“A lot of us could play, but I could read music,” the legendary saxophonist said.
Tony Bennett was performing at the Eden Roc Hotel, 80-year-old Austin, who lives in Liberty City, recalled. “I was the only black musician in the orchestra, and Bennett was wowed with my solo. After that, opportunities came for others.”
Austin, for his contribution to the jazz world, was among six jazz masters inducted into the South Florida Jazz Hall of Fame. The event, in its second year and co-sponsored by the Sunshine Jazz Organization (SJO), took place last Sunday at the Joseph Caleb Center’s auditorium in Liberty City.
The event was emceed by Len Pace, former host of WLRN’s Evening Jazz, who was also honored, and Tracy Fields, the program’s current host.
“It’s about time to let people know that they are appreciated,” famed jazz vocalist and founder of the Hall of Fame, Alice Day, said. “I’ve been around a long time; we are losing people every day. I wanted to say ‘thank you’ and ‘I appreciate who you are.’ But if they are not around, how can you?”
Day, a Miami native who produced the event, is celebrating 52 years in the music business. “My career has taken me all over the world,” she shared. “The last 25 years I have lived abroad. I tour Asia and Europe the entire year, and return to South Florida for one month around Mother’s Day.”
Day and Austin, along with The Trio featuring Mark Marineau, Jim Kessler and Tony Lavendar, performed at the event.
Francis Pastorius accepted the award for his father, John Francis Anthony “Jaco” Pastorius III, who was honored posthumously.
“The South Florida community was important to my father,” Pastorius said. “There were no labels on music for him. It only mattered that you listened.”
Pastorius revolutionized the role of the bass in jazz, turning the fretless electric bass into a fluid guitar-like lead instrument. He died in 1987 at age 35 following a violent altercation at a Wilton Manors drinking establishment.
Others honored were world class multi-instrumentalist Ira Sullivan; prolific lyricist Melville “Mel” Dancy; and jazz musician and educator Eric Eugene Knight (posthumously).
Tribute was paid in memory of Chief Sandrell Rivers, whose vision was to expand Miami’s cultural experience by bringing the arts to every park in Miami-Dade County.
“We want to honor the people who deserve to be recognized for their contributions to jazz,” said Thelma Valles, SJO’s executive director. “And this was a wonderful way of doing it.”
Lucinda Wilkes of Liberty City said that the event “transported me back to the days of jazz and blues in Overtown. We used to all get together, put on our best clothes and go from club to club. The music was the best and the people were fun. It’s good to see that some of those folks are still around.”
Wilkes also said that she “appreciated” the Hall of Fame. “People want to remember good times, happier times. And these musicians were a part of all that. I am so happy to see that someone decided to honor them,” she said.
Cynthia Roby can be reached at CynthiaRoby@bellsouth.net