A Celebration of Dixieland Jazz
performed by the Naples Jazz Masters
When: 1 to 3 p.m., Saturdays through September
Where: The Norris Center at Cambier Park
in downtown Naples
Admission: $15 per person, $25 per couple,
$10 for a group of 10 or more
A group of jazz musicians is out to keep local toes tapping through the slow summer months.
On Saturdays through September, the Naples Jazz Masters will present “A Celebration of Dixieland Jazz” at the Norris Center at Cambier Park. They aren’t the biggest jazz band in the area; its members number only six or seven, depending on the day. Nor are they the youngest, jokes Jim Gover, the band’s emcee, trombonist and tuba player.
But they love playing Dixieland jazz.
“We are holding the torch as high as we can. We’ve taped the torch to one our crutches and hold the torch as high as we can and defiantly play our kind of music,” Gover says. “There are some people who like our kind of music and that’s why we’re still in business.”
The Naples Jazz Masters began as an offshoot of the Naples Dixieland Jazz Band, which was once known as the Naples Daily News Traditional Jazz Band. When the Naples Daily News Traditional Jazz Band started in 1997, it was to recognize the founding of the Daily News in 1923, and to play songs specifically from that year.
That band grew more popular and still exists as the Naples Dixieland Jazz Band, performing through the season and drawing as many as 3,000 people to its free concerts.
Then, about six years ago, Gover and fellow Naples Dixieland Jazz Band member Dick Magill approached the Norris Center about offering another Dixieland jazz concert series in the summer.
“We thought it would be fun if we could get a steady, smaller concert during the summer,” Gover says.
The fans turned out, and are still turning out, Magill notes.
“I guess we’re doing something right,” Magill says.
There’s a core group of what Magill gently calls “more seasoned” fans who come every week and gladly pay the $15 or $25 admission fee to see the Jazz Masters perform. Money raised from the event goes to the city of Naples to support the maintenance of the Norris Center and the remainder is divided among the musicians, Gover says.
“We love the music and so do they,” Gover says of the band’s fans. “I wish there would be more pretty girls that would come and flatter us with their attention, but for some reason, that doesn’t happen.”
Part of the reason that the audience — and the band members — love the music as they do is because it is true feel-good music, Gover explains. Some of the band’s most frequent requests include “When the Saints Go Marching In” and “Just a Closer Walk with Thee.”
Other popular favorites are “My Gal Sal,” “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” and “When You’re Smiling,” a song that was a hit directly before the stock market crash of 1929.
“There’s something comfortable about this music,” Gover says. “Our music is fun. The Dixieland music that we play is happy and toe-tapping. And when we play a blues tune, it’s the saddest song you’ve ever heard.”
Gover also calls Dixieland “the purest of American music,” thanks to its numerous influences. Some songs have a Latin American influence, for example, while others are built upon the history of early American marches.
“This music has the feel of America,” he says.
And while the songs can be emotional at times, Gover jokes that there’s nothing in the Naples Jazz Masters’ performance to produce feelings of dizziness or nausea.
“We don’t dance around with whirling lights,” he promises.
Which isn’t to say the Naples Jazz Masters don’t know how to throw a bash. In September, the Naples Jazz Masters concerts at the Norris Center may end, but the fun’s hardly over: After the final concert, Gover throws an end-of-summer party for the band’s audience.
No whirling lights, of course – but it’s all good, clean Dixieland fun.
“The audience, they bring their wheelchairs and walkers and we have a party at my house,” Gover says. “I’ll feed them and give them beverages. I like them and they like us.”