MIAMI — The success of one of the country’s most popular music festivals parallels the success of one of its most anticipated acts. Jazz in the Gardens celebrates its seventh year next week, and one of its performers can relate to the event’s inauspicious beginning, in 2006, with a small but talented jazz lineup.
Although enormously talented and critically acclaimed today, widespread success took longer for R&B powerhouse, Ledisi. And while she has had an adoring group of diehard fans with an almost cult-like allegiance to the dark-brown beauty, her music remained largely undetected by a larger audience until a few years ago.
Her name means “to bring forth,” and Ledisi has been bringing forth authentically good music with deep, often inspiring lyrics since the mid-1990s. Regardless of how many fans she has, she is adamant about doing things her way.
PIECES OF LEDISI
“It has to feel right for me. If I feel like wearing my hair up, or wearing a certain outfit, the way I sing my songs has to feel right for me or it looks silly. I tried that before and it didn’t feel right,” said the dreadlocked singer whose single Pieces of Me has become an anthem of sorts for women.
The song about a woman’s complexities, vulnerability and strength was one of the last songs written for her 2011 CD of the same name. It was one of those days when lounging around the house in her PJs felt more inviting than recording in the studio, Ledisi explained. While in the studio discussing the nearly complete CD with her producer, she told him, “It felt like pieces of me instead of the whole deal.”
That feeling led to Ledisi and producers Charles Harmon and Claude Kelly writing what became the CD’s first release. That the song would resonate so strongly with women was not something the singer anticipated.
“I love that other women love the song,” said Ledisi, who will share the stage on Saturday, March 17 with Jill Scott, Doug E. Fresh, Kem and Ramsey Lewis.
LOCAL DIVA Henry BACK
Also gracing the Jazz in the Gardens stage will be a local favorite with a strong international following. Singer Nicole Henry is steadily building a respected career as a jazz artist. Her latest release is Embraceable Me, and she said she’s looking forward to sharing some of it with the Jazz in the Gardens audience.
“I’m so excited to be at Jazz in the Gardens again,” said Henry, who performed at the inaugural festival in 2006. Henry shares the stage on Sunday with Mary J. Blige, Kevin Eubanks, Kenny G. and Patti LaBelle, about whom Henry said, “She’s been such an inspiration to me.”
The statuesque Henry, who has been called “the vocal lovechild of Whitney Houston and Sarah Vaughan,” has an expanding national and international following that keeps her busy. With her tight schedule, she said she is grateful that she can squeeze in occasional performances at a few local churches like Unity on the Bay, Unity of Fort Lauderdale and the Universal Truth Center.
A WINNING FESTIVAL
She said her local fans are thrilled that she’s performing at Jazz in the Gardens, which has seen its attendance figures climb steadily from 2000 or so people at the first festival to over 45,000 in 2011.
“I am elated about the success of Jazz in the Gardens and I remember when no one knew anything about the event and now everyone has the desire to be involved,” said Miami Gardens Mayor Shirley Gibson, who created the festival.
“It’s become a reunion point for friends and family, a source of economic opportunity for small and large businesses and a vacation destination for adults seeking a break from the winter cold.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Jazz in the Gardens
WHERE: Sun Life Stadium
WHEN: Saturday, March 17 and Sunday, March 18; gates open at 4 p.m. both days.
COST: Single-day tickets $45; two-day passes begin at $75. To purchase tickets visit jazzinthegardens.com or call 1-888-346-7849
Photo: Patti LaBelle