Arts + Culture

Where to Find the Best Jazz in Southwest Florida

Good jazz is here—you just have to look for it.

BY December 28, 2016


If you go see the Dan Miller–Lew Del Gatto quartet at the Barrel Room in Fort Myers, the first thing you’ll notice is that no one in the audience is talking or clinking silverware. They’re all watching the jazz quartet, smiling, and maybe bobbing a knee up and down. Correction: The first thing you’ll notice is the great music pouring out of this foursome. Then you’ll notice that this is a real jazz crowd, here to listen to top-notch music, not to kibbitz or look at their phones. The acoustics are sterling, there’s no cover charge, and people (the musicians and the audience) are having a great time.

The band has been playing in this cozy, dedicated music space each Thursday night since June, and will continue through May. Trumpeter Dan Miller (his résumé includes tours with Harry Connick Jr. and Maynard Ferguson; Del Gatto played in the Saturday Night Live band for more than two decades) is grateful for the crowds. “People have responded incredibly,” he says. “I think when people are presented with pure jazz, in a place where we’re able to play with high energy, they have a voracious appetite for it.”

The Barrel Room, adjacent to the Twisted Vine at 2214 Bay St., has been a great addition to the pure jazz scene in Southwest Florida, whose choices—while high in quality—can seem low in number at first glance, when compared to other cities. But if you do a little digging, it turns out that it’s not so difficult to find enough top-shelf jazz in Southwest Florida to soothe your soul.

Fort Myers has another dedicated jazz venue: the Roadhouse Café at 15660 San Carlos Blvd., which offers a different live jazz band every night, Tuesday through Sunday.

In Naples, it’s more a matter of making room for jazz on the calendars of full-service entertainment venues, hotels or restaurants. At Off The Hook Comedy Club, Bob Zottola’s Jazz Simpatico plays each Sunday, 4:30-7 p.m. Zottola has performed in the orchestras of many Broadway shows and played with such standouts as Frank Sinatra and Dizzy Gillespie.

If you stop into The Ritz-Carlton, Naples on Vanderbilt Beach Road for a quiet drink in its Bite’s lounge, the music may sneak up on you. It may take you a couple of minutes until you stop mid-sentence, hold up a palm and ask your friend, “Who’s playing?” If it’s a Friday night, it’s the excellent Jerry Stawski Trio. Their rich tunes will make you happily forget what you were saying. Stawski, a pianist and vocalist who also plays with the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra, would be comfortable playing in the finest clubs. Lucky you can hear the group for the price of a martini. On Saturday nights, hear them at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples.And don’t worry: If you get your nights mixed up, you’ll still hear great music. Guy Fasciani and his trio play at The Ritz golf resort Friday nights, and Saturday nights at the beach location.

Need some jazz to usher you into Sunday morning? Stu Shelton’s mellow and melodic trio accompanies the brunch at The Wine Loft in Mercato. To hear him on Thursday nights, have dinner at Agave Bar and Grill on Vanderbilt Beach Road.

If you prefer a more formal setting, head to Artis—Naples to hear the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra, a sextet with a bigger, brassier sound than some of the trios and quartets. Now in its seventh season, the group brings in leading guest players from around the country. They’ll perform eight nights this season, for two shows per night. If you’re a Naples Philharmonic fan, you may recognize concertmaster Glenn Basham and bassist Kevin Mauldin, who not only play in the orchestra but also, like Stawski, moonlight as jazz players.

And then there are the outdoor venues, where Mother Nature provides the ambiance. Naples Botanical Garden hosts Jazz in the Garden one Sunday afternoon a month, starting Jan. 8 and running through April. Cambier Park also becomes an al fresco jazz club on select Sunday afternoons. The Gulf Coast Big Band plays monthly concerts at 2 p.m. through April. This nonprofit group, playing the likes of Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie, has awarded more than $80,000 in youth music scholarships to Collier County students. The Naples Dixieland Jazz Band, which will transport you back to the 1920s, plays Sundays once a month at 2, throughout the winter.

So if you’ve been under the impression that the best jazz in town is in your own music collection, put down your headphones and head out. There are some terrific local musicians eager to perform.


Save the Date

Mark the calendar for these upcoming jazz performances.

Gulf Coast Big Band 
Cambier Park, 2 p.m.; free
Jan. 22, Feb. 26, March 19, April 9

Jazz in the Garden
Naples Botanical Garden, 2 p.m.; free with garden admission
Jan. 8, Feb. 12, March 12, April 9

Naples Dixieland Jazz Band
Cambier Park, 2 p.m.; free, by donation
Jan. 8, Feb. 5, March 12, April 9, April 30  

Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra
Artis—Naples; ticket prices vary
Jan. 4 Martin Taylor, guitar
Feb. 15 George Young, saxophone
March 8 Benjamin Schmid, violin
April 5 Eric Alexander, saxophone


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