent letters to organizations in town asking if anyone was interested in starting a jazz organization. About 40 people showed up at their house, and the jazz association was born.
The organization continues to help young musicians further their education in music.
“There was one (high school) girl who said she never thought she would want to go to college or be able to,” McCoy said. “She got a scholarship, went to the camp and was sold on college. That was a good story.”