When you think of the word jazz, what exactly comes to mind? You might think of the music played over the intercom when visiting your grandparents in hospice. Or maybe your mind takes you to the bustling French Quarter of New Orleans where tuba and saxophone players passionately blow into their horns and fill the liquor-scented streets with the sweet sounds of their instruments. The rich history of jazz goes much deeper than simple connotations, and its roots run through University of Miami’s Frost School of music and greater Miami jazz scene.
The History of Jazz & Blues
A century before the all-white Original Dixieland Jazz Band released the first ever official jazz recording in 1917, enslaved Black people across New Orleans planted the musical seeds of the genre.
City officials drafted an ordinance in 1817 that restricted enslaved people’s ability to dance, play instruments or sing in public, stating that enslaved people could only engage in such activities on Sundays at Congo Square, known today as Louis Armstrong Park. Consequently, each Sunday, the space became enveloped with the sounds of percussion and stringed instruments playing various forms of traditional African music that enslaved people brought to the Americas from their respective homelands.
John Hart, a UM jazz guitar performance professor, argues that the variations of African music played in Congo Square by enslaved people almost 200 years ago had a profound impact on the larger American music tradition.
“All the rhythms of jazz came from what was happening in Congo Square,” said Professor Hart. “Almost any style of popular music in this country that uses some form of drums can be traced back there.”
Following the conclusion of the American Civil War, formerly enslaved people living across rural America working the fields as sharecroppers began to develop what music scholars now refer to as “the blues.” Although people loosely use the term to refer to any music laced with feelings of despair or melancholy, the genre has a specific structure: a 12-bar pattern built on three chords.
Inspired by the earlier strides of blues musicians, New Orleans-born instrumentalist Buddy Bolden desired to create a looser version of the blues that allowed for improvisation and spontaneity. At the turn of the 20th century, Bolden became known around New Orleans as King Bolden, and his band amassed a dedicated fan base between 1900 and 1907 that came out in droves to hear his fast-paced, soaring tunes. With that, jazz was officially born.
Magic City Jazz
Now, you may still find yourself wondering: how does Miami fit into the jazz tradition? Before the abolishment of segregation in 1965, Miami’s Black community almost exclusively lived in the Coconut Grove and Overtown neighborhoods. As a result, when Black jazz singers from other cities ventured down to South Florida for gigs at Miami Beach hotels and bars, the White owners of these establishments refused to house them for the duration of their visit — leaving them with no other option but to stay in Overtown, as Coconut Grove remained too far from most of the jazz clubs in the city.
When Miami began experiencing a boom in tourism following the conclusion of the second World War, popular Black jazz performers such as Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald started to frequent the many bars, hotels and restaurants that called Overtown home during the late 1940s and 1950s. During this period, people began affectionately referring to Overtown as the “Harlem of the South.”
However, in the years following desegregation, Miami city developers and officials moved to purchase the land of Black residents living in Overtown with hopes of using the land for the construction of massive freeways. Unfortunately, most of the cultural sites and businesses that used to stand at the center of the historic Overtown community have been destroyed and have been replaced by I-95 and I-395.
Recently, the jazz scene in Miami and other cities experienced a large-scale hardship in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns, as the live component of jazz is integral to the genre.
Even though South Florida did not institute the most restrictive COVID-19 lockdowns, jazz musicians residing in the area still felt the hardship as a result of less opportunities for paid performances. To add to injury, Le Chat Noir, a jazz club located just north of downtown Miami that consistently ranked among the best of the city’s jazz music venues, closed during the pandemic and remains inactive today.
Nevertheless, the pandemic presented a unique opportunity for jazz musicians to retreat into their homes and find creative ways to continue creating and performing the music they love. Virtual concerts and recording sessions primarily held over Zoom gained popularity during the pandemic and exposed jazz musicians to newfound methods of engaging with their audiences and collaborators.
Maria Quintanilla, a Los Angeles-born jazz vocalist pursuing her doctorate in jazz vocal performance at UM, recalls how the pandemic pushed her artistry into exciting yet unknown territory when recording her latest album, “Irrefragible Laws” amid the chaos of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“The pandemic forced me to be creative in a different way,” said Quintanilla. “I started asking myself, ‘What are things around my studio apartment that I can use to continue creating?’”
So what remains of Miami jazz today in the post-pandemic age, and where can people go to experience live jazz music?
Founded in 1996, many Miami residents may know this South Miami eatery for its diverse seafood offerings ranging from snow crab legs to Peruvian ceviche. However, the restaurant also hosts jazz and other music performances almost every day in a cozy live music lounge located towards the back of the establishment.
Joshua Fenner, a junior majoring in music engineering technology and minoring in computer engineering, went to Fish House for the first time during his sophomore year and highly recommends the venue to anyone who desires to learn more about jazz’s varying subgenres and hear quality jazz performances in the city.
“Eating good food and experiencing different musical cultures at Fish House was a really cool experience, especially as a Frost student and a music lover,” said Fenner. “I really loved hearing live Cuban jazz at Fish House because the experience showed me just how different jazz is in other countries.”
Glass & Vine
Nestled within the picturesque, tree-lined streets of Coconut Grove, Glass & Vine opened in 2016 and offers guests with extensive American cuisine options on their brunch, lunch and dinner menus. Outside of mouthwatering appetizers and entrees, the restaurant welcomes jazz bands to their outdoor space as performers on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings with each night taking on a different musical theme.
Megan Higgins, a junior majoring in communications studies minoring in art and marketing, worked at Glass and Vine as a hostess during the spring semester of her sophomore year and cited her employment at the restaurant as the reason she changed her perspective on jazz as a whole.
“Before working at Glass and Vine, I never really saw jazz music live and associated it with old people in New Orleans,” said Higgins. “Seeing jazz music live there helped me gain an appreciation for the genre that I never had before. For the first time, I saw young people playing jazz music, and young people coming out specifically for the jazz performances.”
“Through my time at Glass and Vine, I realized that jazz music isn’t some dying genre, and that it actually excites people from my generation,” Higgins added.
Located in the heart of Miami’s Arts District, Lagniappe House has become a staple in the city’s food scene since its opening in 2012. UM students in recent years have come to adore the venue as the perfect place for drinking one too many glasses of wine, gossiping a little too loudly and smoking one too many cigarettes. Despite being more known for its alcohol and charcuterie, Lagniappe House has dedicated itself to pushing forth jazz music in the city through hosting live jazz performances every night.
Vivian Lynn, a junior majoring in global health studies and international studies, decided to go to Lagniappe with close friends for the first time during the spring semester of her freshman year and was pleasantly surprised by the restaurant’s live jazz music offerings.
“When I got invited to Lagniappe for the first time, I was very intrigued by the aesthetic and atmosphere of the restaurant: the greenery, the moody lighting and the outdoor seating,” said Lynn. “I had no idea that there was even jazz music, and it was my first time really hearing it live. The performance was so eclectic and made me want to know more about jazz as an art form.”
The Frost School of Music’s Performance Halls
Do you want to experience live jazz music but don’t want to cough up your money on overpriced Ubers? Look no further than the various live music venues that can be found right here on campus. The Maurice Gusman Concert Hall, the Victor E. Clarke Recital Hall and the Knight Center for Music Innovation all host concerts throughout the year that provides members of the ’Canes community the chance to experience not only jazz but also classical and contemporary music performed by UM students and faculty. With discounted concert ticket pricing for UM students as well as free event offerings, the on-campus performance halls make experiencing live jazz music easily accessible and affordable for anyone ready to test the waters.
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words_andrew mccleskey. photo_sophie pallman. design_marita gavioti.
This article was published in Distraction’s Winter 2023 print issue.
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