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A few weeks ago I traveled to Florida to set up radio-TV appearances and signings for my latest book New York Nights. While there I had the opportunity to attend a performance in the South Florida Jazz seriesan outgrowth of older area societies such as Gold Coast Jazz. The present series utilizes the Miniaci Performing Arts Center on the campus of Nova Southeastern University in Daviean impressive facility in a predictably luscious Floridian landscape.
The president and artistic director of South Florida Jazz is Ron Weber, a retired physician/percussionist originally from Detroit. Ron epitomizes people who have considerable musical talent but spent most of their lives at more lucrative careers. Such individuals often wind up doing more for jazz as producers, sponsors and fund raisers. Ron has succeeded in developing programming that rewards patrons by presenting pivotal new musicians whose virtuosity has been carefully scrutinized. He draws on his years of experience as a performer and knowledge of what constitutes important new music. In addition, he creates an atmosphere empathetic to Floridians who are bound to compare the concerts with performances and venues that they attended in northern cities before they arrived in the Sunshine State.
So...when you arrive at the Miniaci Center, your complimentary copy of Hot House (local version) awaits you together with an impressive array of jazz literature and promotional flyers covering the scene and current jazz happenings. Refreshments are served at sensible prices and patrons can schmooze with performers before the show and indulge their penchant for exchanging old stories and memories.
Dr. Weber takes care of business by publishing Rim Shotsa newsletter/program, actively soliciting new members and talking up the music. The series is successful by almost any standardsthe night I attended there were at least 300 fans.
The 2008 season features Eric Alexander, Carmen Lundy, Joey DeFrancesco, and Larry Coryellmusicians who reflect Weber's knowledge of the current jazz scene. I saw Hendrik Meurkens who was making his first appearance on the Treasure Coastanother testament to the producer's perspicacity. After years of cult status Meurkens has finally emerged as a major figure in "Samba Jazz," a term he coined to describe the hybrid Brazilian sound he has performed for decades. His current CD Sambatropolis is topping the charts, and the Floridians in the audience at Miniaci were roaring their approval.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.