Music

Review: Jazz at Koubek a sampler of some of Miami’s finest musicians

Written By Douglas Markowitz
May 17, 2023 at 8:59 PM

LaVie II performs at Jazz at Koubek at Miami-Dade College’s Koubek center on the second night of the three-night festival, which kicked off on Thursday, May 11. (Photo courtesy of Osmany Torres)

The audience hung on every note and every word that Dr. Ed Calle submitted from the stage. It was the second night of Jazz at Koubek at Miami-Dade College’s Koubek Center.

On Friday, May 12, it was like watching a masterclass in jazz excellence. Usually, Calle is a professor at MDC. But that night, he gave a lesson in jazz, drawing on his accomplished career as a musician for some of the greatest pop stars in Spanish and English. Between stylish cuts of smooth jazz driven by his powerful tenor and alto saxophone playing, he told plenty of bilingual anecdotes about recording for Frank Sinatra and getting Julio Iglesias to call his mother.

Latin Grammy Award Winner for Best Instrumental Album and five-time Grammy nominee, Dr. Ed Calle performs at Jazz at Koubek on Friday, May 12. (Photo courtesy of Osmany Torres)

“Isn’t this a beautiful place? I feel like I’m in my living room,” the musician said of the intimate theater, which holds no more than 200 people. Located in a historic Mediterranean-style mansion on SW 3rd Street and SW 27th Avenue, the performing arts center hosts a variety of events including theater, dance, and literary events. Now, they’re expanding into more musical programming with Jazz at Koubek, the multi-day festival featuring the best of Miami’s formidable local jazz scene.

“We wanted to do a bit of a sampler,” Melissa Messulam, general manager at the Koubek Center, says of the event, which is part of a pilot program and the center’s first program focusing on the genre. “Jazz in particular, for us we consider it a varied and vast genre.”

Messulam says the festival is part of a new direction in programming for the venue. The theater organized the festival in response to the dwindling number of live music venues in the county, intending to give Miami’s prodigious local jazz community a new platform to perform.

Grammy award winning jazz pianist, Tal Cohen, kicked off Jazz at Koubek on Thursday, May 11 with pianist Brandon Goldberg on the bill. (Photo courtesy of Osmany Torres)

“We saw during the pandemic how necessary local venues are for musicians,” says Koubek. “Yes, you can record, yes you can go on tour, but you also need a connection to your local community.”

The festival’s lineup is meant to reflect both the multiculturalism found in Miami, as well as give the Koubek’s local community in Little Havana a taste of the various flavors of jazz available here. The event kicked off on Thursday, May 11 with a piano showcase, displaying more classically-aligned jazz from Israeli pianist Tal Cohen and 17-year-old Brandon Goldberg. Closing night on Saturday, May 13, featured electric jazz from Lemon City Trio and experimental guitarist Lebos, a veteran of Spam All-Stars and Nu Deco Ensemble who played that night with his new band Abstract Citizen.

Friday night was designed as a “world” night. In addition to Latin jazz from Calle and his backing band, most of whom were originally from Venezuela, the night featured Haitian-American jazz vocalist LaVie. The singer, performing barefoot with a bold red updo hairstyle, ran through a series of impressive covers, ranging from standards like “Fly Me To The Moon” and Nina Simone’s “My Baby Just Cares For Me” to new pop classics like “Sweetest Taboo” from Sade and a Haitian compas-inflected take on Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop The Music.” LaVie captivated the crowd with a playful stage presence reminiscent of Janelle Monae, while her backing band delivered a hip-hop inflected style similar to Robert Glasper, the Roots, and other contemporary jazz.

Bassist Mikailo Kasha at Jazz at Koubek. (Photo courtesy of Osmany Torres)

That idea is central to the venue, which prioritizes its location in the heart of Little Havana. Upcoming events there include plenty of theater events, including Spanish-language children’s plays on Saturday, May 20 and Sunday, 21 and the International Hispanic Theater Festival in July. A showcase from the duo Brooklyn-Cumaná, which fuses folk music from Venezuela and the U.S., is also planned for June. There are also dance classes and studio space for artists, as well as a garden where children’s activities are hosted.

Events at the Koubek also tend to be less costly than concerts at larger venues. Fans of national acts are seeing ticket prices rise into the four-figure range thanks to a range of issues from scalpers snapping up first-run tickets to Ticketmaster’s “dynamic” demand-based pricing.

Lemon City Trio at Jazz at Koubek. (Photo courtesy of Bert Ochoa)

Meanwhile, tickets for Jazz at Koubek were listed at $15 for pre-sale and $20 at the door per night. That means attending all three nights would cost a mere $60 per person at its highest price. That’s comparable to a single night at a Ticketmaster venue like Revolution Live thanks to added fees. At Koubek one also receives the benefit of supporting local music, a priceless bonus, Messulam says.

“When you come out and support you’re not just supporting a venue, you’re supporting a local talent base,” she says.

Jazz at Koubek was held Thursday, May 11 through Saturday, May 13 at the Koubek Center, 2705 SW 3rd St., Miami. For information about upcoming events, call 305-237-7750 or koubekcenter.org.

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