It was part family reunion and part jam session Saturday night at the Lou Rawls Center for the Performing Arts, all for a worthiest of causes: raising money to finance potentially life-saving medical treatment for the legendary jazz trumpeter, composer, arranger, producer and educator, Melton Mustafa.
Billed as a “Jazz Jam Soiree,” the event at Florida Memorial University — where for years Mustafa has served as director of jazz studies — brought out the proverbial crème de la crème of the South Florida jazz scene.
Anyone who arrived a few minutes late was just in time to hear Mustafa’s brother Jesse Jones Jr., also a master of the sax, and Mustafa’s two sons — sax man Melton Mustafa Jr. and trumpeter Yamin Mustafa — elevate the roof with exquisite harmony. They soon swung into the classic Song For My Father — which Jones promptly renamed Song For My Brother, with his trademark scat singing opening the tune and bringing it home.
Moving on to their soulful rendition of Watermelon Man, they were backed by the awesome trio that most of the evening helped carry the music to great heights: Mike Levine on piano, James Cotman on drums and bassist Robert “Bebop” Grabowski.
Their fellow musicians comprised a roll call of South Florida’s finest — among them Nicole Yarling, Paulette Dozier, Brenda Alpert, Lucian Williams, Bobby Ramirez, Ike and Valerie Woods, the Big City Band featuring Mr. Roach Thompson, Howard Moss, Wendy Pederson, Mark Fernicola. There aren’t enough superlatives in the jazz lexicon to describe the magnificent artistry, as one tight combo and/or outstanding vocalist followed another for the appreciative yet subdued audience.
Almost invariably the musicians reiterated that they were there for their beloved Mustafa. “Thank you all for being here,” Yarling told the crowd. “Thank you all for supporting live music. Thank you for supporting Melton,” she said as she delivered a stirring ballad, and next whipped out her trademark violin.
Singer Wendy Pederson came onstage for a rendition of My Favorite Things that was all sunshine. She spoke of growing up hearing the names Jesse Jackson and Melton Mustafa — “They are such an integral part of our community.” She and the band then proceeded to have way too much fun with a tune she wrote, They Call Me the Takeout Queen Because My Man Won’t Deliver.
With longtime radio music hosts Stu Grant and Abdul Muhsin serving as emcees, it all came off as seamless, flawless. As each combo delivered two or three numbers before yielding the Lou Rawls stage to another, the night zipped along at a pace that kept the crowd — surprisingly near capacity despite the short notice — delighted.
Later, longtime South Florida DJ Grant, and 99 Jamz’s Muhsin, brought to the stage Florida Memorial Associate Professor of Music Dawn Batson. She, along with the school’s Ann Payne-Simmons earned praise for pulling together the program on such short notice. Batson mentioned speaking earlier in the day with Mustafa, who, although away at a Santa Barbara, Calif. clinic, not surprisingly “was talking about his annual jazz festival, coming the third weekend in February.”
The evening concluded with a jam session that brought most of the musicians onstage. But not before Leighton and Pia Delvaille claimed the raffle prize — a portrait of Mustafa signed by them all. And not before Mustafa’s son Yamin told the audience: “I spoke to my dad earlier today, and he wanted everyone to know, especially his students and the staff, how appreciative he is of all the attention and concern.”
One fan, William Holmes, shared the kind of comment heard all night: “I’m here because I know Melton Mustafa, and he’s ill. I’m here basically to support him and his family. Tonight was great. It was fantastic.”
“It was fun,” Grant said. “I think there was a beautiful vibe. All the wonderful musicians from the area all came together for a common goal, to help one of the most beautiful people in our area. Melton has been a great educator, a great mentor, just a real people person, always makes himself accessible to help people. So we’re glad that it’s coming back to him tenfold, a lot of people coming out and very supportive tonight.
“And it’s only the beginning,” Grant added, citing the benefit concert coming up Sept. 27 at the Bridge Hotel in Boca Raton, and an Oct. 7 show set for the Caleb Theater in Miami. “We have a nice little momentum going here now. A lot of artists from the area are donating their energies and their talent to help out.”
He also announced his new jazz radio show, Sundays 8 a.m. to noon on 880 AM. “The very best in jazz from A to Z,” Grant said. “We’re also letting people know what’s happening with the Melton Mustafa tributes going on, and also what’s happening with the South Florida jazz community, which is really starting to grow, big time, and I’m really very pleased to be a part of that.
“We did this fundraiser for my dear brother,” Jones said at night’s end, “and it turned out so wonderful. We had a packed house here, and everybody appreciated it. I especially appreciate the musicians for donating their time for this worthy cause. I had other musicians who also wanted to come but it was too many. So we divided them up and other musicians will be on the second benefit event.”
For now, what a fun night. It was music. It was family. It was for a great cause. It was pure jazz. All brought together once again by Mustafa, this time with his musical and spiritual — if not his physical — presence.
To donate online: https://www.wepay.com/donate/meltonmustafa. More information: 786-262-6958
Photo: C.B. Hanif/Photos FOR SOUTH FLORIDA TIMES
Jesse Jones Jr.