Jazz Pianist Blends Experience and Improvisation

by Robin Reshard   

Whatever you do, don’t call the Tuesday night gathering of singers and musicians a jam session.  “It’s a blended group of musicians with varying experiences,” jazz pianist Gino Rosaria says.  “It’s a jazz session.”

Rosaria wants his weekly nights of jazz music to become the place for jazz on the Gulf Coast.  “I want it to be the first place people think of when they say ‘jazz’,” Rosaria said.  And on any given Tuesday at Seville Quarter in downtown Pensacola, most people would agree.

Rosaria began playing at the sessions with jazz singer Kitt Lough in 2012.  After she temporarily relocated to New Orleans last September, he took the helm, changed the format, and formed the sessions around a core set of musicians.  Drummer Rickey Duffy, guitarist James Green and bassist Chris Snowden now provide a steady and familiar foundation of jazz standards, mixed with the improvisations provided by singers like Kathy Lyon, Amy True and Cassandra Williams, and musicians like saxophonist Antoine Knight, trumpeter Dr. Brian Taylor, and saxophonist and clarinetist David Landry.

“Improvisation is key and it’s always a big surprise, especially when someone famous walks in,” Rosaria said.  He and his audience got one such surprise when on last Tuesday, Earl Lett from Nashville walked in with his saxophone.  Lett was one of the earliest saxophone players for Ike and Tina Turner’s Kings of Rhythm Band.  He later played with George Jones and Merle Haggard and frequently traveled to country and jazz gigs overseas, according to a 1987 newspaper interview in the Gainesville Sun.

On any given Tuesday, you’ll see young hipsters, mature hippies and elderly hips swaying to a fusion of jazz and jazzed up rhythm and blues thrown in for good measure.  Seven of the audience members – the “Jet Set” they’re called – came to Seville after their regular place closed.  “We had to find a new place,” Donna Blackmon said.  “We came in one night, ate dinner and haven’t stopped coming yet.”  Three of the Jet Set regularly sing with the jazz session.  Singers Jo Mayo, Donna Blackmon and Juliette Moore are joined each week by Ronald and Sandra Preer and Stanley and Faye Carter.  The friends have the varying experience Rosaria likes.  How much exactly? “Good Lawd,” Moore said. “We can’t count that high,” Ronald Preer chimed in.

How high their experience went didn’t seem to faze Rosaria, as long as it landed at the place for jazz every Tuesday night.  “It’s just good quality music,” Rosaria insisted.

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