It's the last Saturday in August and certifiable legend and trumpet virtuoso Ira Sullivan is on stage, all flying fingers and lubed up lips. Outside of this club, you hear it over and over: There's no great jazz room in Miami.
On 71st Street, across from the fountain in Normandy Isle, the MoJazz Cafe is giving the lie to that axiom. Jazz lovers should be able to sniff out sympathetic vibrations like bloodhounds on the trail -- especially when the prey is Ira Sullivan, a man internationally renowned for three decades running. Sometimes they do, sometimes they sit around whining about the lack of opportunity.
On this night a tuned-in, turned-on capacity crowd pulses to the sound of Sullivan translating feelings into movement and movement into music and music into feelings. All this emerges from his trumpet in chains of flowing arpeggios and staccato trills borne of this genius whose fingers unabashedly expose his very soul.
Sullivan -- accompanied by Tony Prentice (keyboards), Bill Peoples (drums), Lew Berryman (bass), and Mo Morgen (sax and vocals) -- composes a melodious mix of scintillating syncopation. Trombonist Dante Luciani and trumpeter Jason Corder sit in on several numbers, including "Rita's Dream" -- with an outstanding confluence of horns, the trumpet punctuating the romantic melody -- and "How About You," which individually showcases each performer's talents.
When he's not on stage jamming, saxophonist Mo Morgen wears the hat of club proprietor. He arrived from New York (where he ran the Jazzmania Society club from 1975 to 1984) this past Christmas and opened MoJazz on April 1. "I've been a regular visitor to Miami over the past few years," Morgen says, "and I kept hearing from musicians how there wasn't a decent jazz room in Miami. I'm not hearing it any more."
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Along with visits by Sullivan every six weeks or so (he'll return in October), Morgen has packed the stage with the bright stars of South Florida's jazz constellation (Joe Donato, Nicky Yarling, Alice Day, Kenny Millions), and this Sunday will begin staging a scaled-down big band called Brothers Two, fronted by real brothers Melton Mustafa and Jesse Jones, Jr.
Names like those illustrate Morgen's emphasis on the music. That's what a jazz house is supposed to do, but other factors must also be considered. MoJazz could do with dimmer lighting and a better stage design -- the reason the Mustafa-Jones big band was reduced to an octet is the limited, and limiting, stage design. The production end could also use a bit of polish -- the ambiance might not change the sound of the music, but it can affect how that music is listened to.
On the last Saturday in August, it was clear that those in the audience were sophisticated and savvy jazz consumers, but even so it wouldn't hurt the artists to introduce more of the songs by title and to identify themselves. There's no need to ham it up, but not everyone knows everything, and some are eager to learn.
That's not to take anything away from the overall MoJazz experience -- first-rate entertainment accompanied by equally high quality food and drink in a convenient location at reasonable prices. The kicker? It's in Miami.