“I’m the least musical person in my family,” admitted David New, founder of the South Beach Jazz Festival, “but, of course, I appreciate music and enjoy jazz.”
New isn’t letting his lack of musical expertise stop him, however, as he plans the first annual festival opening next week. New is used to overcoming seemingly unsurmountable challenges.
In 2000, he lost his sight, but then complications from HIV/AIDS also robbed him of his mobility, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down following a bout of meningitis. As if that were not enough for one man to suffer, he then lost his hearing.
“It all kind of snowballed,” New recalled, but he didn’t give up, eventually relearning to walk and gaining his hearing back. “I think it speaks to the strength we have within ourselves. Only at my lowest point did I feel that my life was at risk. That may have been naïve, but I feel there is always an opportunity to make a happier life.”
Still blind, New returned to Miami Beach and found himself advocating for others with disabilities.
“I was trying to be independent, but I had trouble crossing the streets,” he said. “We needed the crossing signals that are audible.”
A couple of calls later to the mayor and his city commissioner and New found himself appointed to a city committee responsible for studying and ensuring disabled access to public facilities.
New realized there were other opportunities to expand opportunities for people with disabilities and founded two non-profit organizations, Power Access and Ability Explosion, that have produced a number of events since 2009, ranging from educational programs to entertainment and sporting events. He’s organized 5K runs and wheelchair basketball tournaments, comedy festivals, music symposiums and even “Dining in the Dark” experiences. A jazz festival seemed like the logical next step.
“This year, I wanted to do something different, a little more sophisticated,” New said. “I love jazz and there wasn’t a jazz festival on the beach. And there are lots of jazz musicians, Grammy Award-winning artists, who have disabilities. I reached out to them and they wanted to be involved.”
Planning began last January and, on Dec. 7, the first Miami Beach Jazz Festival will feature more than a dozen performances. In addition to open-air public stages along Lincoln Road, ticketed concerts will feature jazz greats Raul Midon and Diane Schuur, both blind.
“Each musical performance will showcase the artistry of at least one person with a disability. The sheer talent of the artists will promote the festival’s dual goal, to entertain, and to define others by ability rather than disability,” he said.
A “klezmer” jazz brunch featuring the Reuben Hoch Chassidic Jazz Project will be offered on Sunday, Dec. 11 at Rare, a local kosher restaurant on Pine Tree Drive, and supporters can also participate in online auctions and attend VIP receptions with artists throughout the festival.
While New is optimistic the festival will attract upwards of 100,000 music lovers, he qualified that statement with a chuckle, saying, “But, that could also be 5000, that’s what I tell anybody, it’s hard to say. We’ve been marketing it like crazy.”
He hopes the festival will be successful and continue to grow into a major event on the scale of the Monterey, Newport and New Orleans jazz festivals or the South Beach Wine and Food Festival and Art Basel.
“We have a template for the future, I believe…now we only have two weeks to go,” he said. “There is always an element of surprise when you work on something so long and then it comes to fruition in just a couple of days.”
The first annual South Beach Jazz Festival runs Dec. 7 – 11 at multiple venues in Miami Beach. For a complete schedule and tickets, go to SouthBeachJazzFest.com.