Arsht Center's Jazz Roots Celebrates Seven Seasons of Success: "It Just Exploded"

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Miami is a budding metropolitan superpower, with a music scene that offers some of the best dance, hip-hop, and Latin music in the world. But did you know Miami is also a destination for today's international, Grammy-winning jazz legends?

For seven seasons, the Adrienne Arsht Center's monthly Jazz Roots series has brought leading musicians like Arturo Sandoval, Dave Brubek, Buddy Guy, Chick Corea, and Sonny Rollins to the Magic City.

See also: Miami's Top Ten Jazz Musicians

The success of the Jazz Roots series has made downtown Miami a thriving hub for the great American genre, recalling Overtown and Miami Beach's 20th-century heyday.

Among the two men who have been instrumental in its success: co-creator and producer Larry Rosen, and co-creator and Arsht executive vice president Scott Shiller.

When Shiller first came to Miami to help lead the Arsht Center's development in 2008, he was wowed by a city with a deep-rooted commitment to jazz.

"It felt like jazz in Miami was just bubbling under the surface and was ready to erupt in a really big and meaningful way," Shiller says. So he started asking all the jazz lovers around town who he should speak to about this crazy idea for a monthly series.

Almost right away, everyone pointed him in the direction of Larry Rosen, a longtime jazz curator and major player. And eventually, they founded Jazz Roots together. But in those early days, even Rosen was skeptical.

"You really don't think of Miami as a place where one of the guiding lights of jazz comes from," he says. "When this first started, and they called me about putting it together here, I was rather concerned whether this was going to work here or not."

Shiller wasn't just talking about filling 50 seats at some SoBe lounge. This was 2,000 seats at a brand-new concert hall. Rosen knew he was going to have to cook up something really special to get people in the door and keep them coming back.

"Since Miami was such a unique city, it was important to put together all these pieces," Rosen says. "Latin music, straight-ahead jazz and funk jazz, as well as the blues.

"The Arsht center said, 'Go ahead, you know better,'" he recalls. "We started that way, and the thing just exploded. Everybody was surprised, including me."

See also: Miami's Five Best Jazz Clubs

However, Jazz Roots' mission isn't just selling tickets and filling seats.

Right from the start, Rosen was committed to incorporating a hearty and vibrant educational element. So over the years, he, Shiller, and the Arsht have saved some of the best seats in the house for active music students from local high schools.

"That's where most other performing arts centers would stop," Shiller says. "But Miami deserves a bit more."

That's why students are invited to a private session with each artist during sound check. Watching the masters gives the next generation of musical minds some important insight into the level of craftsmanship and professionalism that's key for musicians of legendary caliber. The kids bring their instruments and they are more often than not treated to an impromptu master class, even sometimes being invited to jam with the Grammy-winning visitors.

After sound check, there is dinner and a discussion about that night's upcoming concert. Instructors lead the group in a lesson on the performer's stylistic breakdowns, telling students what to listen for and guiding them through their own practice performance.

"At its core, jazz speaks to the American experience, even more than that, it speaks to the Miami experience," Shiller says. "I truly believe that Miami is the last great American city that's inventing itself in our lifetime, and I think more cities are going to look culturally and demographically more like Miami than anywhere else in the country. I think that jazz and this cultural sound sort of speaks to everything that's hot and hip about Miami right now."

The series' success over these past seven seasons has been impressive. Cities across the country, from Newark to Vegas, Atlanta, and Dallas, have reached out to Rosen and Shiller and put together their own Jazz Roots programs, but Miami remains the root of the Jazz Roots series.

"Miami is embracing of the musical form that came before us and the culture that came before us, but also looking toward the future," Shiller says. "We have this dichotomy in Miami of celebrating our differences and celebrating our past while also creating something together for the future."

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Jazz Roots: Soul 2 Soul Voices of Love. With Dianne Reeves and Phil Perry. Friday, February 20. Adrienne Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets cost $25 to $150 plus fees via arshtcenter.org. All ages. Call 305-949-6722 or visit arshtcenter.com.

Follow Kat Bein on Twitter @KatSaysKill.

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