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Jazz grows at garden



Jazz Society

From left, Scat Man Jack, Bob Sagnella on alto sax, Chauncey Mays on flugelhorn and Hulka on bass entertain a crowd at the gardens.

Music, nature lovers really dig society’s sweet swinging sounds

BY JANIE GOULD

It’s been a marriage made, if not in heaven, at least in one of the loveliest sites in Port St. Lucie.

For five years, musicians with the Fort Pierce Jazz & Blues Society have been performing regularly at the Port St. Lucie Botanical Gardens.

The gardens, a 20-acre preserve in the heart of the city, were established from scratch five years ago.

“We were one of the first groups in there on a regular basis,” said jazz society president Don Bestor, a pianist. “We were there in the beginning when the gardens were just planted. Now, they’re getting there!”

The gardens, complete with a lake and fountain, sit on the west side of Westmoreland Boulevard just south of Port St. Lucie Boulevard, on the banks of the North Fork of the St. Lucie River. The musicians perform in the atrium-style entrance building. They play every other Wednesday from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., year-round. During the peak months of the winter tourist season, attendance reaches 180 or more. A 30-minute break gives folks in the audience time to stroll through the gardens.

Bestor jams with four to eight musicians at a time and draws from a sizable stable of talented players.v
“We have a number of piano players, a number of bass players, a number of drummers,” he said.

Also joining the mix are horn players, including tenor and soprano saxophone, as well as trumpet and trombone, and several singers.

A FAMILY TRADITION

Bestor started playing the piano when he was 5 years old, partly, perhaps, out of family tradition. His father worked as musical director for Jack Benny’s radio shows in the late 1930s and into the 1940s.

“I was sports-minded, too, and I would come into the house in my baseball cleats or football cleats and sit down to play the piano wearing my cleats,” he said.

He studied music at the Berklee College of Music in Boston for two years and then spent 27 years on the road as a musician. His group, called Trademark, consisted of five men for 18 years, “and then for nine years we added a singer, a girl. I ended up marrying her,” Bestor said.

Don and Debbie, together since 1982, recently played at the Quilted Giraffe restaurant in Vero Beach.

FAMILIAR REPERTOIRE

The jazz groups present numbers from the Great American Songbook and the Big Band era, the tunes that several generations of music lovers can hum.

“The trick to doing this is to keep the material familiar for the audience,” Bestor said. “Songs are memories. That’s what they’re all about.”

He names a few of the tunes, such as Misty, All The Things You Are and Tenderly, and says there are a thousand more in the repertoire.

“These guys are experienced,” he said. “They’ve played this music their whole life.”

One sax player, Bob Sagnella, never fails to fulfill a request.

“I’ve been playing with him for several years and I’ve never heard him say he doesn’t know a song,” Bestor said. “It’s mind-boggling.”

FUNDRAISING FOR KIDS

Proceeds from admission — $5, or $4 for garden members — go to the botanical gardens and the jazz society.

Starting Nov. 3, the jazz society will play every Tuesday night at the Sunrise Theatre’s Black Box venue in downtown Fort Pierce. Admission will be $6 or $5 for members.

Funds raised at the concerts and at the craft market that the jazz society owns in downtown Fort Pierce, help support education.

“The main thrust of the jazz society is the kids,” Bestor said.

Proceeds from concerts and the craft market enable the jazz society to support master classes at schools in St. Lucie, Martin and Indian River counties. Al Hager, entertainment chairman for the jazz society, put together a program for the schools. The organization awarded $10,000 in scholarships last year and sponsors camps to teach younger musicians about jazz improvisation.

“We’re all about education,” Bestor said, “and we all love to play.”

The land for the botanical gardens was acquired through joint efforts of the City of Port St. Lucie, St. Lucie County and the Florida Trust for Public Lands. The site boasts a butterfly garden, orchid room and rose garden, along with paved paths, a pavilion, gift shop and ample parking.

A nonprofit group, the Friends of the Port St. Lucie Botanical Gardens, operates the facility and gives tours. Programs for children, plant sales and, of course, jazz concerts, attract visitors regularly.