Words and Music

Three years ago a quintet of optimists combined their ingenuity, contacts, and resources to create Songwriters in the Round, a relaxed evening featuring an open-mike session for local musicians followed by a few established songwriters showcasing their tunes. It's organized by music impresaria Chrystal Hartigan, Warner/Chappell Latin division executive Ellen Moraskie, financial adviser Charles Brent, production coordinator E.J. Swihura, and hit songwriter Desmond Child ("Livin' la Vida Loca" "Dude [Looks Like a Lady]," "Livin' on a Prayer"). The event, held on the first Tuesday of each month, originated at the Park Central Hotel, its home for nearly two and a half years. Later it moved to Power Studios, and this past month it returned to Miami Beach, taking up residence at Latin-music restaurant/nightclub El Habito.

Itinerant ways notwithstanding, Songwriters is one of the longest- running and most consistent events in these often-music-starved parts. It's one of the few opportunities for audiences members to rub elbows with successful musicians and chat up music-industry honchos. Past participants have included Child himself, Alanis Morissette's writing partner Glen Ballard, and Cuban dissident troubadour Carlos Varela. An array of artists ranging from Modern Lovers leader Jonathan Richman to bubble-gum vocalist Deborah "Debbie" Gibson have made odd surprise-guest appearances.

This Tuesday El Habito will be the site for Songwriters' third anniversary bash. They'll throw a party first, and then proceed with the customary open-mike presentation. Instead of being organized around a theme, as it usually is, the round on this occasion will highlight a variety of tunesmiths representing different genres: Richie Supa, Grammy Award-winning author of many pop/rock hits for bands such as Aerosmith; Havana native David Torrens, who fuses rock, jazz, salsa, ballads, and bossa nova; and hometown boy turned big-time country star Raul Malo of the Mavericks, five-time Grammy nominees and winners of two Country Music Association awards.

The event has graduated from crawling, leapt past walking, and now can be said to be running hurdles. Songwriters has evolved into a nonprofit organization, which has expanded its scope to educational outreach programs in schools, workshops on songcraft, and a new monthly music-industry networking night held in downtown Hollywood.

While hobnobbing and selling oneself is all well and good, ultimately it's honoring the frequently unheralded songwriters that is the group's main goal. "The song is everything," opines Hartigan. "The words are what makes it. They [songwriters] love being acknowledged."

Brent, who often finds himself lecturing open-mike participants trying to sneak away before the evening's end, agrees. "It's not just about playing and having someone say 'I think you're a star; let's work together.' It's about listening to everyone, so you can hear who's good and who's not," he explains. "I never met an artist that didn't want to turn on the world with his talent."

And many gifted word wizards have performed their tunes at Songwriters in the Round. Swihura was out of town and cohorts Moraskie and Child were too busy livin' la vida loca with MIDEM events to comment for this article, but Brent didn't need any help from his friends to recall one of his favorite Songwriter moments: "It was a Brazilian round, and I don't understand one word of Portuguese, not even close. It was an incredible evening because not understanding one word, I got everything they were saying. Everyone sang along. It was like Billy Joel doing "Piano Man" and everyone was singing the words. Brilliant stuff."

-- Nina Korman

Songwriters in the Round celebrates its third anniversary at 7:00 p.m. Tuesday, July 6, at El Habito, 5401 Collins Ave, Miami Beach. Admission is $10. Call 305-867-4010.

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Nina Korman
Contact: Nina Korman