If you’re like most music fans, a typical happy hour band featuring keyboards, sax, upright bass and drums throwing down some funky, bluesy grooves – or a festival that bunches “jazz” with more mainstream styles – might qualify as a satisfying sonic experience.
But for true jazz aficionados, that’s not good enough.
Jazz lovers long for the real deal, performers who have mastered odd time signatures, unconventional scales and the art of improvisation, musicians whose skill and playful unpredictability frequently blow their fans’ – and peers’ – minds.
Well, jazz fans, feel free to “take five” from your misery, because your dream event has arrived in the form of the third-annual Miami Beach Jazz Festival, a week of master classes and elite performances that culminates with a grand finale concert Saturday night at the Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts in Miami.
Past performers have included highly respected names such as Michelle Coltrane, Bucky Pizzarelli, Monty Alexander, Rufus Reid, Giacomo Gates, Aria Hendricks and Federico Britos. And this year’s lineup continues the trend of excellence.
“The theme this year is ‘A World of Jazz,’ and we’re bringing in artists from around the world,” says event founder and producer Carmen J. Cartiglia. “We have a band called Sinkope, which was the winner of the Latvian Jazz Festival last year – we have a relationship with them where we send our winners of our contests to their festivals and they reciprocate. We also have Joe Carter, a Brazilian jazz guitarist, and Daniel Zamir from Tel Aviv, and he is an extremely, extremely talented sax player. And we have Markus Gottschlich, who is from Latvia, but he lives here now in Miami. So we’ve got a pretty packed lineup.
“We’re pretty excited,” he continued. “This started out as a grass-roots effort a couple of years ago, and it’s growing and has developed into a very stable annual event.”
Keeping a festival “all jazz” isn’t as easy as it should be, Cartiglia says.
“Jazz is a hard sell,” he explains. “Unfortunately, what happens is, you try to put on a jazz festival, and a lot of times people incorporate blues players and maybe some soul and other different artists, but not true jazz artists. And they do it because financially it’s a sound move, but artistically it dilutes the pool and it dilutes the jazz.”
Not this time. The Joe Carter Trio showcases the guitarist’s “Samba Jazz,” a style that combines the improvisational nature of North American Jazz with the lyrical and rhythmical aspects of Brazilian bossa nova, samba, 19th-century choro and MPB (Brazilian pop); Sinkope is the winner of the Baltic Drummer’s League 2015 competition; and the Markus Gottschlich Trio, led by the Austrian-American pianist and composer, has taken Florida by storm with three-time Grammy winner Jose Javier Freire on drums from Puerto Rico and two-time Latin Grammy winner Rodner Padilla on bass from Venezuela.
The headliner, the Daniel Zamir Quartet, features one of the most influential musicians in Israel, a virtuoso sax player and composer who fuses together Jewish folklore and modern jazz, mixed with ethnic and world music elements.
A protege of renowned musician John Zorn, Zamir has released 10 albums including 2006’s “Amen,” which is the best-selling jazz album in Israeli history. He has also performed with good friend and reggae superstar Matisyahu on his world tours as well as, oh yeah, none other than Sting.
“It’s a very exciting show, very energetic,” Zamir says of his performances. “Not what you expect from a late-night jazz show at a small club. It has the energy of a rock ‘n’ roll concert – we fuse elements of Jewish music with hot boiling improvisations that are derived from jazz to a mixture that’s very unique.”
Zamir says that those unfamiliar with Jewish jazz are in for a treat.
“Israeli jazz is world famous for its uniqueness and very high quality,” he says. “There’s a large group of Israeli jazz musicians that are considered to be at the frontier of jazz today and among the best jazz musicians in the world, enabling us to make jazz very communicative and accessible as we fuse together many styles of music to create something new.”
Zamir certainly helped fuse something new with his performances with both Matisyahu and Sting, former bassist and frontman for the legendary British new-wave/reggae/rock band The Police.
“I was playing with Matisyahu as the opening act to Sting’s show at the Ramat Gan stadium in Israel,” Zamir recounts as to how he wound up playing with Sting. “We were talking, and found out we had a lot in common and that we have a great connection. It was amazing. Sting is a true legend and an unbelievable performer. He’s a true master.”
Of course, working with such a massive international superstar had its challenges.
“You really have to be very focused, as there’s no real room for any mistakes,” says Zamir, “and still you have to be exciting and try to play out the best in your music.”
Jazz fans might have noticed a recent resurgence in the popularity of the genre. But to Zamir, it’s never really gone out of style.
“I think jazz doesn’t need to revive because it’s always alive,” he explains. “That’s the beauty of this music – It keeps developing and changing and growing and fusing all sorts of musical elements in it, so it’s actually very much alive and new all the time.”