Music icons George Benson, Chaka Khan, Nancy Wilson, Wyclef Jean and The O’Jays presented an eclectic mix of jazz, soul, hip-hop, reggae and R&B last weekend as the city of Miami Gardens hosted a weekend of music, culture and diversity at its third annual Jazz in the Gardens event.
Held March 15 and 16 at Dolphin Stadium, the festival featured more than its title genre.
“It’s incredible how music has the power to transcend language and culture,” Miami Gardens Mayor Shirley Gibson said.
The community festival unites residents and attracts visitors from around the world.
“Jazz in the Gardens has become an internationally recognized event,” Gibson said.
“They [Miami Gardens] outdid themselves this year,” said audience member Jackie Darling, who traveled all the way from Chicago. “The artist lineup was absolutely phenomenal.”
Headliner George Benson worked the stage for over an hour opening night in what NBC6 news anchor Julia Yarbough called “an amazing performance.”
With his songs, scats and instrumentals, the eight-time Grammy winner proved his acclaim.
He recognized Miami as the melting pot it is and adapted to his audience. In addition to his oldies-but-goodies “Affirmation” and “Broadway,” Benson gave the crowd a “little Latin flavor,” singing an entire song in Spanish. The salsa-rhythms ignited the audience; the Spanish lyrics especially excited those who understood them.
Benson’s infectious rhythms were followed by the soulful melodies of Chaka Khan, one of the lineup’s few leading ladies. In a previous interview, she told the South Florida Times that concert goers could expect “damn good music,” and that’s what they got.
Dressed in all black — down to her thigh-high boots — she got right to it with her hit “I Feel for You.”
Chaka Khan carried the audience on a journey through her many octaves and melodies.
“Seeing her [Chaka Khan] perform live is an exhilarating experience,” said Patty James, sitting next to her 14-year-old daughter Kandace, who sang almost every song word for word. “It brought a new life to her music.”
The diva songstress mixed classics like “Ain’t Nobody,” “Tell Me Something Good” and “Sweet Thing,” with new singles “Everlasting Love,” “One for All Time” and “Will You Love Me?” from her 2007 Grammy-winning [Best R&B Album] Funk This.
“We’re goin’ back and forth [through time] tonight,” she said to the ready-and-willing audience.
For her final moments on stage, Chaka Khan got spiritual. “God is good,” she called out.
“All the time,” the audience returned.
“And this is my testimony,” she said as the melody began for “Through the Fire.”
To leave her audience “empowered,” as she said, she closed her set with “I’m Every Woman.”
Keeping the energy at its peak, Wyclef Jean took the stage.
He performed a current track “The Sweetest Girl” from his sixth full-length studio album, The Carnival II: Memoirs of an Immigrant; and took it back to the days of his group trio The Fugees.
The international superstar, who is also recognized for his humanitarian efforts and work as an ambassador for Haiti, exceeds his reputation as a performer. It was almost midnight, but Wyclef told everyone he wasn’t leaving. With time approaching 1 a.m., the “Haitian sensation” was still going.
Jean wove his way through the crowd, urging everyone to stand up, swing their hips, and wave something, anything, in the air to celebrate the spirit of Caribbean carnival.
Running past schedule was acceptable Saturday night, but Sunday night’s performances ended early.
Final performances by jazz phenom Nancy Wilson, and R&B crooners The O’Jays ended the festival in style.
Wilson, who came out of retirement to perform at this year’s Jazz in the Gardens, displayed her level of distinction immediately. She wore a red wine-colored pant suit; and her band was appropriately dressed for a black-tie affair.
“I have been performing professionally for about 56 years,” she reminded the audience.
She didn’t waste any time getting into her set.
Wilson’s sultry voice set the ambience of a night-club lounge, despite the setting in the open area of the stadium grounds.
She varied her tempo, some songs a little more jazzy than bluesy. She admitted she wasn’t feeling her best and performed “I Wish I’d Met You,” one of her personal favorites, sitting down.
Wilson mellowed the crowd, but The O’Jays brought back the hype.
Eddie Levert Sr., Walter Williams Sr., and Eric Nolan Grant represented themselves as the “legendary kings of old school.” Dressed in white from head-to-toe, the choreography at their mics was the epitome of their era.
“Give the People What They Want” was preface to Levert’s brief political commentary. “This is a big year,” he said referring to the historic “black man and white woman” running for president.
Getting back in the groove, Levert commented on his presence in the “new school” music biz. “The only thing the young ones [artists] have on me is they have abs and I have flab,” he said, “but I could still stroke it.”
The group showed they “still got it,” with semi-provocative choreography. The audience lost control at the first sound of “Backstabbers.”
The O’Jays kept the hits coming with “Love Train,” and “I Love Music.” They slowed the tempo with “Stairway,” “Cry Together,” and “Let Me Make Love.”
As a closing act, The O’Jays performed an entire concert themselves. It was a satisfying conclusion to the weekend festival, reviving the audience one last time before work-day Monday.
Photo by Khary Bruyning. Wyclef Jean