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Seymour Signs Off, Having Changed Tampa Bay Area Jazz Scene

Daylina Miller
WUSF Public Media
Jazz Director Bob Seymour retires this week after 35 years at WUSF.

  During his final Saturday Night Jazz broadcast on WUSF 89.7, Bob Seymour took us back to his small Illinois hometown.

“For me it was one of the first ‘grown-up’ records I ever owned,” the 66-year-old Seymour said, describing a scratchy old LP of J.J. Johnson’s “Satin Doll.”

This time, however, Seymour shared a pristine Mosaic reissue with radio listeners, but not before telling everyone exactly who was part of the jazz trombonist’s classic piece.

The introduction - with that voice, introducing those rhythms – have become synonymous to Tampa Bay area radio listeners over the years. That is until Thursday, which marks Bob Seymour’s final broadcast on WUSF.

Since arriving at WUSF in 1981, Seymour has introduced WUSF listeners to the world's most famous jazz musicians - from Ella Fitzgerald to Christian McBride.

“He’s among the best teachers of jazz. When you listen, have a chance to listen on a nightly basis, there is probably more in that brain than he’s parceling out,” said Steve Huntington, a longtime friend and radio professional who hired Seymour at a Sarasota rock station in the 1970s.

“He says just the right thing and mentions just the right side players, the release and what year.”

But what many listeners don’t realize is that WUSF’s jazz director may have had a bigger impact on the generations of jazz musicians living in Sarasota, Tampa and parts in between. Night after night, year after year, Seymour has made sure that WUSF plays the music of local artists, invites them in house for live performances and conversations, and mentions when and where they will be playing around town.

“People often think music is only these national acts that come through with some big tour. And honestly – that’s the least part of music that I care about,” said Paul Wilborn, executive director of the Palladium Theater in St. Petersburg and a longtime friend. 

“You’re not a cultural destination until your own musicians are recognized and are successful.  And Bob’s been a big part of building up a real jazz scene here so our own local guys are recognized.”

Earlier this month, on a rainy Sunday evening, hundreds of local musicians, friends and fans packed the Side Door club at the Palladium in honor of Bob Seymour, who also is president of The Tampa Jazz Club.

The jam session lasted three hours.

“The musicians always know when Bob is in the house,” said Wilborn. “I don’t know if they play better but I know they are on their game when Bob’s in the house.”

Tampa jazz Vocalist Denise Moore was among those participating in the jazz session. She describes Seymour as a friend, a neighbor and a big reason why the Tampa Bay is a ‘jewel’ for jazz.

As jazz director at WUSF, Bob has created a place where local artists are celebrated on the radio, and on live on stage, she said.

“He supports us. He comes to our gigs. He comes to the local CD release parties,” she said. “And it’s lovely when Bob introduces one of your CDS.”

Huntington said when Seymour “caught the all-time career break,” and came to WUSF three decades ago, his real passion for jazz started to shine.

“It is a treasure. There are cities larger and oh – say more cosmopolitan than Tampa St. Pete across the land that don’t have anything close to what we have in jazz programming, thanks to Bob,” Huntington said.

His work is rooted in a love for all kinds of music, Wilborn said. He’s always out at local live venues, and often the last to leave, he said.

“He wants to hear every song,” he said. “And that I think is a real love of music and I think that beyond everything else, you’ve got to have that passion. And he really has that passion.”

That passion won’t be translating to the WUSF airwaves much longer for listeners of All Night Jazz.

But the musicians in the local jazz scene better be ready and on their game. Who knows, ‘Bob’ may be in the house.

I’m the lucky one who guides the WUSF News team as it shares news from across Florida and the 13 amazing counties that we call the greater Tampa Bay region.
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