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Published: Thursday, 1/3/2008

Miami jazz artist takes a working vacation in Toledo


Jeff Zavac is one of the hardest-working musicians in Miami.

So what does he do when he takes a vacation and visits friends and relatives in his hometown of Toledo? He plays more music, of course.

The jazz artist, who can play tenor and baritone saxophone, piano, clarinet, and flute, will be in concert tomorrow night at Murphy's Place, backed by bassist Clifford Murphy, pianist Claude Black, and drummer Renell Gonsalves.

"There's just nothing more exciting than playing with The Murphys," Zavac said in an interview this week. "They're just the best musicians I've ever had the opportunity to play with."

The 1972 graduate of St. John's Jesuit High School left Toledo to earn a bachelor's degree in music education and jazz performance from the University of Cincinnati's Conservatory of Music and then a master's degree in jazz performance from the University of Miami.

In Miami, he teaches jazz history at Miami-Dade Community College, performs regularly at a German restaurant called Heidi's Gashouse (playing jazz on Thursdays and Sundays and German music on Fridays and Saturdays), and also plays piano for people with Alzheimer's at the local Jewish Home for the Aged.

Zavac has been featured on three recordings, the most recent titled "Instrumental Magic," on TK Records. It features Zavac and a number of Miami-area musicians performing songs by Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, and Jose Feliciano.

The album was the brainchild of Henry Stone, a veteran record label owner who lost his sight a few years ago. Like Stone and the artists whose music is featured on the CD, Zavac is blind. Proceeds from sales of the disc go to the nonprofit Miami Lighthouse for the Blind.

"It's been my greatest blessing not to be able to see," Zavac, 53, said. "I had to work a lot harder, and I was very fortunate I had parents who pushed for me to be educated in the public schools."

He started studying the saxophone when he was in fourth grade, and credits local jazz artist and educator Gene Parker with giving him a solid foundation in jazz.

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