There’s good news for lovers of Jazz Roots at the Adrienne Arsht Center, who may have wondered about the fate of the popular concert series since founder Larry Rosen passed away last fall. Shelly Berg, the innovative leader of the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami, will guide Jazz Roots as artistic advisor, Arsht officials have announced.
Berg promised to continue Rosen’s programming philosophy.
“How do we make each concert special, how do we put together artists who wouldn’t be together if not for Jazz Roots?” Berg said this week.
The series opens Nov. 4 at the Knight Concert Hall with a tribute to Rosen, led by musician and composer Dave Grusin — who co-founded the GRP jazz label with Rosen — and featuring the Frost School’s Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra, an ensemble of top student musicians that has played frequently on the series, and guests to be announced later.
Berg, who was a longtime friend to Rosen and helped him conceive Jazz Roots, described him as a determined visionary.
“He started a jazz record company when jazz was supposed to be dead, and he started a jazz concert series when the jazz clubs were closing,” he says.
The Jazz Roots series, which the Arsht Center launched with Rosen in 2008, has been a major platform for the music in Miami, raising its profile and helping to enable the rise of other jazz series and programs here. As with previous seasons, this year’s concerts are filled with famous names, and two incorporate popular music and styles. Berg, a top pianist and successful performer, will tap his long history and many connections in the jazz world for his new role.
The opener will be followed by a Christmas program led by saxophonist Dave Koz, featuring soul vocalists Kenny Lattimore and Valerie Simpson of Ashford and Simpson, on Nov. 26. Berg defended the choice of Koz, a smooth jazz artist, citing his appeal to audiences and musicianship.
“He came to play with the big band at University of Miami, and some of my students were asking why are we playing with this smooth jazz guy,” Berg says. “By the end of the concert every student was in awe of him.”
In January, Wynton Marsalis will lead his Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, the national symphony of jazz. His brother, saxophonist Branford Marsalis, appears with his quartet and vocalist Kurt Elling in March. (Miami native Carmen Lundy will open that show.)
“Kurt is an incredible singer, and his voice is also an instrument,” Berg says. “Branford is a great storyteller in his playing, like a singer.”
Pianists Gonzalo Rubalcaba, the Cuban musician who is one of the most acclaimed artists in contemporary jazz, and the renowned Chick Corea, part of jazz since the days of bebop, join up in February, reprising a show they did together at New York’s Blue Note jazz club in 2001, for Corea’s 60th birthday. (Rubalcaba, who lives in Broward County, also became a lecturer at the Frost School last year.)
“There are common threads to their background, with all kinds of Latin music,” says Berg, who promises improvisational fireworks. “They’re both singular artists with a distinctive voice.”
The season closes in April with a blues-themed concert, “From Ma Rainey to Miles Davis: A Blues Journey,” led by Steve Miller. Best known for ’70s pop hits such as Fly Like an Eagle, Miller is the godson of legendary guitarist Les Paul, and he started his career playing with classic bluesmen like Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy and Howlin’ Wolf in Chicago. Vocalist Jimmy Vaughan will join Miller, another longtime friend of Berg, who brought him to the Frost school several years ago as a visiting professor and performer.
“He’s a blues devotee,” says Berg. “This will be a blues meets jazz concert, how blues influenced jazz.”
The series will continue an educational program that brings in approximately 200 student musicians from Miami-Dade high school jazz bands to each performance, where they also get to watch sound check and have a Q&A session with the artists.
If You Go
The 2016-2017 Jazz Roots series opens on Nov. 4 and runs through April 7. Subscriptions are $190 to $760 at arshtcenter.org or 305-949-6722