jazz-in-the-gardens_web.jpgIn five short years, the city of Miami Gardens has established one of the most popular music festivals in the country.

Last year’s event attracted nearly 40,000 music lovers to the two-day festival hosted by the largest predominantly black city in Florida. This year’s festival, at Sun Life Stadium (formerly Dolphin Stadium) in the city on Saturday, March 20 and Sunday, March 21 features another winning lineup that is heavier on R & B than jazz, but has a little something for everyone.

Tom Joyner, the popular host of the Tom Joyner Morning Show – and who is also a part-time Miami resident – returns as host of the event.

Saturday’s show is headlined by Hip-Hop queen Mary J. Blige, who burst onto the music scene over 15 years ago, and has managed to grow up as a person and an artist before her fans’ very eyes. 

A huge part of Blige’s appeal is her ability to “keep it real,” sharing both the joy and the pain from her personal life in her songs. Because her fans have been there while she searched for “Real Love” in abusive relationships, they can enjoy her empowering proclamation that after overcoming drama, drugs and relationship dysfunction, she’s “Just Fine.”

Vocally, Blige has matured from a good – but sometimes pitchy – delivery that suffered at the higher registers to being good enough to perform a pitch-perfect, beautifully controlled duet with acclaimed opera singer Andrea Bocelli. Jazz in the Gardens’ fans can expect a spirited and engaging performance from Hip Hop’s first lady.

Joining Blige on Saturday’s show are blue-eyed soul singers Teena Marie and Robin Thicke, R & B newcomer K’Jon, jazz pianist Joe Sample and local artists Jon Saxx, Kawan Debose and Rachel Brown.

Fans are strongly encouraged to arrive early enough to check out Saxx, Debose, Brown and Jovie (performing on Sunday) who beat out over 300 other local artists to garner a coveted spot on the Jazz in the Gardens stage.

The South Florida Times had a chance to interview and “audition” Debose, Brown and Jovie as they waited in a small lobby to be featured on a local TV show, and they did not disappoint.

While he was initially reluctant to sing on demand, Debose did eventually convince the SFT that he deserved a spot at Jazz in the Gardens by singing a soulful and mature-beyond-his-23-years version of “Summertime.”

Brown’s biggest idol is Whitney Houston, whom she channeled by singing “I Will Always Love You,” as though Ms. Houston herself was in the room. Jovie’s sweet rendition of an original composition showed that she just may have what it takes to snag the Grammy Award that she dreams of winning in the next five years. 

Sunday’s show will include R & B/pop singer John Legend, jazz songstress Cassandra Wilson, smooth jazz man David Sanborn, Eric Roberson, R & B newcomer Melanie Fiona and R & B crooners Boyz II Men.

The Philly-based quartet is now a trio, (bass Mike McCary departed due to irreconcilable monetary issues) and the boys are now definitely men.  All three are fathers, and Shawn Stockman and Wanya Morris are married.

In a telephone interview with the South Florida Times, Stockman said that despite being groomed like Motown-era artists, he and his group mates had no idea that they would go on to sell 60 million albums in a career that has spanned nearly 20 years.

“It was embedded in us early the type of artists and the type of people that we should be. Back in our day, A & R actually existed,” he said of the Artists and Repertoire division of record companies.

“That contributed to our longevity, because we could basically perform in any condition. We’re serious, we’re professionals,” said the father of six-year old twins and an infant daughter.

Of the group’s decision to move on without its signature bass man, Stockman said, “Unfortunately, we tried to get Mike back in the group, but unfortunately it didn’t work out. It’s one of those things where we’re so different now. We’re in a different space. We were a different type of group.  He’s still our boy, but it didn’t work out. We’re different individuals now.”

Stockman said Jazz in the Gardens fans should expect their money’s worth, and then some.

“They will get a great show, it’s what we do.  It’s not bragging, but we take it very seriously. We have a good time.  We enjoy it. Our mission is to entertain everybody,” Stockman said.



WHAT: Jazz in the Gardens Visit jazzinthegardens.com for artist lineup.

WHERE: Sun Life Stadium (formerly Dolphin Stadium) 2269 Dan Marino Boulevard (NW 199th Street) Miami Gardens.

WHEN: Saturday, March 20 and Sunday, March 21. Gates open at 3 p.m., first performance scheduled at 4:05 p.m.

COST:  From $45 for a one day pass and from $75 for a two-day pass. Visit www.ticketmaster.com to purchase tickets.