ST. PETERSBURG, FL — The James Suggs Trio went from playing jazz every Sunday for packed crowds to almost seven months of pandemic uncertainty with canceled gigs in 2020 as they wondered, "When will we get to play again?"
"Musicians always face challenges, but the pandemic obviously added more," James Suggs, a jazz trumpeter for 31 years, told Patch. "When it began, I can remember feeling as if I had lost my purpose. I couldn't express myself anymore. I didn't really want to practice because there seemed like there was no need."
Pre-pandemic, the original trio included Suggs, pianist Jeremy Douglas and drummer Sandi Grecco. For a couple of years, the three musicians would play instrumental and vocal jazz standards, classic jazz, blues and funk for two hours every Sunday afternoon at The Independent, 1049 Central Ave. in St. Petersburg. However, their live-music routine was interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic when businesses were forced to close in Florida during Phase 1.
"It made me feel sad, and it felt weird to be anywhere those Sundays instead of being there," Grecco said. "I missed playing the music."
Musicians across Tampa Bay experienced a whirlwind of emotions in 2020 as so many were without work as they waited for bars to reopen. For some, this was how they made a living, and for others, like Suggs, it was an emotional outlet.
In September, when Gov. Ron DeSantis lifted statewide restrictions on bars and restaurants, The Independent reopened its doors, but the trio, out of an abundance of caution, waited. They reunited with some changes during the second week of November at the bar.
"Our original pianist didn't feel comfortable playing in public, so I called Mark Moultrup to play and sing," Suggs said. "Also the Independent made changes to the actual bar in order to comply with social distancing guidelines. There is less indoor seating and more outdoor seating."
Although the group is happy to be playing again every Sunday, Suggs said he misses so many people who were mainstays in their gigging environment, and he misses hugging friends at gigs and being able to interact more. He understands that a lot of supporters don't feel comfortable being at the shows.
Grecco said getting back into the groove was tough, but necessary. The lost months of 2020 was the longest she'd gone without playing drums in more than her 35 years of playing. She is grateful to be back at The Independent playing with whom she considers stellar musicians.
The city of St. Petersburg blockaded the parking spaces outside The Independent for more outdoor space. Copa, which is next door to the venue, started sponsoring the trio to perform for three hours instead of two. You can catch live jazz music from the group on any Sunday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at The Independent.
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