It doesn't make immediate sense why the Overture to Overtown Jazz Festival
would take place in Miami Beach, but jazz singer and event coproducer Carole Ann Taylor succinctly put the event in historical context.
"This is a celebration of the link between Miami Beach and the Overtown community," Taylor tells New Times
. "There were so many wonderful Black superstars, poets, and musicians who performed in Miami Beach but couldn't stay there. They had to sleep in Overtown."
Among the legendary jazz musicians who once played in Miami Beach but were forced to cross the bridges to sleep in Overtown, she cites Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, and Sarah Vaughn.
To commemorate the area's musical legacy, the tenth-annual Overture to Overtown Jazz Festival features 31 days of jazz, involving 40 performing artists. Most of the music will be performed at the Betsy Hotel on Ocean Drive in Miami Beach, with evening shows at Lummus Park on Sundays. But Taylor holds out hope that the details will be sorted out so they can schedule at least one performance in Overtown.
"I have my fingers crossed it can happen," she says, noting that "Overtown was known as the Harlem of the South."
Indeed, South Florida was once a hotbed for jazz music. Taylor grew up in the jazz capital of New York City, where she sang with luminaries like Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton. But when she moved to Miami in 1980, she was pleasantly surprised at how many venues were dedicated to jazz. After taking a few decades off from singing to raise children and start a business, Taylor returned to performing jazz standards a few years ago. She was disappointed when she discovered that in the interim, jazz had become a niche genre in the city's music scene.
"WDNA frequently has jazz concerts in their studio. Miami Jazz Cooperative does concerts. South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center and Faena have jazz typically," she says. "But since Le Chat Noir closed down, there are no clubs dedicated solely to jazz."
For the month of April —which, coincidentally, is International Jazz Appreciation Month — Overture to Overtown Jazz Festival and the Betsy Hotel hope to remedy the Magic City's paucity of jazz. A lengthy lineup of local and out-of-town performers will play throughout the month.
For Taylor, one highlight is New York pianist Danny Mixon, alongside whom she'll perform on May 1. She'll also sing with her regular collaborators in the Brian Murphy Trio on April 21 at the Betsy. Taylor estimates she has close to 200 songs in her repertoire; favorites include "Misty," "For All We Know," and "Days of Wine and Roses."
Taylor remains grateful that she never had to deal with racial discrimination in the jazz world. But she's eager to spotlight the many other performers in the not-so-distant past who had to overcome the burden of segregation.
Overture to Overtown Jazz Festival. Through May 1, at the Betsy Hotel, 1440 Ocean Dr., Miami Beach; 866-792-3879; thebetsyhotel.com. Admission is free. For the full event schedule, visit thebetsyhotel.com/overture-to-overtown.