Music Festivals

South Beach Jazz Festival Kicks Off 2022 With Top Stars and Outdoor Shows

The festival's opening night headliners are the Grammy Award-winning Blind Boys of Alabama.
The festival's opening night headliners are the Grammy Award-winning Blind Boys of Alabama. Photo courtesy of Jim Herrington
When it comes to the South Beach Jazz Festival, the shows will go on.

This annual event, which brings top jazz performers to venues throughout Miami Beach, took place as scheduled in January 2021 — and the same is planned for January 2022. Except for a pre-festival show, all of the performances are expected to take place outdoors.

"We are taking every precaution possible to make our event safe and enjoyable for the entire community," says festival founder R. David New. "[For the 2021 edition], we had full COVID protocols in place, and the events were very successful."

The festival, whose 2022 edition is set for January 7-9, was designed to help showcase the extraordinary musical abilities of people with disabilities. New is an advocate for people with disabilities and president of the nonprofit organization Power Access, which presents the festival. He became blind, deaf, and partially paralyzed from a rare disease but managed to regain his hearing and ability to walk (though not his sight).

"It is in our mission to provide opportunities for musicians with disabilities, and so at least one musician in each group does have a disability," he says.

A special pre-festival show is planned for Thursday, January 6, at the Faena Theater, featuring pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba and singer Aymee Nuviola. Their 2020 album, Viento y Tiempo (Wind and Time), was nominated for a Grammy Award in the "Best Latin Jazz Album" category. Recorded live at the Blue Note Tokyo club, it's a tribute to their mothers and their native Havana.

Opening night headliners on Friday, January 7, are the multiple Grammy Award-winning Blind Boys of Alabama. The gospel singing group traces its roots to the late 1930s when the original members sang together as kids at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Deaf and Blind. Through the decades, they have worked with stars such as Mavis Staples, Aaron Neville, and Willie Nelson.

"It is in our mission to provide opportunities for musicians with disabilities."

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Their performance is part of "SoBe in NoBe: The Opening Night of the 6th Annual South Beach Jazz Festival," presented at the North Beach Bandshell in partnership with the Rhythm Foundation.

Also playing that night will be New Orleans-born saxophonist Donald Harrison. At one time a member of the late drummer Art Blakey's famed Jazz Messengers, Harrison is part of the 2022 class of the National Endowment for the Arts' Jazz Masters.

He is also part of the supergroup the Cookers, whose latest album, Look Out! rose to No. 31 on the JazzWeek chart this past fall. Harrison is scheduled to perform as part of his quartet, which also includes Joe Dyson (drums), Nori Naraoka (bass), and Dan Kaufman (piano).

While the Thursday and Friday shows require paid admission, the remainder of the weekend's performances are free of charge.

Student musicians will rule the day on Saturday, January 8, when they'll be featured on the Jazz for Tomorrow stage on Lincoln Road. Appearing will be the Jazz Education Community Coalition (JECC) ensemble, the University of Miami Jazz Quintet featuring singer Kaleen Barton, and the Florida Memorial University Jazz Ensemble. An ensemble from the Lighthouse for the Blind will perform as well.

The coordinator of the student stage is a local favorite: violinist, vocalist, and educator Nicole Yarling. She is looking forward to also performing with her quintet on Sunday, January 9, on the Power Access Main Stage, which is on Lincoln Road as well.

"It'll be a cross between original music and some covers, but you know I always rework the covers," Yarling says. "I'm working with people that I love to play with, and the attachment to this festival is really kind of cool."

Sunday's other stars include the Russ Spiegel Organ Group, featuring noted local artist and teacher Jim Gasior on organ; Negroni's Trio — father Jose Negroni at the piano, son Nomar Negroni on drums, and bassist Josh Allen — which released the album, Esperanzas/Hopes, in 2021; the French Horn Collective, specializing in French gypsy jazz and hot swing; and the Brazilian-born, multi-instrumentalist and composer Munir Hossn with his band, Elas.

Back again this year, the festival will allow guests to enjoy music outside in South Florida, which is the place to be in January.

"It's a really nice way to spend your weekend if you want to hear great music and just enjoy the weather," Yarling says. "Even if it's a little bit chilly, it's so much warmer than the rest of the country."

– Tracy Fields, ArtburstMiami.com

South Beach Jazz Festival. Friday, January 7 through Sunday, January 9; at various locations; sobejazzfestival.com. Ticket prices vary.
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