We have a cultural gem right here in our town

We have a cultural gem right here in our town

Jazz singer Kurt Elling

While filling up my tank at a local gas station recently, I had left my radio on, rather loudly, because I was listening to some splendid jazz music on radio station WDNA.

A charming woman in the next lane asked me if I was listening to a CD. I answered no, but that I was listening to a great radio station featuring jazz. I also mentioned to her the fact that a great jazz artist was going to be appearing at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center that very evening.

She gave me her business card (which I promptly lost). I promised to send her information via email once I located her (which I did), regarding this great concert to come.

After consulting with my home music critic I was able to convince her to attend this fabulous concert. The evening began with a performance by the Henry Mancini Institute jazz combo from the University of Miami. Of course their renditions were magnificent and to fully appreciate what they actually did it helps if you, like me, have attempted to play a variety of musical instruments in your past. It is then that you realize the tremendous skills that these young people have and what they are able to do to create the tremendous aura that they bring forth.

As for the concert itself, I could barely keep my hands and feet still, trying to keep up with those tremendous musicians from the Henry Mancini combo. The young lady, Sherrine Mostin, singing the scat vocals along with a group of incredibly talented musicians was more than I could’ve asked for in an evening’s entertainment. The other artists were: Jared Hallo, a maestro with his trumpet; David Leon, likewise with his sax; Tal Cohen, who I could hardly see on stage but I heard enough to know a piano virtuoso when I hear one, and, of course, Evan Hyde playing the drums like I dreamed I might do someday. In all it was just great and that was just the opening act.

The main performer, I am sorry to admit, is someone that I had not heard of previously but had read about recently in various media. The artist was a jazz singer named Kurt Elling, whose claim to fame, as well as being a great jazz vocalist, is that he was able to deliver a concert based on what is called the “Brill Building Project.” The Brill Building, for those who don’t know (I didn’t) is at 1619 Broadway in NYC and is famous for the many artists who worked and created there, so much so that the building developed what came to be known as the “Brill Sound.”

The building itself is 11 stories high and is named after a haberdasher that operated a store at street level some years ago. If I were to attempt to list the artists and their songs created in this building I would need more than just this newspaper to do it in, but here are just a few to start: Burt Bacharach, Sonny Bono, Neil Diamond, Marvin Hamlisch, Phil Spector, Bobby Darin, Connie Francis, plus a few songs that you might remember like On Broadway, Walk on By, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling, and a few hundred others.

Then Kurt Elling took the stage. Wow! The things that he did with his voice, accompanied by some of the most brilliant jazz musicians that I’ve seen in some time, had me on the edge of my seat for the entire program. There was one segment where Elling did a beatbox routine in counterpoint with their magnificent drummer Brian Carter. It is hard to imagine such a perfect blending of two musical instruments.

John MacLean, the guitarist played riffs that I would’ve thought impossible with just two hands. Clark Summers playing a full string bass made music come out of that big wooden instrument unlike any I had heard in the past. Gary Versace, the piano player who also played a variety of other instruments as well as controlling some very unusual sound effects devices, added to the overall show. When Kurt began his rendition of On Broadway, virtually everyone in the place was literally bouncing in their seats. It was a tremendous!

The most incredible part of all this is that it took place in, get this now, Cutler Bay. Where? Yes, Cutler Bay — in our beautiful South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center. Imagine being able to hop into your car park easily in a large parking lot, step into a magnificent acoustically perfect auditorium, and hear world acclaimed musicians as though they were playing just for you in your own living room.

When I thought back to that poor woman at the gas station who had never heard of the Cultural Arts Center I truly felt sorry for her and many others who don’t realize what a treasure we have right in our own backyard.

There are many other great performances headed to Cutler Bay and if you want to be informed I suggest you call 305-375-1949 and ask to be included on the mailing list.

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