The band played "Come Fly with Me" and the audience was ready for takeoff. Over 350 jazz fans enjoyed a lively big-band concert and gorgeous spring weather on Saturday, April 9, in the Left Field Pavilion of Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota. The event, presented by the Jazz Club of Sarasota and the Orioles in their first-time teaming, easily lived up to its promotion.
Under a sunny evening sky and swaying palm trees, the sell-out crowd enjoyed a party atmosphere and ballpark food while listening to "The Music of Sinatra and Friends" played by the 17-piece Sarasota Jazz Project Big Band.
Tenor sax player George McLain, co-founder and director of the high-energy band, framed each song in a historical context, with a playlist that chronologically covered music from World War II through the end of the 20th century.
McLain and the sensational Miami-based jazz singer Lisanne Lyons enhanced the swinging instrumentals and jazz classics for the toe-tapping audience that listened and watched the glowing pink sunset. Lyons, a graduate of Sarasota High School, brought her talent and considerable experience as a vocalist with acclaimed bands. She joined the Air Force after high school and became featured vocalist for Air Force bands, later earning three degrees-a bachelor, master's and doctorate in music -from the University of Miami Frost School of Music while also being honored twice by DownBeat magazine. But it was her military experience that won the audience's heart on Saturday. Lyons, McLain and the band played a special "Armed Forces Salute" in tribute to the five branches of the service, inviting veterans of each service to stand and join in as their branch of the military was honored in song.
As night fell lights came on, and the weather cooled, the band warmed the audience with its hot jazz. Some fans danced while many couples cuddled, literally sitting cheek to cheek when the band played the song of that same name. A sliver of moon glowed in the dark sky while the band swung through its extensive repertoire, and it seemed that most people in the audience knew every song. Fans listened with rapt attention, swaying to such favorites as "In the Mood," "Our Love is Here to Stay," "All the Way" and the inimitable jazz classic "What's New?," by the late Bob Haggert, a longtime Sarasota resident and Jazz Club member.
The band played as a tight unit and there was a generous presentation of solos by the talented musicians, evoking cheers from listeners. McLain and Lyons ended the concert and brought the audience to its feet with a familiar Sinatra tune, "The Lady is a Tramp."
As they filed out, happy fans spoke of their pleasure in the event. Overheard: "Now that's what I call music!" and "It was great night." Some hoped for a repeat performance.
Jazz in the Ballpark hit a home run and its presenters borrowed a familiar baseball phrase: "Wait 'til next year!"