Monday, February 8, 2010

Music feature: Mustafa Jazz Festival readies for 14th annual event

Jazz trumpet legend Melton Mustafa.

By C.B. Hanif

Not equal are those who know and those who do not know about the annual Melton Mustafa Jazz Festival. Those in the know aren’t better than anyone else, of course, but they’re likely to share some more artful vibrations Friday and Saturday.

That’s when the 14th annual festival swings forth at the Lou Rawls Performing Arts Theater on the campus of Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens. The long-running event perennially features internationally renowned artists led by Mustafa, Florida Memorial’s director of jazz studies — and himself a gifted trumpeter, arranger, composer, producer and bandleader.

This pure jazz event is simultaneously a treasured South Florida institution and one of our area’s best-kept secrets — even as it draws attention from as far away as Russia.

What sets it apart for many regulars is the performances by middle school, high school and college jazz bands that precede the culminating Saturday concert by the master artists.

Among those master musicians through the years have been many with whom the humble, unassuming Mustafa performed as a member of the Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Woody Herman Orchestras, or headliners with whom he has played at various international jazz festivals.

They include some of the most sought-after in the world: Clark Terry, Bobby Watson, Nathan Davis, Billy Cobham, George Cables, Jon Faddis, Benny Golson, Ralph MacDonald, Idris Muhammad, Kenny Drew Jr., Curtis Lundy, Randy Brecker, Patrice Rushen, Nestor Torres, Abraham Laboriel, Billy Taylor.

Some, such as James Moody and the late Grover Washington Jr., have been noted music educators themselves, and recipients of Florida Memorial honorary doctoral degrees.

“These are among the greatest jazz musicians in the world, barring none, and they have been gracious enough to assist us to help promote our jazz heritage,” Mustafa said regarding “the first art form to develop in America.”

The 2010 festival brings yet another lineup of artists known among those who know: legendary trumpeter/composer Charles Tolliver, drummer Victor Lewis, pianist Edward Simon, bassist Ed Howard, saxman Jesse Jones Jr.

“These people are icons as far as I’m concerned, the last of a breed of jazz musicians that we must take advantage of while they’re here," Mustafa said.

As always, then, a highlight for the aspiring students is the Friday master workshops, during which they and participating band directors soak up acumen from jazz’s greatest names.

Interested individuals also can register to participate in the workshops. For other fans who have longed to get an ear in, Mustafa announced a new riff as he headed to teach a jazz theory class: The sessions will be streamed live online by The Global Jazz Network, “to promote jazz education and help get what we’re doing here exposed internationally.”

Together, the students and masters have made South Florida’s singular pure jazz concert a veritable musical smorgasbord. Afro-Cuban masters have shared the stage with Russian jazz artists who sound as if they grew up in the jazz clubs of New York or the West Coast. Ellington and Sinatraesque standards have found new nuances with jazzy steel drums.

Some of the young players at a recent Mustafa festival.
(Photo courtesy Melton Mustafa)

Yet it’s mainly to cheer on the kids that some fans — not only parents — seem to come out for each year’s Saturday concert.

Among this year’s announced student groups are the Dillard Performing Arts High School Jazz band, Broward College Jazz Ensemble, Michael M. Krop Senior High School Jazz Band and, as always, the Florida Memorial University Presidential Jazz Band, led by Mustafa.

The kids will get to strut their stuff onstage, to the crowd’s enthusiastic support, then sit back to watch the masters at work. Afterward the students often get to join audience members in chatting up the legends, perhaps picking up further tips.

Another feature that fans appreciate is the diversity of ethnic groups and eight-to-80s age range that contribute to the concert’s unique atmosphere.

It’s always an eclectic social scene at the sparkling and comfortable performance venue, with hip-hop jazz kids sharing space with forever-hip music veterans.

One might see young spouses holding hands, eyes closed, as exquisite sound fills the hall. Or a dignified elderly couple smiling at each other, perhaps at a shared memory evoked by a musician’s joke.

It’s where proud parents may hear an admirer’s congratulations during intermission: “That was your daughter playing that sax?”, or “your son working that upright bass?”

It’s that occasion when at least once a year one can count on catching up with a friend. Where one might hear a pleasantly surprised acquaintance proclaim, “Hey, I didn’t know you were into the music!” — and the response, “I’m into all good music.”

It is a perfect atmosphere for those who like to step out in their finest, just to be seen — or casual and laid-back to better enjoy the scene.

It’s all a testament to the ability of music, particularly this music, to bring people together and let each one swing, in his or her own improvisational way. To the long list that includes Wynton Marsalis, Art Blakey and others who have worked for the preservation and perpetuation of jazz music, add Mustafa — and some of the countless kids he, his guests and their audiences have inspired.

The mega performing-arts centers may feature the latest sensation. The lasting and the new continue to emanate from this remarkable South Florida event that is approaching the midpoint of its second decade.

As fans depart it each year, for home, for a cup of coffee or elsewhere to savor the evening, they can count on carrying a treasured, lasting vibration from that shared freedom space.

C.B. Hanif is a South Florida-based writer, editor, blogger and consultant at

The 14th Annual Melton Mustafa Jazz Festival takes place at the Lou Rawls Center for the Performing Arts, 15800 NW 42nd Ave., Miami Gardens, on the campus of Florida Memorial University. Master workshops are set for 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday; the concert is set for 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday. Concert tickets: $35, students $20, available online at or by calling 305-623-3063. General seating.

Map and directions:
Workshop schedule and registration: or call (305) 623-8219.
For more on the festival:
For more on The Global Jazz Network:
For other information: 305-623-3063.

Melton Mustafa explains the art form to young players.
(Photo courtesy Melton Mustafa)

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