Swiss-born Montreux brings its brand of jazz to Miami for the first time

Written By Helena Alonso Paisley
February 25, 2024 at 9:01 PM

Jon Batiste headlines two nights at the Montreux Jazz Festival Miami on Friday, March 1 and Saturday, March 2. On Sunday, March 3, Daryl Hall is the draw at The Hangar at Regatta Harbour in Coconut Grove. (Photo by David Needleman, courtesy of Montreaux Jazz Festival Miami)

For the first time in its history, Switzerland’s Montreux Jazz Festival, which has kept the summers on chilly Lake Geneva hot for nearly 60 years, is expanding to the subtropics. Montreux Jazz Festival Miami holds its inaugural event bayside in Coconut Grove from Friday, March 1 through Sunday, March 3, showcasing a lineup that speaks fluent “Miami” and is as eclectic as the original’s.

Held in The Hangar at Regatta Harbour, the performances will be a relatively intimate affair, with only 1,500 tickets sold per day. The hangar used to house Pan Am’s famous Flying Clippers, which thousands would flock to Dinner Key to watch take off and land in the waters of Biscayne Bay in the 1930s and ’40s. Made for storing seaplanes and repurposed for performances, art shows and the like by the Breakwater Hospitality Group, there will be seating only for VIP ticket holders at the jazz festival, with general admission guests standing.

Given the draw of headliners like jazz’s man-of-the-hour Jon Batiste, rocker Daryl Hall, Brazilian pop star Daniela Mercury or the legendary reggae group The Wailers, an audience of just 1,500 might seem downright cozy. Miami natives like multi-instrumentalist Emily Estefan and jazz chanteuse and MacArthur Genius Fellow Cécile McLorin Salvant will also be on hand to show off the area’s homegrown talent.

Cécile McLorin Salvant, a 34-year-old Miami native who has already taken her unique brand of jazz to all corners of the earth, returns home for Miami’s first edition of Montreux Jazz. McLorin Salvant performs Friday evening. (Photo by Karolis Kaminskas, courtesy of Montreux Jazz Festival Miami)

Estefan, who plays with her band on Sunday, is a true daughter of Miami. In a telephone interview, she called the move by Montreux as exciting for her home city as it is fitting for the festival’s evolution. “Miami is that kind of a city where so many different cultures and people come to fuse that it’s the perfect home for music, too, to be able to do that,” she says.

The original Montreux started small but mushroomed, spreading the gospel of great music to over 200,000 visitors a year. Estefan hopes for something similar for its new offshoot.

“The importance of these festivals moving around is to keep these seeds growing around the world,” she says. “I love the fact that music and art is malleable, and it changes and it grows and expands.” Her prediction for Montreux Miami? “It’s going to be the beginning of something big.”

With artists from many different styles on the bill, Montreux Miami, like its namesake, takes an expansive view of jazz that may have purists scratching their heads.

“Jazz is influenced by so many other genres,” explains Estefan, “but still comes together in the end, which is why we have a lineup like Cimafunk, Corey Henry, me, Daryl Hall, Jon Batiste, because we’re all connecting to jazz but in our unique way.”

Multi-percussionist and singer Emily Estefan, a true daughter of Miami’s eclectic music scene, performs with her band on Sunday. (Photo Aysia Marotta Styling, Gemeny Hernandez, courtesy of Montreux Jazz Festival Miami)

Cimafunk, who plays the festival on Saturday, comes to jazz through its African roots and through the funk it helped to birth. The singer is one of Cuba’s most joyous, raucous and imaginative exports in recent memory. In chunky sunglasses, a black crushed velvet shirt or a big fake fur coat, Cimafunk has the style of a 21st century Sly Stone. His sound owes more to Prince, James Brown or George Clinton (Clinton, one of Cima’s idols, recorded the song “Funk Aspirin” with him in 2021).

The artist’s name plays on different aspects of his musical heritage. Cima comes from “cimarron,” the Spanish term for those who escaped from slavery to form palenques, independent, hidden communities deep in the mountains of Cuba.

“All these people with different sounds and different rhythms, from all these different parts of Africa, were hiding in the mountains together,” says Cima. “It’s the base of the Afro-Cuban essence.”

The fusion of African cultures that explains Cuban music’s magnetic pull also happened here in the United States. It was from that mixing, he says, that funk eventually evolved, drinking from deep taproots in the blues, soul and jazz.

“I’m in love with the funk,” says Cima, a fact that locals who saw him perform at his own event, Cimafest, last December in Wynwood, can easily attest to. Cima’s all-Cuban band provides its star with a brilliant setting, including a female horn section and percussionists driving the distinctive funk beat. And their upcoming show at Montreux?

“It’s gonna be fire,” Cima says simply.

Afro-Cuban rockstar Cimafunk brings in the noise and brings in the funk on Saturday night. “It’s gonna be fire,” he promises. (Photo by Michael Weintrob, courtesy of
Montreux Jazz Festival Miami)

And while city fathers – and mothers – may have been seeing dollar signs when they heard of this world-class event making its second home in Miami, Cimafunk and the other artists I spoke to seemed more in tune with the spirit than with the wallet. Jazz, after all, has always had a place at the table for both the sacred and the profane.

“It’s going to be medicine for the heart and soul,” he says. “It’s going to be hours of groove just hitting you in the chest. It’s going to be really healing and it’s going to bring a lot of happiness.”

Like Cima, Estefan finds a special power in people uniting to experience live music together. “I mean it’s frequency vibration, right?” she says. “With multiple people playing multiple things and the frequencies uniting and then going to your ears in the audience, that just can’t be matched with, you know, playing a song over speaker.”

Aston Barrett Jr., bandleader for The Wailers, agrees. Barrett, who plays his father, Aston Barrett Sr., in the new film “Bob Marley: One Love,” spoke to me less than a week after his namesake passed away at 77. Side by side with Marley, “Family-Man” Barrett was one of the most important creators of reggae and an integral part of a group whose artistic output moved the entire world. Sunday’s concert at Montreux will be his first since his father’s death.

“The first show that we do with the band is going to be very emotional,” he says. “Before, I wanted to push so my father could see everything . . . now, he’s still going to see everything, just in the spiritual realm, you know?” And spirit is what The Wailers’ music is all about, Barrett says. He is intent on continuing the job his father and Marley started.

Aston Barrett, Jr., son of the late, great “Family-Man” Barrett, vows to carry on his father’s legacy in his performance with The Wailers on Sunday evening. (Photo courtesy of Montreux Jazz Festival Miami)

“Reggae music is the people’s music,” says Barrett. “It’s the music that brings peace to the Earth. Reggae music is for the soul reggae music is from the heaven . . . and Wailers music is the root of reggae music.”

Barrett Jr. says his father continued the legacy of the Wailers after Marley passed away from cancer at the age of 36  in 1981.

“(My father) taught me everything, and I don’t want it to die. I want to make sure it lives on forever,” he says. “I’m still doing my own legacy, but I respect my father so highly, and I will continue to preserve his legacy.”

The first Montreux Jazz Festival Miami is an important step on that journey and perhaps will create yet another legacy: having Miami gain recognition as a world-class destination for music lovers.

WHAT: Inaugural Montreux Jazz Festival Miami

WHEN: Doors open at 5 p.m., Friday,  March 1:  Jon Batiste, Cécile McLorin Salvant, Israel Houghton, Justin Kauflin and ELEW; 5 p.m., Saturday, March 2: Jon Batiste (second night added due to Seu Jorge cancellation) with Lia de Itamaracá, Daniela Mercury, Cimafunk, Adrian Cota & the Winston House Band; Doors open at 4:30 p.m., Sunday, March 3: Daryl Hall, The Wailers, Cory Henry, Emily Estefan and Mathis Picard.

WHERE: The Hangar at Regatta Harbour, 3385 Pan American Drive, Coconut Grove

COST: $199 per day, general admission, no seating, $259 general admission and jam session; $719 VIP, includes seating, jam session entry, and extras; three-day passes for general admission and VIP sold out; $99, jam session only (11 p.m. after the main show).

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