lauryn hill_web.jpgMore than 45,000 music lovers converged on Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens for the sixth annual Jazz in the Gardens music festival.

The two-day event featured a stellar line-up of musical performances that, while short on its namesake jazz, offered a nice variety of R&B, soul and hip-hop.

Lalah Hathaway was the first of the national acts to take the stage on Saturday. The daughter of Donny Hathaway,  one of the country’s most beloved singers, more than held her own in her brief set.

Smooth jazz crooner Al Jarreau delivered a solid performance that included his classic scatting, as well as timeless hits such as Roof Garden and Mornin’.

With expectations for neither an outstanding nor dismal performance by Heads of State, the Bobby Brown, Ralph Tresvant and Johnny Gill trio was a pleasant surprise. Their high-energy show took the audience down memory lane as the group performed songs from New Edition — from which the trio emerged — and from each of their solo careers. Brown’s swag is still in effect, if somewhat subdued by age and hard living. He is clearly, however, in his element on stage, as evidenced by what comes across as unbridled passion and joy for performing. A playful, softer side of Brown showed up as his toddler son joined him on stage for a brief dance.

Charlie Wilson has earned a reputation for delivering consistently great performances and Saturday was no exception. One of a few R&B artists who can claim status as both “old school” and “new school,” Wilson proved he deserved the designations with his powerful vocals and tightly choreographed performance with background dancers. 

“Uncle Charlie,” as he is affectionately known to his fans, becomes even more beloved with each performance. He has a knack for delivering a live rendition of a song with all the flexible exuberance of a real-time performance, but with all the recognizable elements of its recorded version.  You can always sing along.

Singing along with the most anticipated act on Saturday’s line-up was a different story, at least at the beginning of her show. Lauryn Hill took the stage nearly an hour late and began what appeared to be a lackluster performance marked by her decision to speed up the tempo on a few of her hits, and her frequent commands to musicians and sound people to adjust this or that.

However, once Ms. Hill found her musical zone, her true artistry took over and she delivered a spectacular show. Fans who left early missed out because the Lauryn Hill that they no doubt expected to see showed up after their departure. Her clear, pitch-perfect vocals on Killing Me Softly were awe-inspiring (and this from someone who dislikes her recorded version.) And by the time she launched into Doo Wop That Thing, any lingering doubts had vanished because the entire crowd jumped and sang and celebrated the return of the eccentric, mysterious and ultra-talented L-Boogie.

Sunday’s show included a brilliant, but unfortunate, jazz set by Brandford Marsalis. Brilliant, because the musicianship of Marsalis and his band was clearly impeccable. Unfortunate, because, although the title of the event has “jazz” in it, the audience appeared to have just a jazz lover or two sprinkled about. Marsalis’ quick exit from the stage appeared to be aided by frustration.

Sunday’s show also included the singing divas of EnVogue, who gave a solid, entertaining show that included their hits, as well as an ode to legends like Diana Ross and Tina Turner.

Musiq Soulchild loves to sing, and he does it well. Known for his smart, catchy lyrics, the pint-sized performer and the tight harmonies of his background singers provided an awesome set.

The Isley Brothers were the closing act, but that distinction should have gone to the outstanding Gladys Knight. While the Isleys show was top-quality, the pace and length of the songs dragged on. A group with as many hits as these gentlemen must infuse a few well-placed medleys in order to incorporate a large amount of music while keeping the show flowing.

Gladys Knight, on the other hand, left the crowd wanting more. Besides singing her classics, including a flawless version of Neither One of Us, Knight brought a familiar, extremely loveable stage presence that makes even a large outdoor venue feel intimate.  She personified her love of a great song with great lyrics by bringing the house down with an outstanding rendition of the Boyz II Men hit End of the Road.

Radio personality Michael Baisden served as the event’s host. He and his sidekick, George Wilborn, left a lot to be desired. A much better use of Wilborn’s talents would have been at least a snippet from his hilarious stand-up comedy routine.

Renee Michelle Harris may be reached at