Jazz, that most ignored of musical genres, seems to be sweeping the nation of late. Currently holding musically inclined audiences in its thrall is prodigious documentarian Ken Burns's multipart series about the uniquely American art form, which recently made its much-anticipated debut on PBS. Jazz piano gal Diana Krall is fast becoming a talk show darling. And Jewish soprano saxophone monster Kenny G, the scourge of many a jazz music purist, can claim the dubious distinction of creating the most successful Christmas album ever with his 1994 eight-million-and-still-selling CD, Miracles. God help us, everyone!
A group of Miamians is jumping on the jazz bandwagon as well, attempting to cater to a different crowd from the one that has helped establish this town's international reputation as home base for Latin tunes and dance music. To wit: the Miami Jazz Festival, taking over Bayfront Park for nearly twelve hours each day this weekend. A slew of local acts such as George Tandy, Ira Sullivan, Mantra, Karen Jones, and Iko-Iko (wait, aren't they blues?) will warm up the stage with their sets early in the afternoon in anticipation of the big guns who'll tender 90-minute performances come nightfall. Safe offerings such as hometown bassist Israel "Cachao" Lopez and popular alto saxophonist David Sanborn headline the first evening. Smooth guitarist/singer Jonathan Butler and acclaimed Latin jazz band leader/percussionist Poncho Sanchez finish off the festivities Sunday night.
But a mere two days is not enough for some. Local jazzsters Mantra and their cohorts will make the music last a bit longer. They plan to buttress the festival with ancillary events, including performances, clinics, and workshops at the Miami Art Museum on Saturday and the Wallflower Gallery on Monday, plus a multicultural musical after-party also on Saturday at Tobacco Road. "What we are adding to this festival is a community component," notes Mantra drummer Marlon Moore. "I want to see all segments of this community come out, mingle peacefully, and understand themselves much better. We're creating something special here."