Emily Estefan fulfilled the promise of her first album, “Take Whatever You Want,” at her debut major concert Thursday night at the University of Miami Frost School of Music’s Festival Miami.
She earned the accolades before a sold-out house on the Coral Gables campus, which included her mother and father — pop stars Gloria and Emilio Estefan — and her grandmother, Gloria Fajardo, plus media and friends. She led her tight nine-piece band through pop, jazz, funk, Latin and R&B.
Here’s why she deserves all her props.
Call the Berklee-trained Estefan a one-woman Miami sound machine. As on her album, Estefan played drums, guitar and keyboards at various points through her set, augmented by her band’s two percussionists, backing vocalists and a horn section. The percussion arrangements were conceived so well it seemed the audio mix of drums and congas had an ear-pleasing surround sound effect.
Estefan’s stylistic reaches impress as she seems to have an encyclopedic understanding of a century’s worth of pop, jazz, R&B and Latin music. Convincing covers like Stevie Wonder’s ever-propulsive “I Wish” sat well with originals like her provocative opener “F#ck to Be,” the equality empowerment anthem “Take 5” and the seductive soft jazz of “Ask Me To.”
Remarkably, Estefan folds her myriad influences into her musical vocabulary and still sounds like no one other than Emily Estefan.
One of the concert’s highlights was Estefan’s smoldering take on the 1937 standard, “Where or When.” Estefan prefaced the familiar jazz tune by telling the audience of her connection to the music of the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s. “I listen to those arrangements where I hear the tight voicings on clarinets and I feel nostalgic.”
A fun tribute to women female artists, with Estefan pounding a set of drums center stage, featured the music of Janet Jackson, Alanis Morissette, Celia Cruz, Chaka Khan and even her mother’s first English language single, “Dr. Beat,” which had a proud Gloria Estefan, whom she called “Conga Queen,” dancing out of her seat.
A warm reading of Billie Holiday’s “Lady Sings the Blues” scored, too, seeming to emerge from a musician of far greater vintage as opposed to the young, chatty 22-year-old before us.
If anything revealed Estefan’s age and novice experience, it was the nervous chatter that dominated a bit too much. Understandable, an engaging Estefan still bantered with one too many “just kidding” quips and awkward stage patter between songs. This flaw, which is is common to newcomers who feel they must fill every moment on big stages, is perhaps the only trait the preternaturally gifted Estefan shares with other beginners.
Estefan, a willing student, will no doubt learn. No less a talent than the great Tony Bennett went through the same struggles in the first years of his career he wrote in his 2012 book, “Life Is a Gift: The Zen of Bennett.” (Harper; $28.99.)