Special to South Florida Times
MIAMI — Fans and colleagues from his hometown Miami and around the world are rallying to the aid of premier jazz musician Melton S. Mustafa, who is battling for his life against a rare form of cancer that requires aggressive, expensive treatment.
The beloved humanitarian, trumpet player, composer, arranger, conductor and Florida Memorial University director of Jazz Studies went to a highly specialized cancer treatment center in California on Sept. 7. Supporters are raising funds to help pay for his treatment, including an ongoing series of benefit concerts featuring some of the top names in jazz, as well as Mustafa’s sons Melton Jr. and Yamin, his grandson Issa and brother Jesse Jones Jr. and flautist and saxophonist Najee.
Some of the jamming has been taking place at the Joseph Caleb Center in Miami’s Liberty City community, with WDNA 88.9 FM radio and Miami-Dade Parks and Recreation among the sponsors. WDNA manager Howard Duperly announced they’ll be back at the Caleb this Sunday, Oct. 23, “paying tribute to a gentleman and a scholar, Melton Mustafa,” in conjunction with the Sunshine Jazz Organization.
Mustafa long dreamed of having a big band of his own. He certainly had plenty of experience, having played in some of the best, including the bands of Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Woody Herman. During his seven years with the Basie band, he contributed two original compositions to the legendary orchestra's songbook.
After leaving the Basie band in 1992, he returned home to Miami and began reorganizing the Melton Mustafa Orchestra, which he originally formed in the early 1980s. “I didn't think that I was ready to become a band leader,” he recalled, “but once I got started and got the band going, that first gig was all I needed. I can't stop. It's just a thing I have to do.”
A powerhouse orchestra in the Basie tradition, rooted in swing and blues and spiced with bebop, modal and Afro-Cuban, the Melton Mustafa Orchestra began making noise on the South Florida jazz scene, managed by Mustafa's wife Zakiyyah.
Since the band’s first CD, Boiling Point, Mustafa’s elder son Melton Jr. has joined the sax section. He is occasionally paired with younger brother Yamin in the trumpet section. Melton's elder brother, Jesse Jones Jr. is a longtime fixture in the band.
Mustafa was born in Miami on Nov. 23, 1947. Jesse played saxophone and Mustafa hoped to follow in his footsteps. But when he started out at junior high school, saxophones were unavailable, so he was given an E-flat alto horn. He was switched to trumpet the next year.
Besides playing in the school band, he joined a five-piece combo led by Jesse that played calypso, R&B and even waltzes, for tips, on the beachside patios of some of the most popular hotels along Miami Beach, as well as at dances and clubs.
“When I first started off, I didn't know very much about jazz, except that I liked it.” Mustafa said. His early trumpet heroes were Jonah Jones, Rex Stewart and Al Hirt — because Jesse had their records in his collection. Later influences included Louis Armstrong, Clifford Brown, Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, Blue Mitchell, Lee Morgan, Booker Little and especially Woody Shaw.
While still in high school, Mustafa used his gift of perfect pitch to transcribe arrangements of records, then began writing on his own. “I didn't know the theory behind it until later on. I just heard it and wrote it,” he explained. “It wasn't until I got to Berklee College of Music that the theoretical part of it started making sense to me.”
Besides one summer at Berklee, Mustafa studied two years at Mississippi Valley State College and two years at Florida A&M University, all on scholarships, and graduated from FAMU with a B.S. in music education. He received his Master of Music in Jazz Performance from the University of Miami in 2000.
Most of his early musical experiences came from working in local R&B bands and, later, with regional and nationally known R&B artists. He credits saxophonist Charles “Doc” Austin with introducing him to the Miami jazz scene. By the mid-1980s, his growing reputation had spread throughout the jazz world.
Since 1996, Mustafa’s annual jazz festival and master workshops at Florida Memorial University have provided an environment in which students and band directors from middle schools, high schools and colleges can participate and interact with professional jazz musicians. He also conducts jazz workshops at high schools and colleges throughout the country.
Now it is his fans’ turn to support him in his hour of need.
“As we pay homage to a brother while he’s still here, we want you to keep praying and donating and doing all the things you do so he can get back out here and blow for us,” Abdul Muhsin of 99 JAMZ told the audience at a recent concert.
HOW TO HELP
Donations for Melton Mustafa’s medical treatment may be made at wepay.com/donate/meltonmustafa or by check made out to Melton Mustafa Medical Trust and mailed or delivered in person to the Law Office of Nashid Sabir, 18350 NW Second Ave., Fifth floor, Miami, FL 33169. Donations may also be deposited at any JP Morgan Chase Bank: Account name: Melton Mustafa Medical Trust, account # 303-186-8585. Routing #: 263189865.
Photo: Melton Mustafa