Latest News

Jazz singer walks off Miami stage in dispute over pay

The crowd came to hear her sing.

They got an earful, but it wasn’t what they expected. Jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater, headlining Friday night’s Miami Nice Jazz Festival at the Gusman Center, told astonished fans, including Miami’s mayor, that she would not perform because the promoters hadn’t been paid in accordance with her contract.

“My contract was signed months ago, but it has not been respected,” said the 62-year-old performer, a three-time Grammy winner.

Then she walked off stage.

It was an ignominious end to a night of musical entertainment highlighting cultural ties between Miami and its sister city in France.

According to Philippe Pautesta-Herder, the Miami-based producer of the festival, the singer took a hike after receiving a check when her contract called for cash or a certified check.

“She made the entire festival look bad,’’ Pautesta-Herder said.

In a brief Twitter exchange with The Miami Herald, Bridgewater blamed “promoter non-compliance with contractual terms.”

Bridgewater, also a Tony award winner, is considered the “godmother,” of the festival, which has been taking place in France since 1948. It came to Miami for the first time this year, part of the sister-city relationship between Miami and Nice.

Bridgewater had played without incident at the French festival in the past. She was scheduled to appear on the Gusman’s Olympia Theater’s stage at 10 p.m.

Organizers had already wired her half of her $17,000 fee, Pautesta-Herder said. About 30 minutes before she was scheduled to take the stage in front of a crowd of about 300, organizers handed Bridgewater a check for the remainder. But her contract called for the check to be certified.

“She gave us hell,’’ Pautesta-Herder said.

For the next 30 minutes, organizers frantically tried to assure Bridgewater that the check was good. Members of the Nice festival left their seats in the audience, sneaking backstage to try to convince her so.

Meanwhile in the auditorium, what was expected to be a 15-minute intermission dragged on for almost an hour. Restless fans began clapping and chanting in anticipation.

Organizers thought they were in the clear when Bridgewater took the check and walked on stage.

“She tricked us into believing she was going to perform, then she walked out and made this statement,’’ Pautesta-Herder said. “Why would she even go on stage? That was ridiculous.”

And embarrassing, he added.

Among the dignitaries at Friday night’s performance were Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado and the French consul-general in Miami, Gael de Maisonneuve.

“That could have happened anywhere. It’s not about the city. It’s about the way the promoter handled the situation,’’ Regalado said Saturday, adding that Miami is committed to hosting the festival, which continued Saturday night, with South Florida-based jazz singer Nicole Henry and the Eddie Palmieri Latin Jazz Band headlining.

Pautesta-Herder said organizers believed Bridgewater would have enough trust in them to accept a check. She did leave with the check even though she didn’t perform, he said.

Ronald Weber, president and artistic director of South Florida JAZZ, a nonprofit that has been putting on shows since 1992, said it’s common for artists to require cash or a certified check in their contract.

He called the disagreement “unfortunate” and said while most musicians would take a check, “artists have had bad experiences over the years … it’s not an unreasonable request,” he said.

Ticket prices for Friday’s concert ranged from $30 for an upper balcony seat to $195 for a small cafe-style table in front of the stage. A ticket to the entire run of shows, along with accommodation at the luxury Conrad hotel on Brickell Avenue, was advertised at $919 for two people.

Even so, Pautesta-Herder said Bridgewater’s fee was not funded by ticket sales.

“We have a lot of private investors,” he said. “We want to make this a major international festival.’’

Grumbling at the fiasco and the late hour, many patrons lined up to get their money back. Earlier in the evening, they heard the FIU University jazz band perform with torch singer Sally Night and later a combo led by bassist Kyle Eastwood, son of actor Clint Eastwood.

In an emailed statement Saturday morning, jazz festival organizers said fans who paid to see Bridgewater could exchange their tickets for another show or choose a full refund. The statement said performances on Saturday and Sunday would go ahead as planned.

Miami Herald contributor Fernando Gonzalez contributed to this story.