After 12 years, Jazz in the Gardens is still grooving and growing

Bobby Duffy, from Georgia, listens to the music at the11th annual Jazz in the Gardens Music Festival in Miami Gardens on Saturday, March 19, 2016.Matias Ocner

Tens of thousands of fans of smooth grooves, break beats and monumental melodies will make their way to Miami Gardens this weekend for the city’s 12th annual Jazz in the Gardens festival.

The event will be held just outside Hard Rock Stadium but will feature some standout neo-soul, jazz, R&B and hip-hop acts Saturday and Sunday while also showcasing local talent from the city.

Read More: 2017 Jazz in the Gardens Weekend Line Up

The festival was not a money maker in its early years but has continued to grow and gain acclaim and recent festivals have continued to bolster impressive lineups including iconic R&B artists and soul singers like Babyface, Usher, Patti Labelle and Mary J. Blige, hip-hop heavyweights like Run-DMC and younger stars like Janelle Monae and Trey Songz.

This year’s fest features The Roots, Jill Scott, LL Cool J with DJ Z-Trip, Robin Thicke, Herbie Hancock, Andra Day, Morris Day and the Time, Common, Chante Moore, Marion Meadows, Will Downing, Smokie Norful, Miami’s own Betty Wright and Esperanza Spalding.

Spalding, who toured for much of last year off her critically-acclaimed album Emily’s D+Evolution, said that she’s excited to bring some simple, “good vibes” to the festival stage. 

“What I’m bringing to the Gardens will be most closely associated with jazz,” Spalding said.

Esperanza Spalding performs as part of Jazz in the Gardens.

Her 2016 album saw Spalding, a Grammy Award-winning singer and standing bassist, experiment with funk and rock styles and take on the character Emily in elaborate and stylized performances. She said that she left the elements of that character in 2016 and she’s looking forward to jamming with guitarist Justin Tyson and guitarist Matthew Tyson.

“At that time, with what I was doing creatively, I needed to feel like I was a character to say what I needed to say and sing what I needed to sing,” Spalding said. “You’re going to hear me do what I think I’m best at which is singing and playing with a trio of phenomenal musicians.”

Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert said that he’s happy to see the festival continue to have a diverse lineup of genres and styles and thinks it’s representative of how the event has grown.

“Whatever you want, we will find a way to make you dance and get out of your seat,” Gilbert said.

This year the city is also hosting a two-day film, music and art conference at Florida International University’s Kovens Center, on the Thursday and Friday before the festival, featuring entertainment and technology professionals. 

Whatever you want, we will find a way to make you dance and get out of your seat. Mayor Oliver Gilbert

Gilbert said the conference, which includes partnerships with the Knight Foundation and Black Tech Week, was an attempt to bridge the gap between the two fields and make the event about more than the music. 

“We wanted to expand Jazz in the Gardens beyond just a place where you eat and a place where you listen to music but where you also get edified,” Gilbert said.

There will still be a chance to party before the festival though as the annual opening night party will happen 8 p.m. Friday night in the Hyundai Club of the stadium and feature A. Randolph and the Smash Room Project.

This year’s festival will also show love to some young, artistic residents and award winners from the city’s Norland Middle School.

Alex Hibbert and Jaden Piner, who both star as young versions of the main characters in the Academy Award-winning film Moonlight, will receive a key to the city at the festival. The city will also present a key to their drama teacher, Tanisha Cidel, who also has a role in the film.

Norland 8th grader Kaleen Thompson, 14, also had her artwork selected to be part of the festival this year. 

Kaleen Thompson, a 14-year-old 8th grader at Norland Middle in Miami Gardens holds her painting that was chosen to be on the cover of the Miami Herald’s Weekend Section.Courtesy of Suzan McDowell

And as with recent years the city will feature a collection of local talent looking to make their name on a much larger stage.

The success of Jazz in the Gardens has also inspired other events in the city like the Miami Gardens Wine and Food Experience and last summer’s International Music Festival, which featured African and Caribbean countries.

“It’s an exciting time for our community. I start getting excited in early March or late February,” Gilbert said.