The Southwest Florida music community rallied Sunday, April 15 to support pianist Michael Royal and his wife Julie. A three-and-a-half-hour jazz jam brought together more than 50 area musicians and scores more music fans who packed the Floribbean Restaurant & Lounge in downtown Sarasota.
Julie Royal was diagnosed with breast cancer, has had three surgeries and faces significant radiation and medication treatments. The estimated cost for all of this is into six figures and, as sometimes the case with musicians and their families, the Royals have been facing this with no health insurance.
The musicians participating were too numerous to list but a few notables included pianist Dick Hyman, saxophonists Jim Wellen and Rodney Rojas, bassists John Lamb and Don Dean, guitarist Larry Camp, drummer Dave Pruyn and singers Kat Heffner, Kitt Moran, Debbie Keeton, Lauren Mitchell and Melanie Massell. The youngest performer was 12-year-old Sarasota drum prodigy Kei Bland. Jazz broadcaster Bob Seymour of WUSF in Tampa also was on hand.
Drummer Al Hixon, bassist Mark Neuenschwander and Michael Royal formed the core rhythm section for the afternoon, though the sitting in created a lot of personnel variations on the bandstand throughout the event. At least a half-dozen musicians stopped by with support the event but had to dash off t o their own gigs before they could perform at Floribbean.
“There is a lot of love in this room today,” Michael Royal told the crowd. “Everybody is here to play today. This has been beyond my wildest dreams.”
He was self-taught until studying formally with pianist Jacques Abram at the University of South Florida. Under the influences of Debussy, Ravel, Coltrane, Monk, and Bill Evans, his music continues to evolve into a mature simplicity – expressive, sensitive, and eloquent.
Royal, a fixture on the Florida jazz scene, has performed extensively throughout North America, Europe and Asia. He has collaborated through the years with Red Rodney, Mel Lewis, Clifford Jordan, George Garzone, Junnieh Booth, John La Porta, the Count Basie Orchestra, Larry Coryell, Emily Remler, Ira Sullivan and Mark Murphy, among others.
Al Hixon and South County Jazz Club president Morrie Trumble worked tirelessly to organize the April 15 event. If you were unable to attend, it’s not too late to help the cause.
Checks should be made out to Michael Royal, and mailed to:
c/o South County Jazz Club
1435 East Venice Ave #104-172
The Jazz Club of Sarasota is also planning another fundraiser on May 11 as part of its Jazz at 2 performance series.