Melton Mustafa Jazz Festival Grows, Moves to Overtown

This year's Melton Mustafa Jazz Festival is the most ambitious ever, with events spread out over four days beginning Thursday. The festival marks its 19th year with a move to Overtown’s historic Lyric Theater. In addition to the student workshops, competitions, and master classes it offers ever year, it now includes film screenings, vendors, and a chance to mingle with musicians, authors, and artists.

The concert series stars musicians Wycliffe Gordon, Winard Harper, and the powerhouse Melton Mustafa orchestra. Gordon’s career has included stints with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Wynton Marsalis Sextet. Best known as a trombonist, he was honored as a rising star on tuba by Downbeat magazine in 2014.

Harper, a drummer, has appeared at the festival before. Encouraged after his father noticed him beating on cans as a very small child, Harper made guest appearances with his older brother’s nightclub band beginning at the age of 5. Harper has played with stars such as Dexter Gordon, Betty Carter, and Billy Taylor.

Mustafa, a trumpeter and composer, is a South Florida favorite who has traveled the globe playing in the Count Basie and Duke Ellington bands, among others. He said the expanded festival is an effort to reach out to a broader audience. “I'm looking to serve the community more, and I’m looking to support the students and the band directors more,” Mustafa says.

“More than anything, I’m looking to project to the public the opportunity to raise funds to get scholarships to college so that students can continue their quest for education.”

Organizers hope the festival will raise $50,000.
The kickoff reception this Thursday will welcome patrons with live music and art. Friday offers one of this year’s new features, a joint effort with the Miami Jazz & Film Society. “The addition of the film night affords the audience a chance to visually see and hear a special film presentation by [society founder] Keith Clarke,” Mustafa says. There will be live music too.

Saturday is devoted to workshops and master classes with the stars Gordon and Harper as well as educators from this area and elsewhere in Florida. The festival wraps up with the big concert Sunday evening. In addition to the jazz artists, the Florida Memorial Gospel Choir will also perform.

It all happens at the 103-year-old Lyric Theater. Overtown was a thriving black community with smart hotels, restaurants, and nightclubs during segregation and until the construction of I-95 in the 1960s. Once the anchor of a district known as “Little Broadway,” the restored theater is the only building remaining from those golden days.

— Tracy Fields

The Melton Mustafa Jazz Festival
Thursday through Sunday at the Lyric Theater, 819 NW Second Ave., Miami. Advance ticket prices range from $15 to $100. Admission to Sunday’s culminating concert is $50 at the door. Tickets and details are available at eventbrite.