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South Beach Jazz Festival presents jazz with soul and a mission

A man wearing sunglasses and a wireless headset microphone looks to his left.
Courtesy of Edward John Colon
Artburst Miami
Matthew Whitaker performing at Miami Beach Bandshell during the 2021 South Beach Jazz Festival.

Throughout history, jazz has been the soundtrack of important social and political causes. The annual South Beach Jazz Festival, celebrating its eighth edition from Thursday, January 4 through Monday, Jan. 8, 2024, follows that lead, founded with a mission of disability awareness, access, opportunity, and inclusion.

“I’m blind. I lost my eyesight about 23 years ago, and when I moved to Miami Beach, I got involved in the community. I felt that there were accessibility issues that needed more attention,” says David New, advocate for people with disabilities and founder of Power Access. In time, his organization produced events such as Lights Out Miami Beach, wheelchair basketball events, 5K runs, music symposiums, and children’s programs. But looking for an event with a more universal appeal and a broader reach, the nonprofit turned to music and chose jazz.

From the beginning, a central idea of the event has been to showcase at least one person with a disability. This year’s edition features a return appearance of Matthew Whitaker, an exceptional pianist and organist who has been blind since birth. He last appeared at the South Beach Jazz Festival in 2021 and joins saxophonist Vincent Herring and his soul-jazz group Something Else! This year, he performs with Herring and his band at 8 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 5 in Collins Park, 2100 Collins Ave.

“We’re providing new modalities of accessibility for all people and also trying to showcase people who are thriving with disability,” says New.

A man speaks into a microphone.
Courtesy of MasterWingCreative Agency
Artburst Miami
David New, advocate for people with disabilities and founder of Power Access, the nonprofit organization that produces the festival, speaking at the Miami Beach Bandshell during the 2023 South Beach Jazz Festival.

Whitaker will be an intriguing addition to Something Else! The Hammond B3 organ was one of the distinct sounds of soul jazz, a groove-heavy popular style that drew from hard bop, soul, rhythm and blues, and gospel. It emerged in the late 1950s through the ’60s, and then by the 1970s, jazz began to evolve into new crossover variants such as rock-jazz fusion and the pop-influenced Smooth Jazz, for some an offshoot of soul jazz.

Some critics have considered soul jazz, typified by the work of artists such as pianist Horace Silver and saxophonist Cannonball Adderley (who both blurred the line between hard bop and soul jazz), Stanley Turrentine and organists Jimmy Smith, Shirley Scott, and Brother Jack McDuff was an earthy, soulful response to bebop, a harmonically and melodically complex style that while intellectually stimulating, wasn’t as emotionally appealing to general audiences.

“There’s certainly truth to that,” says Herring, who hesitates at defining “soul jazz” and, as many of his peers, has reservations about the term “jazz.” “But I don’t know that that music developed for that reason. I just think of playing music. I wish I were more calculating and thought like that, but the reality is, I’m usually making music just because I enjoy it, and it inspires me.”

Herring’s Something Else! features an impressive lineup including Jeremy Pelt on trumpet, James Carter on tenor sax, Paul Bollenback, guitar, Dave Kikoski, piano, Essiet Okon Essiet, bass, and Hank Allen Barfield, drums.

Fittingly, the group is named after Cannonball Adderley’s 1958 breakthrough album “Somethin’ Else.” Not only Herring’s sound and engaging style is deeply influenced by Adderley, but he was also part of the group led by Adderley’s brother Nat, a cornetist, until his death in 2000. Herring later co-led the Cannonball Adderley Legacy Band.

Like previous styles in jazz, soul jazz reimagined popular songs, and the repertoire of Herring’s group is not just extensive, but it can be eyebrow-raising diverse. A set may include originals, jazz standards such as John Coltrane’s ballad “Naima,” or Thelonious Monk’s ” ‘ Round Midnight,” and soul classics such as Pee Wee Ellis’s “Chicken,” but also pop fare such as The Beatles’s “Can’t Buy Me Love,” or Earth, Wind & Fire’s Top 40 hit “Can’t Hide Love.”

Herring had the idea of putting together this project after seeing a Motown-style musical revue. “In that show, they had so many artists and were running through all these hits . . ., it was just very inspirational and a lot of fun,” he says. “It got me thinking about some music that I really loved, wasn’t being played a lot, and I would love to hear it again. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a jazz revue of this music? And here we are. ”

Also on this year’s SoBe Jazz Festival roster are Miami native and three-time Grammy-winning singer Cécile McLorin Salvant (that show opens the festival and is already sold out) and Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodriguez.

The festival will showcase Miami-based talents such as mature-beyond-his-years pianist Brandon Goldberg, pianist Tal Cohen, and the South Florida Jazz Orchestra, led by Chuck Bergeron featuring trumpeter Brian Lynch.

A man plays a saxophone with an orchestra.
Courtesy of MasterWingCreative Agency
Artburst Miami
South Florida Jazz Orchestra performs at The Bass during the 2023 South Beach Jazz Festival.

A Jazz for Tomorrow student stage, directed by jazz artist and educator Nicole Yarling, showcases youth artists, including Young Musicians Unite, Frost, Broward College, JECC, Lighthouse, and the South Florida Center for Percussive Arts, at 1111 Lincoln Road.

Performances, both ticketed and free, will take place at various venues, including the intimate Faena Theater, the lawn of Collins Park and The Bass Museum, the Miami Beach Bandshell, and stages on Lincoln Road.

In all, the four-day event includes 18 performances, master classes, and a virtual panel discussion about accessibility within the arts.

WHAT: Eighth Annual South Beach Jazz Festival

WHERE: Various venues throughout Miami Beach: Faena Theater, 3201 Collins Ave.; Miami Beach Bandshell, 7275 Collins Ave.; Collins Park, 2100 Collins Ave., and 1100 Lincoln Road Plaza. 

WHEN: Thursday, Jan. 4 to Sunday, Jan. 7. 

COST: Free and ticketed events. Tickets range from $35 to $75

INFORMATION: 754-800-4512 or, for the full schedule and tickets, sobejazzfestival.com

ArtburstMiami.com is a nonprofit news partner of WLRN, providing news on theater, dance, visual arts, music and the performing arts.

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