Thursday, January 18, 2018

Black Husband and Wife
Team Making 'B Sharps Jazz
Club' The Go to Spot in the

-- Black couple has transformed a historic landmark into a
nationwide 'fraternity' for up and coming  jazz musicians  --

By Geraldine H. Seay, Ph.D.

Gerri and her husband Clarence Seay and B Sharps Jazz Club

B Sharps Jazz Society created B Sharps Jazz Club. The club is
the physical manifestation of talent and scholarship. It is the
offspring of Clarence and Gerri Seay. It is the nexus where young
bloods become professionals and seasoned troopers come to play
in an atmosphere of joy. B sharps is the Jazz Club everyone –
audience and talent alike- seeks to be because B Sharps loves
the musicians, the music and the joy they bring. B sharps is in the
little college town of Tallahassee, Florida which is a locale that
creates the next generation of Jazz Musicians through Florida
State and Florida A&M Universities. It is a place where they can
learn, grow, and make mistakes while still finding their own voice.
And, we get to watch them blossom over those years of undergrad
and graduate school. As they move on into the world, they begin
careers that are magnificent in their determination to make Jazz
live again. We are quickly becoming #BSharpsNation as our Jazz
sons and daughters leave here and find their way throughout the
world. We are connected to them because we are a part of their
love for the music; and, the club is where they “grew up.” B Sharps
is Ten Years Old in January.

In 1997 when I moved to Tallahassee to take an Associate
professorship at Florida A&M University’s School of Business, I
was coming from an east coast area that had many Jazz Clubs.
After all, I am married to Clarence Seay, a premier Jazz Bass
Player whose career spans four decades and whose list of bands
is not just impressive, but monumental. He played with Lou
Donaldson, Chico Freeman, Art Blakey, Horace Silver, Billy
Harper, Wallace Roney, Cindy Blackmon, Geri Allen, and Sara
Morrow. He played in the Count Basie Orchestra, The Duke
Ellington Orchestra, The Smithsonian Master Works Orchestra,
and the Richmond Based Great American Music Orchestra. He
has traveled to Africa and India, Pakistan and Qatar with the
Department of State on an eight-week tour. He has been to Poland
more times than can be counted. He knows folks in France,
Germany, and South America. Thirty years of playing at the
Vanguard, Seventh Avenue South and Yoshi’s and The Jazz
Showcase. . . He grew up in Washington DC clubs, Pig Foot and
Mr. Y’s, and One Step Down all the backbone of the Jazz Scene in
DC where a young musician could earn a reputation and develop
his chops by playing with the old cats.  So of course, coming to
Tallahassee, which had no Jazz Scene, was a hardship for us.

One thing I learned as Clarence’s Plus-One over these thirty years
was how good Jazz clubs operated and what they contributed to
the communities where they were located. Moreover, I learned and
I believed I could do the same thing. I began to look for a location
in Tallahassee.  A location that had at its heart the good bones of
an acoustic room.(Amplification ruins many music performances.)
Alas, I found that space in an old, mostly-abandoned building
located in the “colored” part of the city: Frenchtown.

I was able to buy the building, restore it and have it listed on the
National Register. (After all, I am a professor, so there had to be a
research component I could perform.) It turned out that the
building was a part of the American Baptist Home Missionary
Society Movement, which dated back to the 1870s in the south. An
organization dedicated to helping the newly freed slaves become
literate families, literate citizens. Women were a central part of this
organization’s Bible Band Movement and these women were
central to raising money to support their churches. This money-
raising unit called themselves the Womans[Sic] Working Band,
and this building was a part of their efforts to take care of their
community. The building,originally, was an old folk’s home; then,
in the 1930s, a WPA day care center; finally, when we purchased
the building, it was the African American, “Sneed Franklin
American Legion Post 205.” The building was the perfect
combination of Clarence and me. It’s officially, “The Womans
Working Band House, 1921.”

The performances during these ten years have been breath
taking. Student performances have been without a doubt the most
important activity in the club. The beginnings of what would
become Grammy nominated CDs happened right in the club. It is
THE most magical experience to be in the midst of this kind of
young talent. We have a group of them coming in for the month
long celebration of TEN YEARS. WE cannot wait to see them.
Their numbers have grown to the point where if someone needs
something in San Francisco, and they post on FB, I can reach out
to a B Sharper in that area and ask them to help. Or, I can refer a  
B Sharp entrepreneur in Miami to a former SBI student for a
synthesis of both their talents. We are #BSharpsNation now.

Over these years, Professional Performers and some longtime
friends have been to the club for stellar performances that one just
could not find anywhere else. Rene Marie, Steve Wilson, Wallace
Roney Quartet, Lou Donaldson are just a few. Sara Marrow and
Dr. John even did a benefit performance for us. Cyrus Chestnut
came through for my Birthday celebration. Just writing about
these folks gives me chills because what happens in B Sharps
Never happens in large auditoriums. We are fifty seats of pure
experience and once you hear the music in this club, no other
music experience can be the same. Indeed, The Atlanta Journal
Constitution, just this year, named B Sharps Jazz Club one of the
Five Places in all of Florida to hear music. Wow!  Not bad for a
Ten-Year-Old. Finally, we have met the most incredible patrons
through the club. We have a very solid base of supporters who
continue to make performances possible.

We want our club to be that place where young musicians can
develop and the community can gather to witness their growth. We
want a place where seasoned musicians can come and be treated
with respect and admiration for all that they have done. We want a
place where all ages, races, genders and economic levels can
meet on an equal footing. Jazz makes that possible, and we are
happy and thankful to be able to provide such a place where these
things happen.

Bright Moments

You can check out B Sharps Jazz Club online at:
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