Playing It Safe

This was the JVC Jazz Festival's first year here, but the sounds were nothing new

As that "hey" wafted through the air, a few blocks north on Lincoln Road the world-music wonders Philip Glass and Foday Musa Suso were wrapping up. At the same time young pianist Bill Charlap sat at the keys for the first of two sets upstairs at the Van Dyke.

Over the last three days, the room had played host to packed crowds for saxman Bobby Watson, flautist Dave Valentin with percussionist Sammy Figueroa, and pianist Cedar Walton with saxophonist Vincent Herring. Sharing the stage with Charlap this night were drummer/trumpet player Barry Reis, drummer/vocalist Grady Tate, and bass player/Van Dyke musical director Don Wilner. While seemingly enthusiastic patrons crowded the tables and stood three-deep at the bar, it seemed no matter how good the music was (and it often was sublime), many of them couldn't -- or wouldn't -- keep their mouths shut. That despite early admonitions from Wilner that the Van Dyke possessed a "no-talking policy." Perhaps it's the peril of listening in a place that advocates a "yes, drinking policy" where boozehounds consider the entertainment nothing more than background music. A shame for them. Moments of quiet occurred when Tate emerged from behind his kit and wrapped his lustrous baritone around "It Might as Well Be Spring," playfully breaking into a strain of "Let It Snow," and then scatted up a storm during Miles Davis's "All Blues." Wilner, Reis, and Charlap added delicate tasteful touches. Alone and unbridled on solos such as "Body and Soul," Charlap truly sparkled, breaking out from the constraints of his recordings. Son of a Broadway composer and a big-band singer, the 34-year-old pianist has an almost instinctual sense when it comes to interpreting standards. That was patently obvious during the evening's shining moment, as Tate crooned Billy Strayhorn's poignant "Lush Life," and an astonishing silence overtook the room.

Heeey, Gato Barbieri
Jeff Riedel
Heeey, Gato Barbieri

Looking back on the five days, Festival Productions wags revel in what they consider an auspicious first fest and pledge more in the future. The mission is audience-building, a task that can take a good five to seven years. Catering to a younger crowd and incorporating more versatile programming also are priorities. Secure in the knowledge that if they throw a festival, people are sure to come, perhaps when organizers consider future musical offerings for oh-so-Latin Miami they'll adhere to the credo of eccentric Vogue editor Diana Vreeland, who grandly pronounced, "Give 'em what they never knew they wanted."

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