Seabreeze Jazz Festival Hits High Notes

May 16, 2011 by Joyce Owen

The 13th year was lucky for the Seabreeze Jazz Festival held April 13 – 17 at Pier Park in Panama City Beach. Attendance at the festival was up about 25% with over 7,500 happy Jazz fans jamming over three days.

Even the anticipated rain managed to hold off until after midnight, long after concertgoers had headed home. 

“We own a radio station, but generally that is not the people who put on a jazz festival. We are learning as we build on past experiences,” Mark Carter said.

One of the few rules at the festival is, “When the music comes up, the umbrellas come down” and the jazz fans learn quickly. One moment what looks like a day the beach with hundreds of brightly colored umbrellas filling the amphitheater becomes a sea of upturned faces as soon as the first notes are played.

Along with all the familiar sights and sounds of a live concert, this year Mark and Renee Carter, owners of WSBZ-FM The Seabreeze, introduced new features to the jazz festival.

First was the emphasis on emerging musicians.

Miranda Wilson, a daytime host for the radio station, served as the festival’s emcee and said she would be introducing the audience to the next generation of jazz musicians. “We are giving more young performers a chance,” she said.

On Thursday, Mobile, Ala.’s Roman Street strutted their stuff before an appreciative audience. “Seabreeze Rising Stars” – Nicolas Cole, Julian Vaughn and Marcus Anderson – opened Friday night’s show.

Along with the young musicians, there were ample opportunities to enjoy familiar favorites including Boney James, Eric Darius, Brian Culbertson, Richard Elliot, Euge Groove and Mindi Abair who returned to perform again at Seabreeze. Boney James and George Benson were featured at Thursday night’s kickoff.

One aspect of the festival that is always appreciated is the willingness of many performers to venture out into the crowd. First timers are surprised when musicians leave the stage and walk out into the audience. So fans cheered when saxophonist Boney James was the first to hop off the stage and stroll out to the VIP section.

He is a high-energy performer so it was expected he might join the audience. But once on the ground, he couldn’t just climb back on the stage, so James made the rounds of the entire amphitheater, playing and dancing to the delight of more than 4,000 cheering fans.

A mellow George Benson reminded the crowd this was an “Ultimate Weekend of Smooth Jazz” as he performed many of his most popular hits. An artist knows he is playing to appreciative fans when the first few notes of a melody bring the song to their lips and the crowd to their feet. Most of the vocalists encourage it, further endearing themselves to their fans. And this was true of Benson’s rendition of “On Broadway”.

Another feature this year brought abstract painter Alfred “Alex” Gockel to the stage. A jazz themed painting by Gockel was chosen for the official poster and T-shirt for this year’s festival. Noting the interest his painting attracted on the festival’s web site, the Carter’s invited him to the festival to provide a visual presentation of the music that was performed.

“I am inspired by music,” Gockel said. “While I have an idea of what I plan to paint, the energy of the musicians and the response of the audience helps determine the result.”

Whether center stage or watching from the VIP tent, Gockel worked quickly to complete a painting while the musicians performed. As the final notes of a set faded, the audience watched as he captured the essence of the performance on canvas

While individual performers get attention, bands are an important part of the festival. An unusual back up band was a huge surprise. When the South Walton and Arnold High School marching bands accompanied saxophonist Mindi Abair, the crowd was more than enthusiastic. As the band members marched onto the stage and others gathered in the VIP section, the crowd came to their feet, cheering and clapping. The standing ovation of 7,500 people lasted throughout the performance.

The venue, the amazing line up and the enthusiasm of the audience continues to make the festival a popular event. In fact, JazzIZ Magazine has named it one of the Top 10 Jazz Festivals in the USA. But take heart, although the festival has ended for another year, the Carter’s have already posted the dates for next year – mark your calendar – April 18 - 22, 2012 – and make plans to attend. Tickets can be purchased at - VIP tickets sell out early.

Listen live now to Seabreeze Radio -



With over 7500 jazz fans in attendance, the 2011 Oasis Contemporary Jazz Awards were presented Saturday, April 16th at the Seabreeze Jazz Festival at Pier Park in Panama City Beach, Florida. The long-awaited announcement of the winners in 19 different categories, was the result of nationwide voting from over 10,000 fans held in February. Trophies will be awarded to each winner.

“What an exciting addition to what already is a star-packed weekend of smooth jazz entertainment”, said Mark Carter, co-owner of WSBZ The Seabreeze in Destin , FL and promoter of the event. “This is a great way to show our appreciation to these amazing artists who create this music we all love. And with many of the nominees performing at this year’s Seabreeze Jazz Festival, the timing was perfect!”

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