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Live Audience, or Livestream? Miami's Bayfront Jazz Festival Pursues a Win on Both Fronts

Gonzalo Rubalcaba
Yuka Yamaji
Gonzalo Rubalcaba, who joins forces with Aymee Nuviola and others at the Bayfront Jazz Festival in Miami.

Last year's jazz festival season was a wash, for all the obvious reasons. Now, after an interminable pause, we're beginning to see some early stirrings on the festival circuit. Among those is the first Bayfront Jazz Festival, happening this Friday and Saturday at the FPL Solar Amphitheater in Miami, Fla. — and online, via the platform Eluvio Live.

It comes on the heels of the Exit Zero Jazz Festival, which took place over the weekend in Cape May, N.J., with a limited capacity audience around a series of open-air spaces. Jazz Night in America was on hand, and though weather conditions were a little blustery, the prevailing feeling was a spirit of joyous fellowship and overwhelming relief.

That same spirit is a stated aim of Melrose Media, presenter of the Bayfront Jazz Festival. Manuel Molina, the company's managing director, has said that the event faced its share of bureaucratic and public-safety hurdles — but that it ultimately aligns with South Florida's economic objectives. "Miami is one of the first cities to open, having small concerts with limited audiences, and the city has been wanting to revitalize downtown," Molina said in a recent article at Artburst Miami. "Also, the weather is great, and it was not that complicated to convince great artists to come here."

Bayfront Jazz Festival

That artist roster includes the legendary Cuban pianist and composer Chucho Valdés, playing his first performance for a live audience since the pandemic began. Another Cuban pianist — Gonzalo Rubalcaba, who left Cuba in the early 1990s and now resides in Coral Gables, near downtown Miami —  will appear with singer Aymée Nuviola, with whom he made the Grammy-nominated album Viento y Tiempo – Live At Blue Note Tokyo.

Also appearing on the Bayfront lineup are singer and NEA Jazz Master Dee Dee Bridgewater, with the Memphis Soulphony; vibraphonist and R&B touchstone Roy Ayers; and drummer-bandleader Mark Guiliana, with Beat Music.

Due to safety considerations, capacity for the festival will be capped at 1,500 attendees. (Capacity for the venue is usually around 8,500.) Tickets, available through Ticketmaster via bayfrontjazz.com, start at $55. At the same time, Eluvio Live — a blockchain-secured 4K streaming and ticketing platform — will carry the festival on both days, with passes running $15 per day (a two-day pass is $25). According to press materials, a portion of the proceeds will be set aside for hospitals, to support the treatment of COVID-19.

Find the Bayfront Jazz Festival schedule below.

Friday, April 30

7:30 p.m. — Roy Ayers Quintet, with Ayers on vibraphone and vocals, Dashill Smith on trumpet, Mark Adams on keyboards, Trevor Allen on bass, and Christopher DeCarmine on drums.

9:30 p.m. — Chucho Valdés Quartet, with Valdés on piano, Jose Armando Gola on bass, Dafnis Prieto on drums and Roberto Vizcaino, Jr. on percussion.

Saturday, May 1

4:30 p.m. — Mark Guiliana's Beat Music, with Guiliana on drums and electronics, Nick Semrad on synthesizers and Chris Morrissey on bass.

7 p.m. — Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Aymée Nuviola, with Rubalcaba on piano, synthesizers and percussion; Nuviola on lead vocals; Yanier Horta on saxophones; Cristobal "El Profe" Verdecchia on bass; Hilario Bell on drums; Neiger "Majito" Aguilera on percussion; Alfredo Lugo and Lourdes Nuviola on vocals.

9:30 p.m. — Dee Dee Bridgewater and the Memphis Soulphony, with Bridgewater on lead vocals, Shontelle Norman-Beatty and Skyler Jordan on backing vocals, Curtis Pulliam on trumpet, Bryant Lockhart on saxophone, Dell Smith on organ and keyboards, Charleton Johnson on guitar, Barry Campbell on bass, Carlos Sargent on drums.

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, Nate Chinen is editorial director at WBGO and a regular contributor to NPR Music.