Najee serenaded the crowd with the sweet sounds of his saxophone during the 11th Annual Jazz in the Garden in Miami Gardens, Fla. (Pansy Ruff/NNPA)

By Pansy Ruff (NNPA News Wire Contributing Writer)

The 11th Annual Miami Jazz in the Gardens festival started off with a bang on Saturday, March 19th. in the beautiful city of Miami Gardens, Florida. The two-day festival is a treat that has become one of the premiere music festivals in America. It began with local artist Cristal Renee as she kicked things off with an action packed performance with some great moves and a silky voice they lit the stage up. Her performance was a key in getting the crowd into the party mood as they slowly trickled in. She was followed by the last local artist, April Raquel and Koture Funk, who were sexy, beautiful and could sing. These young ladies kept the crowd going, and gave a great performance. The Jazz All Stars were next, which included Najee, Alex Bugnon and Regina Bell. Najee came out first alone and serenaded the crowd with the sweet sounds of his saxophone playing several of his hits. He was joined by Alex Bugnon, who tickled the ivory keys giving all a great treat, while the two of them played masterfully. They played hit after hit and the crowd went into a frenzy. A few minutes later, Regina Belle appeared on the set, as Najee shared that they have known each other for a long time and she is his children’s godmother. Her soulful voice along with Najee and Alex Bugnon was outstanding as they rocked the jazz festival, while the crowd went wild. Regina Belle ran through a series of her hits and gave everyone a chance to reminisce of the good old days. Average White Band followed the jazz set and came out playing funky with lots of energy, entertaining the crowed with all of their soulful hits!

As the party moved into the evening, the smooth sounds of Michael McDonald had the festival jumping as he put some Doobie Brothers in the funk. Michael still has that voice; you can close your eyes and not see him, but know the voice. His performance was as good as it gets. One of the groups that we all know, the legendary Kool and the Gang came on stage next. Then, the party went to a whole new level. They had so much energy. The vocals were outstanding. Young and old alike, know Kool and the Gang as they sang a number of their hits to perfection.

The night ended with Mr. Gap Band himself, Charlie Wilson. He came out on fire! It was amazing to see after all these years he can still do it. Uncle Charlie changed clothes at least three times during the performance. He sang his old and new hits; it was one of the most amazing performances this reporter had seen in a while. He also took time to give a testimony about his life on drugs and alcohol, the way they took him down. He took us to church to close the night out. Saturday was a big day of stars, music, filled with fun. When everyone walked out at two in the morning, there was nothing left, but smiles.

Sunday started out just as it should have with the local group Lavie, opening with a lot of energy and some great gospel songs. The crowd got started early, because many of them had just come from church so they were definitely in the mood for some Holy Ghost music to continue on that path. Lavie got the crowd warmed up for Fred Hammond, who he lived up to his name. Fred is an outstanding gospel, contemporary Christian and inspirational singer that has been active since 1985. Fred sang his old and new songs and also took request from the crowd. His style is amazing, because young and old identify with him. He also took time out to share his testimony with us, which was very captivating, in the end he turned it up with his unique sound.

Brian Culbertson is a real jazz artist. He is 100 percent, an instrumentalist. He plays keyboards and trombone just to name a few. The crowd was ready for him after the gospel artist had taken everyone to church and was ready to party. Brain’s sound is very funky combined with R&B. He kept the crowd going with his old and new and they responded in kind, great performance.

The next legend that appeared stage front was Kenny “Baby Face” Edmonds whose smooth soulful sound has been around since 1976 and still rolls out hits today. Not only does he sing, he also plays instruments, writes songs and produces all of his music. Baby Face without a doubt was one of the biggest highlights of the jazz festival. Janelle Monae followed Baby Face and if you know anything about Janelle, you know she is high impact. She covered the stage with her energy and hot dance moves. When Janelle performs she gives her all and that she did. There was no better way to end Jazz in the Gardens, but with Usher, who came out from the beginning to end with energy and spunk that nobody could match. He performed until he could not do anymore. And, yes, when it comes to hot dance moves Usher is unparalleled! Sunday nights will never be the same in Miami Gardens. The 11th Annual Jazz in the Gardens was a resounding success and it may be smart to put it on your bucket list for next March! We look for many more to come.

For more information on Jazz in Gardens 2017, visit


Freddie Allen is the National News Editor for the NNPA News Wire and 200-plus Black newspapers. 20 million readers. You should follow Freddie on Twitter and Instagram @freddieallenjr.

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