What Making It in Miami Means to UM Jazz Vocalist Zoë Fromer

When University of Miami senior and jazz vocalist Zoë Fromer discusses her adopted home, the imagery of a “plastic wonderland” is frequently invoked.

“A lot of Miami is fabricated for tourists — not a lot of it is real,” Fromer says. “[Miami’s] been around for a long time, yes, but… it was always a tourist destination, so it never really had its own identity. Miami’s identity was kind of thrust onto it.”

Having experienced Miami as both resident and interloper, Fromer has seen the city’s ongoing artistic identity crisis firsthand. Before attending the University of Miami Frost School of Music on full scholarship, Fromer cut her teeth in the South Florida circuit, honing her craft on a regional scale before concentrating her focus on the greater Miami area (with the occasional New York City excursion or two thrown in for good measure.)

A conversation with Zoë about jazz and her career quickly morphs into a meditation on music as a whole, Miami's own scene, and an artist’s responsibility — or lack thereof — to push their form forward. Having operated in a jazz template for quite some time, Fromer is all too aware of some of the more negative preconceptions surrounding the genre.

“In order to feel like [jazz musicians] are preserving this art form, we try to live it too much and we get too caught up in what it used to be. If you go to any jazz gig here or in New York, everybody’s wearing blue suits and brown shoes with a patterned shirt — what people were wearing in the fifties and sixties,” she says. “A big part of jazz is living the tradition. I think it’s important to have a really healthy understanding of the tradition, but we get — as jazz musicians — too wrapped up in the tradition that we don’t push it forward.”

Not content solely admiring artists whom she feels do progress the music – Kendrick Lamar collaborator Kamasi Washington and the absurdly funky Thundercat among them – Fromer is keen to apply the lessons of her first musical loves to the sometimes-insular jazz realm.

“I grew up listening to Queens of the Stone Age and the White Stripes; those are my two favorites — and Queen. So I grew up seeing that male bravado,” she recounts. According to Fromer, it was this bravado that helped her to overcome early onstage jitters.

“It’s funny because whenever I would do jazz, I would be so afraid because you’re always being [scrutinized]… One day I was like, fuck it, I’m tired of being scared, and I applied what I saw from [those] who were my masters and idols growing up.”

This fuck-it attitude has enabled Fromer to achieve success and fruitful collaborations within the UM campus and in Miami as a whole, where such accomplishments can prove frustratingly elusive. In Fromer’s eyes, the city’s tourism-centric origins and inherently transient character make the prospect of succeeding in Miami even more daunting than in other urban American hubs.

“There’s a lot of interesting homegrown stuff that people don’t know about. It’s very innovative and it’s very youthful. All of the artists that are really making a difference are all under 30,” she says. “They’re all doing really cool stuff, and they all are commanding a strong internet presence because they’re not necessarily being recognized here… So they’re turning to the internet to make their presence known, and it’s working out really well for a lot of them.”

Any frustrations Fromer might have with Miami’s scene are set aside upon acknowledging that much of her artistic character and development owe a direct debt to her time in the city.

“It’s not all real, but it’s all fantastic. It’s kind of like Alice in Wonderland — nothing’s real, but everything is beautiful and unique.”

Zoë Fromer. 6 p.m. Saturday, July 23, at Maxine’s Bistro & Bar, 1756 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-674-3527; admission is free.
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Zach Schlein is the former arts and music editor for Miami New Times. Originally from Montville, New Jersey, he holds a BA in political science from the University of Florida and writes primarily about music, culture, and clubbing, with a healthy dose of politics whenever possible. He has been published in The Hill, Mixmag, Time Out Miami, and City Gazettes.
Contact: Zach Schlein