A galaxy of stars, a range of styles, free and paid events scattered across Miami Beach, an educational opportunity – these might be enough for most music festivals, but not for the South Beach Jazz Festival.
“Our mission is to show the capabilities of people with disabilities,” said festival founder R. David New. “Historically and today, people with disabilities have surpassed the highest standards for success in all fields and the stigma around them is something I would like to break down.”
The first weekend of 2019 marks the third edition of the festival. Performers include greats such as Grammy-winning singer Dee Dee Bridgewater and pianist Marcus Roberts, who is blind. The region’s favorite violinist and singer, Nicole Yarling, will introduce her student musicians. Renowned flautist Nestor Torres is due to give a master class. Amidst the variety, however, is a constant.
“It’s critical that at least one person in each performing group has a direct connection to a disability,” New said. “With this premise, we aim for the best of the best and do our due diligence to find those who have this shared experience. It is not that difficult to find disabilities because statistically 20% of the population falls into this category.
New joined the group years ago when a rare disease left him blind, deaf and paralyzed from the waist down. He regained his ability to walk and hear and became an advocate for people with disabilities, including through his nonprofit Power Access. He presents the festival, whose theme is “From handicap to serendipity”.
“Disabilities are such a challenge and struggle for so many people and I wanted people to know that from these challenges beautiful music and talented individuals could evolve, bringing inspiration and pleasure to others,” New said.
The festival’s mission is personal for the drummer and Jonathan Joseph. He recalls being intrigued when Kimberly Chmura, whose KCC Productions helped New find artists for the festival, approached him with the concept.
“She was asking me if I knew anyone who had been ill or had a disability or any of those things,” Joseph said. “It turns out that I was diagnosed with cancer in February 2016.”
Joseph had prostate cancer. He didn’t share the news with many people. But the Miami Beach native decided the festival would be a good time to change that. “I thought this would be a wonderful cancer awareness opportunity.
“With prostate cancer in men, a lot of men don’t like to talk about it because of what it could potentially mean,” Joseph said. “But now the medical field is so advanced that if you catch it early it won’t impact your life for more than four or five months.”
In Joseph’s case, a combination of surgery and nerve-preserving exercises helped prevent the dreaded complications of incontinence and sexual problems.
“But the thing is, you have to do the exercises,” he said. “For me it was a bit like training. I compared it to practicing my instrument. For hours every day, I worked these muscle groups.
Joseph was unsure of how he could incorporate cancer awareness into his band’s performance Weather Underground on Sunday January 6. But he was sure the band would offer the audience a chance to “hear good music and listen to the basics of jazz”.
Most of the shows, including Joseph’s, will be free.
“I always intended that a jazz festival would be something for the whole community,” New said. “I wanted there to be a palpable feeling on the streets and throughout the city of music for residents and visitors. Free events are just as important as paid ones.
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If you are going to
The South Beach Jazz Festival takes place from Friday January 4 through Sunday January 6 at various locations around Miami Beach.
Performers include Dee Dee Bridgewater, Marcus Roberts, Alex Weitz, Maria Rivas, Jonathan Joseph, Leesa Richards, Brian Lynch, Bobby Thomas, Nestor Torres and Nicole Yarling. Most events are free.
Tickets to see Bridgewater and Roberts at the Colony Theater, 1040 Lincoln Rd., Are $ 40 to $ 60; a jazz brunch with the Alex Weitz ensemble at Miami Beach Woman’s Club, 2401 Pine Tree Dr., costs $ 65. More information is available at southbeachjazzfest.com.
This story was originally published January 3, 2019 9:27 a.m.