Music: The Overtown Music Project

We all have those great moments in our lives where we wish we could hit the rewind button and replay them over and over, those moments when all the players played full out, and all the notes hit the sweet spot, and the energy rose to a crescendo. This past Saturday night at the Fountainebleau Hotel’s notorious nightclub Liv, The Overtown Music Project transported the appreciative crowd to a time in the past when the music was grand, though not shared by an integrated audience as it was this special night.

The well dressed crowd was representative of true music lovers of every age, gender, and race. There were young hipsters to church ladies to living legends dancing hip to hip expressing themselves fully uninhibited. A smile on every face.

Maseo Dj from De La Soul spinning soulful sounds of past and present set the tone, and as the evening progressed a parade of musicians joined Melton Mustafa and his well oiled orchestra on stage, one after the other, delighting dancers and upright swayers. The stage filled with musicians from Overtown’s heyday including Latin Grammy winner Javier Garcia on guitar and vocals; Bobby Stringer crooning soufully; Tree Top adding his touch of sweet blues; Mel Dancy tickling the keyboards; G Love singing and playing guitar, Joey Gilmore and FranCina Jones mixing in their soulful vocals. Needless to say, the revelers were whipped into a frenzy. It all ended far too soon.

Four years ago, Overtown Music Project founder, Amy Rosenberg, birthed the idea during a walking tour that was “both illuminating and calamitous.” Her guide, Paul George, had laryngitis, another person had a seizure, and she actually lost a shoe. “Somehow during all of that, I managed to fall in love with the area. I felt the ghosts of Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie. I was also thinking of my Grandfather while I was walking. He was a Holocaust survivor who moved his family to Detroit. In the 50s, he had a black business partner when it wasn’t socially acceptable. In the 60s, they worked for Diana Ross. I grew up with an appreciation for Motown, jazz and Gospel. Something just clicked on that tour and I told my friends I would sell my small business and six weeks later, it actually happened.”

Rosenberg now has a board working with her who “are all in the right spirit for this. They have enormous hearts and really roll up their sleeves.” Not surprising considering the spirit Rosenberg brings to the table simply for the sole purpose of restoring the music that once thrived in the historic neighborhood, a neighborhood that suffered from the wound of the deep gash of I-95 when it was routed right through the middle during the 70s. Fortunately, there has been noticeable redevelopment recently, and one can’t help but feel Rosenberg’s optimism. The Overtown Music Project is a big snowball rolling downhill, gathering momentum and people all along the way. Rosenberg gushes, “One of the most wonderful things about all this is that most of the people who came to our first event are still coming. We still have exactly the same volunteers. Everyone who has been a part of this since the beginning has had a hand in building it.” It’s all about preserving and showcasing the music and musicians who played in Overtown’s heyday. Those involved believe that music is a catalyst for economic and social change. The board will be launching three new programs this year, the first a collaboration with University of Miami’s Frost School of Music at Frederick Douglass Elementary School. Rosenberg adds, “We’ll be teaching little ones how to appreciate and play jazz. It’s a music mentoring program based on the very successful Harmony Project in L.A.” They will also be launching a program that will bring jazz and blues to Miami=Dade Public Schools during lunch period, perhaps for many, hearing it for the first time.

The Overtown Music Project does seven events a year, six of which are in Overtown. The next one is their third installation of jazz and blues at Jackson Soul Food on March 15th from 7-10pm. There will be the same beautiful collection of people from 21-91. Rosenberg describes the event, “with church ladies from Opa Locka to socialites from Key Biscayne, they will all be sitting together eating greens, cornbread and mac n’ cheese.  We have, as we always do, musicians who performed in Overtown’s glory days.” Advance tickets advised, as both of the previous ones have sold out.

Spaulding Gray once wrote how throughout our lives we experience enough “perfect moments” just to keep us going in search of the next one….I for one, will be attending the event at Jackson’s in March to provide me with my next “perfect moment.”

Of the project, Rosenberg states, “We hope our project becomes a movement and brings more love and respect to Overtown.”

About Vala Kodish

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