A Local musician hoping to open a Jazz museum

Published: Jul. 28, 2022 at 9:31 PM CDT
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PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) -If you’ve lived in the panhandle for any length of time, chances are you’ve heard Suzanne Stewart perform.

“A lot of theater shows, a lot of playing gigs, I’ve had bands, I’ve played at Newby’s I used to play at Ruthie T’s,” said Stewart.

Now you can catch her at the shrimp boat in St. Andrews or on Facebook live. While she loves all styles of music she’s a little partial to one particular genre.

“My favorite is jazz,” said Stewart. “I listened to everybody. Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Anita O’Day, Peggy Lee, all the greats.

Her love for music carried over into the military.

“I was in the Army band,” said Stewart. “I sang for the Army jazz bands and rock bands. I played flute and piccolo in the big Army band.”

She’s shared her talents with the likes of President George H.W. Bush, Colin Powell, George Schultz and even Clint Eastwood.

“After we played for Clint Eastwood we go down there and we say we want to meet him,” said Stewart. “We go over to him and he says, ‘Were you in that band up there?’ We said yes. He says. ‘you guys made my day.’ We nearly fell out.”

For the last few years, Stewart has played with an idea that could be music to jazz lovers ears.

“There is no jazz museum in Florida,” said Stewart.

But not just any ole jazz museum. One where local jazz musicians can come toot their own horn so to speak.

“We’ve got a surprising amount of notable jazz aficionados and players in the state of Florida,” said Stewart. “One being Ray Charles. He grew up in Greenville, Florida and went to the St. Augustine school for the blind. Arturo Sandoval in South Florida in Miami, a Latin jazz player and trumpeter. Buddy DeFranco. He lived in Panama City. He and his wife lived here. He lived here until he passed away. "

Defranco even led the famed Glen Miller band for nearly a decade. But he’s not the only one who called Bay County home.

“We had Danny Knowles. He went to Bay High he was born here,” said Stewart. “He had a very famous club down in Key West called Captain Horn blowers and he opened one up here for a while over on Grace Avenue and brought in some fabulous jazz players.”

Our area still has fabulous jazz players who make beautiful music all over town. “You’ve got Chris Godber, Luke Penegar, Jason Bennett, You’ve got Joe Fucci,” said Stewart. “And a lot more.”

Right now the jazz museum is in the planning stages.

“We have rented Roberts Hall on the third Wednesday of the month and we’ll do something there like fundraisers,” said Stewart. They have said we could put about 5 exhibits upstairs where the stage is.”

The first event Stewart is planning for Robert’s Hall, which is in Lynn Haven, is a meet and greet set for the third Wednesday in September.

Stewart said right now what she needs most are artifacts. “The artifacts I have so far are record covers,” said Stewart. “This one has Steve Gilmore an upright bass player who played with Phil Woods who was an extremely notable jazz saxophone player. Gilmore still lives here. He’s kind of in charge of the jazz society.”

In the future, the hope is to unveil the museum in the downtown Panama City Arts District.

“I think that it would be a huge draw.. a bigger draw than people realize,” said Stewart.

If you have some jazz memorabilia or are interested in helping with this project you can call Suzanne Stewart at 850-771-8795.

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