Now in its 20th year, the signature event of the South Florida Friends of Jazz and the City of Hollywood has moved indoors, to the Hollywood Central Performing Arts Center. It will feature legendary pianist Ahmad Jamal, Grammy-nominated vocalist/pianist Karrin Allyson, trombonist Steve Turre (formerly of Saturday Night Live), and multiplatinum percussion all-star Sammy Figueroa.
The rudimentary definition of jazz, according to South Florida Friends of Jazz president, Dr. Ronald Weber, is "an artist taking a standard tune from another popular era and improvising on it, creating new music based on the fundamentals of that tune." Though the festival is intent on combining all flavors of jazz, Weber maintains that it is not so keen on letting the commercialized tastes of mainstream music dilute the art form. In the past, acts like Chaka Kahn and Edgar Winters have increased ticket sales while incurring criticism from South Florida's discriminating jazz listeners.
"Jazz fans don't comprise a large listening audience, but they're very adamant about what they like and dislike," Weber explains. "We find artists that represent the true American jazz art form without having to water it down to create larger numbers at the gate."
The new indoor location will allow up to 510 attendees to appreciate the music in air-conditioned cool. With a VIP pass, fans have access to an opening-night preperformance cocktail party on Friday as well as a reception with musicians like Figueroa, who counts Tito, Miles, and Herbie among his list of old acquaintances. Add to that list: Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus, Chet Baker, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, and David Bowie.
Long regarded as one of the best percussionists in the world, Figueroa moved to Miami from his native New York City two years ago. "I got tired of the hustle and bustle," Figueroa says, even though his hustle has not stopped bustling since relocating. The perennial sideman is finally releasing his first and long-awaited solo album of Latin jazz this February, as well as a collaborative disc with Vienna-based electronica duo dZihan and Kamien. On Friday night, he will be performing jazz, purely, with his band, Latin Synergy, an amazing collection of Latin jazz talent that includes Dave Valentin and Ray Vega.
Although South Florida jazz fans may be a selective crew, Figueroa praises their enthusiasm. "In New York, there's so many things happening at the same time that nobody cares. Here, they absorb [the music] with more passion than they do in New York. It's just an open scene ready to explode."
This year, a delegation from the Ukraine will attend the festival with the intentions of modeling its own jazz festival after Hollywood's. Held in Kiev, the Ukrainian festival will be called "Jazz: An American Cultural Manifesto."