The Jazz in the Gardens festival might be a bit of a misnomer, seeing as it’s dominated by R&B, soul and hip-hop acts and is actually at Sun Life Stadium, but fans of great music shouldn’t mind. After all, the two-day concert on Saturday, March 19 and Sunday, March 20, now in its sixth year, features timeless stars including Lauryn Hill, Gladys Knight, the Isley Brothers, Charlie Wilson, Al Jarreau, El DeBarge, Lalah Hathaway and the great saxophonist Branford Marsalis, plus two significant reunions from the ’90s pop-R&B world.
Female group En Vogue – which gave us the booty-shaking hits “Free Your Mind” and “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)” – is back in business after several splits. And some notable members of New Edition – Ralph Tresvant, Johnny Gill and, yes, the infamous Bobby Brown – have reformed as Heads of State, a trio that will offer the best of New Edition’s hits, plus their respective solo careers.
“It’s the greatest lineup I’ve ever been a part of, you know?” says Brown. “Me and Heads of State – Ralph and Johnny – wanted to do things that are meaningful, and I think this concert is gonna be exquisite, something that everybody should see. You can expect about 60 minutes of pure, high-energy performing – that’s what we do.”
Count on crooning to New Edition classics such as “Cool It Now” and “Mr. Telephone Man,” plus Brown’s solo smash “My Prerogative.”
“I’m just a little bit older, a little bit slower, but I can still do all the steps, and I can still hit my notes,” says Brown. “So I’m still a wild boy onstage.”
One of the more old-school acts on the bill is the Isley Brothers – which has been around for more than 50 years, performing every style from doo-wop, R&B, funk and psychedelic soul, but first hit it big with the R&B standard, “Shout.”
“We have requests to do just about everything, you know?” says founding member Ron Isley. “We always have to do the stuff like “Shout” and “Twist and Shout,” so we’ll touch on that, plus stuff from my latest album. I’m gonna do all the hits over probably about 90 minutes. I mean, you can’t do the whole thing in 90 minutes, but I’ll do the majority of what everybody wants to hear.”
Isley Brothers fans might be surprised to learn that Jimi Hendrix was once a member of the band.
“He was with us about three or four years, and lived in a house with my mother,” says Isley. “He was one of the great, great, great players, you know, and my brother Ernie plays a lot like him. Although he never taught Ernie anything – because Ernie wasn’t interested in guitar at the time.”
So why did Hendrix part ways with the Isley Brothers?
“He didn’t get to go to London with us [in the early ‘60s], because they would allow us to bring only a couple of musicians,” Isley says. “We had to use their musicians over there – that was a rule at the time. And so, later on, while we were doing something else, he got his chance to go over to London, and he got his break there.”
Another old-school R&B-funk band that will be well-represented is the Gap Band (“Outstanding,” “Early In the Morning,” “You Dropped a Bomb On Me”), as its lead singer Charlie Wilson will perform.
“I believe I have 90 minutes, so it’ll be very entertaining,” he says. “You can sit down later, but if you want to party, you come see Charlie Wilson. I’m gonna mix and twist it up, take you back and bring you to the new.”
Wilson is still having an effect on the pop charts with his hit “You Are,” which hit No. 1 on Urban AC. And he’s still blown away by the success.
“It still surprises me,” he says, “because I’m still having No. 1 records and since I started, everyone was trying to tell me what I wanted to do was an impossible task.”