South Beach Jazz Festival Back For Third Season – Festival Is Becoming A Staple In Jazz World

SoBe JazzPress

photo of Leesa Richards

originally published in

by Charlotte Libov
January 4, 2019


The South Beach Jazz Festival returns for its third season featuring a variety of events. Throughout the three-day festival are award-winning headliners, a jazz brunch, a master class and a musical film. It’s all designed to attract music lovers, everyone from the casual fan to the aficionado.


The festival, which opens Friday and runs through Sunday, was established as a means to raise awareness of people with disabilities, but with the eventual goal of creating a major jazz festival as well, its founder says.

“Now that people know about us – and we have a brand -our priority is to bring world class musicians, who just happen to have a disability,” says David New, the festival’s creator.

Nurturing the festival is now an all-encompassing endeavor for New, an entrepreneur, advocate for people with disabilities, and a visual artist, who became blind 17 years ago from an illness.

Through his non-profit company Power Access, Inc., New had conducted other programs designed to raise awareness, but three years ago he came up with the idea of the festival.

Even though he is committed to bringing the best jazz performers to the festival, New is committed to his mission. The festival has a new slogan – “Disability to Serendipity.”

Also, all of the acts are required to have at least one performer with a disability recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act – not difficult, says New, as 20 percent of Americans fit that description.


But the focus will still be on the music, says New.

“Becoming a major jazz festival is the goal,” says New, whose future plans call for expanding the festival from its current Lincoln Road locus to other parts of South Beach.

“If we can expand to Ocean Drive and South Beach, and also capitalize on other opportunities that come our way, we’ll be able to compete with the other great jazz festivals,” he says.


One way to do this is to create a lineup, like this year’s, which includes such award-winning talents as Dee Dee Bridgewater, Marcus Roberts, Nestor Torres, Brian Lynch, Bobby Thomas, Alex Weitz, as well as Maria Rivas, who is known as the “Queen of Jazz,” in her native Venezuela, and local favorites Leesa Richards and Nicole Yarling.

New says he was particularly committed to getting Roberts to join the lineup.

“When we were first starting the festival, I saw him perform at Nova Southeastern University and I thought he was fantastic,” says New.

Roberts, who became blind at the age of four from cataracts, is the recipient of the Helen Keller Personal Achievement Award, and was the subject of a “60 Minutes” profile, in which Wynton Marsalis, termed him “the greatest American musician most people have never heard of.”

As for Roberts, he is a fan of New’s as well. “This festival exists because David New, a visually-impaired entrepreneur, had the vision and inspiration to make it happen despite all of the complexities, challenges, and difficulties involved in putting on a major event like this,” says Roberts.

“I know that a lot of work goes into putting on a festival of this magnitude, and my trio – with Rodney Jordan on bass and Jason Marsalis on drums – and I consider it a privilege to play for the great fans that support this very special festival’s mission,” he added.

“This festival shows once again that the disabled community has leaders who can inspire and motivate people from all walks of life. I’m deeply moved by that,” Roberts added.


According to New, another of the festival’s goals is to foster jazz education, which is why the program includes an all-age master class with Latin Grammy award winning jazz flautist Nestor Torres.

“Incorporating an educational element makes the festival much more vital and relevant,” says Torres.

“Part of my mission is to serve and raise youth and provide a safe a safe space for everyone to find their own unique voice,” added Torres, saying that he intends to make the class and experience that is a “fun, interactive freedom of expression.”

Nicole Yarling is well known in South Florida, both for her artistry as a jazz vocalist and for her work with young musicians, especially the JECC Boot Camp Ensemble, which she does in conjunction with WDNA.

“I love that the festival will give me the opportunity to showcase these up and coming musicians playing jazz,” said Yarling.

“Every time these young people perform, people are surprised because they expect they will be less talented because of their age. But their passion and their ability shines,” she added.

Award-winning drummer Jonathan Joseph is also delighted about the prospect of playing in the festival.

A Miami Beach native, Joseph says he’s eager to do his part to help the festival grow, saying, “I would like to see it grow in sponsorship, funding and support from the city. If these things happen, I have no doubt that this South Beach Jazz Festival will be one of the greatest in the nation.”