Local Obituaries

Jazz musician, educator Melton Mustafa, who played with the greats, dies at 70

Jazz trumpet player Melton Mustafa was diagnosed with Stage 4 prostate cancer in 2011 but was still performing, including at a free outdoor concert on Nov. 25, 2016, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami.
Jazz trumpet player Melton Mustafa was diagnosed with Stage 4 prostate cancer in 2011 but was still performing, including at a free outdoor concert on Nov. 25, 2016, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami. Miami Herald File

Melton Mustafa, a jazz trumpeter who was Miami born and raised, played with the greats.

His elder brother Jesse Jones Jr. says Mustafa played with the Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Woody Herman orchestras. He also supported late bassist Jaco Pastorius’ Word of Mouth Band and fronted his own Melton Mustafa Orchestra and Melton Mustafa Quintet.

Oh yes, also a guy named Frank Sinatra, who tapped the talents of Mustafa, the founder of the jazz studies program at Florida Memorial University. The late and great Ol’ Blue Eyes didn’t play with just anybody, baby.

But Mustafa, who lived in Miami Gardens and died Thursday at 70 after battling prostate cancer, had a singular impact on the South Florida community, his brother said — and it went beyond the music he loved so much.

“Mentoring children in the music field. Not only in music, but in life itself,” Jones Jr. said. “He was an all-around guy. So many loved him. I got an email on Facebook that said if it wasn’t for my brother mentoring him and talking about life, he’d be dead now or in prison. I’m so proud of him.

“He would also say ‘I never hold anything back regarding life and especially when teaching music,’ ” Jones Jr added.

“I like sharing information, knowledge,” Mustafa told Ashlee Moss, one of his Florida Memorial students and mentees, in a video interview posted on Facebook by his friend Nicole Yarling, a local jazz vocalist and instructor.

“I don’t like holding back information that I feel is good for the development of anyone. I enjoy sharing information because I know that is the thing that is going to prepare students for the real world. If you go out there without knowledge, you are actually preparing yourself for the slaughter,” Mustafa said.

In 2006, Mustafa chaired the Jazz Historic Heritage Committee that developed a jazz and community center at the Hampton House on Northwest 27th Avenue in Brownsville. Mustafa wanted to bring jazz back to a community that was once rich with the music and that spawned artists like George Lane, Dave Nuby, Norman Cox and himself.

In 1995, Mustafa helped celebrate Florida’s 150th anniversary with street performances in Miami, lit by the iconic Coppertone sign when it hung over Flagler Street.

melton coppertone
Melton Mustafa belted out a tune just after the lighting of the Coppertone sign on the Concord building on West Flagler in Miami in March 1995. He was part of an outdoor reception to kick off the 150th birthday celebration of the state of Florida. DAVID BERGMAN Herald File

Mustafa’s albums included “Boiling Point” in 1995 and “St. Louis Blues” in 1997, with his orchestra. His brother Jesse joined him on those recordings. His final release, “The Traveling Man” in 2012, was produced by his son Melton Jr. Mustafa recorded the album soon after he was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer.

Mustafa’s solos on “The Traveling Man” are “burnished gems, masterfully phrased,” jazz critic Bob Weinberg wrote in a 2012 South Florida.Com feature. Mustafa’s return to the stage at Florida Memorial in 2011 so soon after his diagnosis and health decline that left him barely able to walk, surprised everyone — including the trumpeter himself.

“I counted the band off,” Mustafa recalled to Weinberg about that gig. “And it came time for my solo, and I jumped on that thing! I said, ‘Wait a minute! I’m not supposed to be able to do this!’’ 

In addition to his brother, Mustafa’s survivors include his wife, Zakiyyah; sons Melton Jr., Yamin and Jihad; and daughter Tricia. Services will be held at noon Saturday, Dec. 30, at Riyadh Ul Jannah Funeral Home, 17551 NW 137th Ave., Hialeah Gardens. The family asks that contributions be made to the Melton Mustafa Foundation.

The annual Melton Mustafa Jazz Festival will go on as scheduled Feb. 23-25, his son Melton Jr. told South Florida.Com. He called the festival symbolic of everything his father was about as a musician and educator.

Howard Cohen: 305-376-3619, @HowardCohen

  Comments