Miami Beach Jazz Fest and Its ‘Living Legends’

Written By Tracy Fields
October 14, 2017 at 7:59 PM

The Miami Beach Jazz Fest has attracted an impressive array of artists to South Florida in just its second year. The festival, which features a series of performances in the area as well as a student competition, culminates on Saturday, Jan. 10 with stars including Bucky Pizzarelli on guitar, bassist Rufus Reid and piano player Monty Alexander.

“The goal was to program a lineup that not only fits this year’s theme of ‘Living Legends of Jazz,’ but also stimulates and educates the audience,” explains the festival’s artistic director Markus Gottschlich, himself a noted jazz pianist and composer.

“Many of the artists, like Pizzarelli or Alexander, have been instrumental in shaping the genre as we know it today and are innovators and pioneers in a way. The thought of being able to bring such caliber of artists to Miami is only exceeded by the thought of having them perform together for the first time in their careers.”

Pizzarelli, who’s been performing since the 1950s, has played with the likes of big-band clarinetist Benny Goodman and Stephane Grappelli, a violinist renowned for his work with the legendary guitarist Django Reinhardt.

Reid’s most recent release, Quiet Pride, a tribute to the artist Elizabeth Catlett, has received two Grammy nominations. He’s also famous as Dexter Gordon’s bassist after the saxophonist’s return in the late 1970s from a European exile.

Alexander is a genre-hopping pianist born in Jamaica who, after coming to the United States in 1961, was accompanying Frank Sinatra and others while still in his twenties.

Also appearing on Saturday will be guitarist Ed Laub, who sings as well and is a former student of Pizzarelli’s. The vocalist Giacomo Gates was a blue-collar worker for years, including three spent on the Alaska Pipeline, before starting to perform publicly in 1990 at age 40.

Another of Saturday’s stars is the singer Aria Hendricks, daughter of Jon Hendricks, well known for mastery of the vocalise singing style he exhibited with groups such as Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. She first performed at age 3 with her father at the Village Gate in New York.

Representing South Florida is Uruguayan-born violinist Federico Britos, who’s also adept at performing classical music. He has performed with the likes of Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie and Nat King Cole.

The festival began last month with a lecture and performance by NEA Jazz Master Randy Weston at the Lyric Theater in Overtown.

“Not only does Randy exemplify this year’s theme perfectly, his appearance in Miami was the first visit after a 60-year hiatus. He performed in Overtown during its ‘golden age’ in the early 1950s,” said Gottschlich. He adds that those behind the young festival have big plans for it and are looking ahead.

Miami Beach Jazz is a year-round, not-for-profit operation dedicated to nurturing jazz musicians and audiences. In the coming months, the organization plans to welcome international students for a week of studies with festival artists.

There’s also an exchange program with an overseas festival where Gottschlich has performed. “This year’s partner festival — Saulkrasti Jazz Festival, Latvia — will host our student competition winners and in turn send theirs to Miami to perform at our next festival,” he says. Asked to say more about the 2016 fest, Gottschlich only adds,, “Without giving too much away, in terms of a theme, I can tell you that the doors will open to the world.”

The 2nd annual Miami Beach Jazz Fest takes place Saturday, Jan. 10 at 6:00 p.m., the New World Center, 500 17th St., Miami Beach; tickets range from $30 for students to $200 for VIP entry at the door;

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