End of Camelot
For six years, Songwriters in the Round existed as a kind of Camelot of the Miami music scene. For a time, the monthly event was an enlightened industry gathering, a benevolent amateur opportunity, and a place where Miami's cultural diversity came together in harmony, quite literally, to create many of our local music history's most poignant and exhilarating moments. Spearheaded by Warner/Chappell senior vice president of Latin music Ellen Moraskie and songwriter/producer ("Livin' la Vida Loca") Desmond Child, and made possible by the hard work of John Bradley, Bob Mahoney, Chrystal Hartigan, Charles Brent, and the late E.J. Swihura, SWITR made its own round of available venues, until, this month, it came to an end. Here a group of SWITR organizers and participants reminisce.
Ellen Moraskie: Songwriters in the Round grew out of necessity, as much as out of admiration and love of the art of songwriting. There seemed to be no place for the up-and-comer to go try out that new song, or anyplace where you could just go and listen to a great song, as you could in L.A., New York, or Nashville.
Desmond Child: I participated in a Masters of Songwriting class that NARAS [the Grammy organization] sponsored at [Miami's] Criteria [now Hit Factory] studios. Somebody got up and said, "How do we keep connecting? How do we get our songs out there?"
Ellen Moraskie: My response was, "Do it yourselves, for yourselves."
Desmond Child: I met Ellen Moraskie that night. It was a strong Scorpio connection: We're not the type to sit back; we strike. We said, "Why don't we just start?"
Ellen Moraskie: When we began six years ago, we resorted to holding about the first two years of rounds in the back lobby of the Park Central Hotel, because the few venues that existed on the Beach either didn't want us or weren't right for us. Tony Goldman and Marlo Courtney [Goldman Properties] were generous to a fault, and in retrospect, though the venue had its limitations, it had a great vibe, and we had some great rounds there.
Desmond Child: We had a strict format that people had to perform songs that they wrote. It wasn't a night when people get up and just kind of karaoke. There was an artistic purity to Songwriters in the Round.
Jodi Marr (songwriter): Those that organized SWITR really gave us something. They gave us back a place for songs to dwell and breathe and be shared. A miracle to behold after there was hardly a music scene at all left down here in Miami like there used to be. It was fantastic for those of us who started out as teenagers playing clubs on the old South Beach when Marilyn Manson and Rob Thomas were here in Spooky Kids and Tabitha's Secret. They gave us back a forum, a showcase, a reason NOT to move to Nashville or L.A. or N.Y.C.
Elsten Torres (songwriter): The first few times I played SWITR, I was a little nervous being placed beside people I admired. It was an incredible opportunity to be able to perform with different local songwriters, but also with the international songwriters that were always part of the rounds. We were all pretty much humbled by the experience. It was a chance to interact with the audience. A lot of songwriters don't often perform live and there's a lot of people who don't know who writes the songs. SWITR was a way to put a face to the name.
Juan Carlos Perez Soto (songwriter): SWITR was the first place I played in Miami, when I came from Caracas in 1998. It inspired me to get out and play around town. It showed me that, despite what people often say, the public in Miami is really open to new music.
John Bradley (entertainment lawyer; SWITR attorney):
The typical audience knew what it was like to put it on the line. Eighty or ninety percent were songwriters, musicians, writers, poets, and they knew what it meant to stand up there, horrifying or gratifying as that might be. We always were amazed at how outstanding the open mikes were.
Ellen Moraskie: There were SO MANY great moments: Glen Ballard showing up and singing one of his Alanis Morissette tunes; all of the Blues rounds, which were spectacular; the Brazilian round, which then went on to the famous Bluebird Cafe in Nashville; all of the Latin rounds, but especially the one featuring Alfredo Matheus, Juan Carlos Perez Soto, Elsten Torres, and with the surprise appearance of Franco De Vita; all of the anniversary rounds, as much for the talent as for the fact that we had survived another year!
Kent Blazy (songwriter, Nashville): SWITR in Miami mixed writers from different countries and cultures together. One of the greatest experiences I've ever had was when I played with Carlos Varela from Cuba. We couldn't talk because he didn't speak English and I couldn't speak Spanish, but we were grooving so much on what we were doing that I started crying; it meant that much to me. It just showed me the power of music, that it transcends all boundaries and all languages, that it can touch people. That's why I got into it in the first place, and that night affirmed it for me.
Jodi Marr: People really came there to listen, to hear the stories. Whether you were in the audience or performing, surrounded by your peers and heroes, you always walked away a better, or at least more inspired, songwriter.
Ellen Moraskie: I think the greatest event was the show we put together after 9/11, which featured more than twenty Miami-based artists and writers including Soraya, Luis Enrique, Jorge Villamizar, Elsten Torres, Jodi Marr, Nestor Torres, Volumen Cero, and on and on. It was not only a testament to the depth of feeling after the attacks, but also a testament to the richness and depth of great musical talent based in Miami, for just about every performer was from here.
John Bradley: The goal of SWITR was to bring songwriting into the forefront and we succeeded in doing that. The board was made up all of people working in the business. On some days it's really difficult to do event planning on top of publishing, songwriting legal work, or banking work, which is what we did.
Ellen Moraskie: The decision to fold SWITR came as a result of the closure of Café Nostalgia on 41st Street. In addition to the loss of venue, it became increasingly difficult to find time and money to continue putting together top-flight rounds. We had cut back to six per year instead of monthly, but even with that change it became apparent that the resources were not there to continue producing the kind of quality shows that SWITR was associated with.
Elsten Torres: I think it did create a lot of awareness about composition and the art of songwriting. It really showcased something that was missing. It was a great event because a lot of people looked forward to it each month and a lot of aspiring songwriters showed up.
Desmond Child: We were blessed by having people perform not for profit, not for a good review; it was for the love of music. When you see a song performed in its rough sense without all of the production, it seems all the more doable. You say, "I can do some chords, I can sing a melody" -- it inspired people to actually go for it.
Ellen Moraskie: Today one can attend a songwriters' event quite regularly in Miami. Witness the recent string of events sponsored by different publishing companies, and societies, like ASCAP. We do believe we had an impact, and that we accomplished what we set out to do. We opened a door, or maybe just people's ears and minds to the essence of songwriting, and the important role it plays in popular music. Whatever small role SWITR may have played in helping Miami become a place to hear the real deal, well, we'll take a little credit.
Somehow, over the course of six years, on a nearly monthly basis, hundreds of people showed up, supported one another, had a little taste of that up-close-and-personal with seasoned songwriters, and went away feeling it was the best five bucks they ever spent. At least that's what they told us. We're glad they did ... and to all who supported SWITR over the years we would like to say ... many, many, many thanks!
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