South Florida’s Jazz in the Gardens festival kicks off this weekend at SunLife Stadium. Now in its ninth year, the festival has a line-up of mostly funk, hip-hop, and R&B artists.
So the event is hardly about jazz and not in a garden.
But the city of Miami Gardens originally launched the festival as a purely jazz event.
According to the festival’s senior operations director, Ula Zucker-Williams, that idea lasted exactly one year:
“There was demand for something a little bit different, and then we realized, put some A-list artists that are selling records right now that people know, and they will buy tickets.”
And buy they did: The festival has since grown from around 2,000 attendees to more than 60,000. Meanwhile, the mix of music is now about 5 percent jazz and 95 percent soul, funk, R&B and hip-hop.
Joan Cartwright wishes those numbers were reversed. She heads up an organization called Women in Jazz South Florida. Cartwright says festivals can provide local artists with vital exposure, and she thinks it’s a shame many of them can’t participate in Jazz in the Gardens.
“The tradition of jazz has been watered down by other genres that are not truly jazz," she says.
But Williams, the festival's director, says it was easier to keep the name they had than change it. Ultimately, she says, the festival is about branding the city.
“I think it’s important that the surrounding cities see that something amazing comes from black communities," she says. "Let’s be honest, oftentimes when you hear about Miami Gardens it’s synonymous with things you don’t want to hear about: crime and violence.”
Williams says, not only is the festival drawing in tens of thousands of people, but almost of half of the ticket buyers are coming from outside of South Florida.