The Betsy’s Overture to Overtown jazzes it up all month long
Pianist Tal Cohen is a regular in The Betsy Hotel’s jazz lineup and performs in its 11th annual Overture to Overtown Jazz Festival happening throughout the month of April. (Photo courtesy of the artist)
Daniel Asbury Mixon doesn’t just play the piano.
For him, it is a rhythmic exchange steeped in melodies and beats that bounce off his audience and reflect backs on his soul.
“It’s highly spiritual,” he says.
Of course, those who listen in are an essential part of the process.
“I want to take them somewhere else for a while and that’s what I love to do.”
The Harlem-based internationally recognized pianist plans to continue his mission by bringing his musical magic to The Betsy Hotel’s 11th Annual Overture to Overtown Jazz Festival in April.
Mixon, who is serving as The Betsy Hotel’s Artist-in-Residence, is looking forward to the event.
“I feel blessed. And this will be my third time so whatever I did the first time is working,” says Mixon. “I’m going to bring my best.”
This year the festival will feature an entire network of talented artists who will perform at participating venues including Lummus Park in Miami Beach, Hampton Art Lovers’ Ward Rooming House’ in Overtown and Barry University in Miami Shores as well as in The Betsy Hotel Lobby Salon.
Carole Ann Taylor, a jazz vocalist and the festival’s co-producer, said that the event has grown in the past decade.
“Every year we’ve expanded more and more,” she says.
Taylor performs with Mixon and his trio, along with vocalist Kaya Nicole, on Friday, April 21 at the Hampton Art Lovers (Historic Ward Rooming House), 249 NW 9th St., in Overtown. On Saturday, they’ll perform together in the Lobby Salon of The Betsy Hotel.
“This year we are actually having a performance on a daily basis. We’re also including other locations especially in Overtown, which is known as the ‘Harlem of the South,’ ” says Taylor. “And we are excited to work with a couple of venues in Overtown that will be included in our itinerary for the first time. We’re just joyous about the fabulous musicians that will be performing on a daily basis.”
Following a month-long tribute, the festival will wrap up with The Betsy’s International Jazz Day programs on April 30. Tal Cohen, a regular at The Betsy and an Australian/Israeli pianist who has Miami as his base will kick off the finale inside The Betsy at 11 a.m. Spoken word artist Rebecca “Butterfly” Vaughns opens for the Melton Mustafa, Jr. Quartet on the Ocean Drive Promenade in front of the hotel at 7 p.m., presented in partnership with the city of Miami Beach and Ocean Drive Association. The Edgar Pantoja Latin Jazz Trio rounds out the activities by playing until 11 p.m.
“It is, what I would call, a communion between Miami Beach and Overtown and the connections that they have had in the past with jazz musicians,” says Taylor.
In fact, it is the examination of the musical roots of this genre coupled with a closer look at its local flavor, that has helped to launch their event.
Deborah Briggs, the hotel’s vice-president of arts and community, and Jonathan Plutzik, who owns and operates The Betsy Hotel, recalls how it all began.
“Jonathan and I took a tour of Overtown about 10 years ago with some folks that were wanting to bring attention to the jazz history in Overtown,” says Briggs. “It was then that I really learned about the rich history of Overtown as it relates to jazz.”
She recalls that the hotel already had begun its jazz program. “So that first year, we brought in singers from Overtown. And three of them came in and stayed at The Betsy. We invited all sorts of students in the jazz programs at the colleges because we wanted to celebrate their stories and let them perform.”
Organizers also recognize how much Overtown has cemented its role in history since it was a well-known refuge for artists like Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne and Josephine Baker. At the time, Black musicians and artists were all affected by segregation laws that made it illegal for them to remain on Miami Beach after their performances.
VIDEO: Inspicio: Meet Jonathan Plutznik, the son of a poet
“It was a beautiful history between the communities of Miami Beach and Overtown but there were some realities as to why Overtown came about because Black musicians couldn’t sleep in Miami Beach,” said Briggs. “So we wanted to revisit it in a positive way.”
Their efforts have not been in vain.
“It has grown in the past 10 years from five performances to what it is this year, which is 48 performances, most of them on Miami Beach, but some of them in Overtown. And we’re sharing musicians back and forth,” says Briggs. “We’re revisiting that legacy and celebrating it.”
Mixon believes that the cultural and historical elements of the genre is something that should be passed on to future generations.
“United States of America needs to embrace this music and promote it for our children,” says Mixon. “Our children need to know about Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Count Basie, Frank Foster and the big bands: Art Blakely and the Jazz Messengers and Louis Armstrong. It’s very, very important that children know the history of this music. They don’t have to be a musician but they need to know that this music was born in the United States and that this is our music.”
Plutzik believes that the festival plays a part in passing on that tradition. He has seen firsthand how it has affected those who just happen to be in the immediate area.
“What I really revel in is watching the people who discover the concert by walking by,” says Plutzik. “And to see these young people of all ages, and all colors stopping and suddenly spending 45 minutes listening to people that if they had seen on a program I’m not sure they would have said, ‘Yeah I might go to that concert.’ Our hope is that people come in and discover it.
Visual arts are part of the multidisciplinary aspect of the Betsy’s 11th Annual Overture to Overtown. The Betsy Orb, a work of public art installed in the passageway between Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue, will display a projection curated by Miami’s collaboARTive. Art at The Betsy Orb will feature a visual montage of historic photographs and images of artwork by Overtown artists of today on Thursday, April 20, from 7 to 11 p.m.
WHAT: The Betsy Hotel’s 11th Annual Overture to Overtown Jazz Festival
WHERE: Various locations including the Betsy Hotel, 1440 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach
WHEN: Through the month of April, culminating on April 30
INFORMATION: For a full list of performances visit thebetsyhotel.com/overture-to-overtown