photo_for_jazz_n_the_garden_web.jpgWhen Miami Gardens Mayor Shirley Gibson sought to create an event that would eventually garner national exposure for her new city, she considered the social offerings already available in Miami. With popular, internationally recognized destinations like South Beach and hugely successful cultural phenomena like Art Basel, whatever she decided upon had to be special. After consulting with a concert promoter at a Broward county event, the idea for Jazz in the Gardens was born.


Gibson, who has been Miami Gardens’ mayor since its 2003 inception and will leave office when her term ends next year, said her goal was to make the city a “destination within this greater Miami community. I wanted us to be known by something unique.”

The festival, which this weekend celebrates its sixth year, has grown in size and popularity at a pace that surprised even Gibson.

According to Suzan McDowell, president and CEO of Circle of One Marketing, the event’s attendance has grown from “about 2,500 in its first year, to 9,000 in 2007, to 18,000 in 2008, to 36,000 in 2009 and 45,000 in 2010.”

The city is expecting attendance to top the 50,000 mark this year. The event’s popularity also extends to the music industry, with some artists clamoring to perform at JITG.

McDowell and her team have been in charge of marketing the festival from the beginning. Watching it grow has been one of the perks of the job.

“It’s like this baby that we birthed and we’re seeing it grow up,” McDowell said.

One of the factors to its success, she said, is the affordable ticket prices.

“We deliver more to people than they’re paying for.”

She’s right when you consider that for $45, music lovers will get to see the much anticipated return of hip-hop songstress Lauryn Hill; the never out-of-style R & B legend Charlie Wilson; smooth jazz crooner Al Jarreau; the sultry and seriously underexposed Lalah Hathaway and an abbreviated version of New Edition with the Bobby Brown, Johnny Gill and Ralph Tresvant comprised trio, Heads of State.

Two-day festival passes begin at $75 and include a second day of music with the timeless R & B diva Gladys Knight; one of the 90’s most talented girl groups, En Vogue; jazz great Branford Marsalis; neo-soul artist Musiq Soulchild and, performing together for the first time in over three years, The Isley Brothers featuring Ronald and Ernest Isley.

Ron Isley said fans should expect a great show when he and his brother take the stage, and should also anticipate “a surprise.”

“We always try to go back as far as we can, to the very beginning, and then all the way up. All the hits,” he promised.

The group’s longevity is due to “the grace of God,” brother Ernie explained. He added that with the advent of technology, the Isleys’ music became accessible to younger artists from the hip-hop and rap genres.

Ernie recalls riding in his car in Los Angeles many years ago, listening to the radio and then hearing the familiar chords from their hit, Between the Sheets. What he heard next, however, was   “I love it when you call me Big Poppa,” the hugely popular refrain from late rapper Biggie Smalls’ hit song, Big Poppa.

“His record was bigger than ours, and ours was pretty big,” Ernie said of the Grammy nominated song.

Another timeless legend taking the JITG stage is Charlie Wilson, formerly of the Gap Band. Wilson, a prostate cancer survivor, is experiencing his biggest success as a solo artist.

Wilson said he’s “back again,” with his latest chart-topping hit, You Are.

Of his ability to hang onto his older fan base while attracting younger music lovers, Wilson said, “I appreciate all of the fans, and the ones that I’ve gathered along the way. I get to live my dream out.”

He said regardless of his fans’ age, “people know real music when they hear it. The music was real then, and it’s real now.”

JITG is being hosted by syndicated radio host and author, Michael Baisden, whose popular afternoon show is heard on Hot 105. DJ Irie will be spinning the hits between acts.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: 6th Annual Jazz in the Gardens

WHEN: Saturday, March 19 and Sunday, March 20. Gates open at 4 p.m.

WHERE: Sun Life Stadium, 2469 NW 199th St., Miami Gardens

COST: Single day tickets begin at $45, Two-day passes begin at $75.

CONTACT: For more information or to purchase tickets please visit www.jazzinthegardens.com or call 1-877-640-JAZZ (5299)