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Jazz trumpeter, educator Melton Mustafa dies at 70

South Florida jazz icon and educator Melton Mustafa, a trumpeter who played with the greats and nurtured the musical ambitions of the small, died Thursday morning with his wife by his side at University of Miami Hospital after a long battle with prostate cancer. He was 70.

Mustafa is survived by his wife, Zakiyyah; sons Melton Jr., Yamin and Jihad; daughter Tricia; and his older brother, saxophonist Jesse Jones Jr. Funeral services will take place noon Saturday, Dec. 30, at Riyadh Ul Jannah Funeral Home in Hialeah Gardens. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions be made to the Melton Mustafa Foundation.

The annual Melton Mustafa Jazz Festival will go on as scheduled Feb. 23-25, according to Melton Jr. Speaking by phone on Thursday, Melton Jr. said the festival was symbolic of everything his father was about as a musician and educator.

“He should be remembered as a loving person who cared about the community and educating the community about jazz,” he said.

In a career that stretches back more than four decades, Mustafa played with the Count Basie Orchestra, Duke Ellington Orchestra, Woody Herman Orchestra, Jaco Pastorius’ famed Word of Mouth Band, the Melton Mustafa Orchestra and, recently, the Melton Mustafa Quintet.

He released the albums “Boiling Point” (1995) and “St. Louis Blues” (1997) by the Melton Mustafa Orchestra (with Jesse Jones Jr.); and solo albums “The Softer Side: Scenes From Miami Vol. 1” (2009) and “The Traveling Man” (2012). His last release, co-produced by Melton Jr., was recorded after the elder Mustafa had received his Stage 4 cancer diagnosis in 2011.

The recording of “The Traveling Man” was delayed, then halted temporarily, while Mustafa underwent treatment. But it was “very important” for Mustafa to finish the project, his son said.

In listening to “The Traveling Man, veteran South Florida jazz writer Bob Weinberg found a musician playing at a high level, all the more surprising given his illness. Weinberg called Mustafa's solos on the album “burnished gems, masterfully phrased.”

Melton Jr. hears something else.

“It was brutal to watch him play. I remember him being in so much pain, but he was so prideful that he just muscled through it,” Melton Jr. said. “When I listen to the solos, I can hear the pain, tears coming out of his eyes.”

Mustafa’s musical legacy was equaled in recent years by his efforts as an educator and advocate for young, aspiring musicians in his role as the founder of the jazz studies program at Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens. The school hosted the annual Melton Mustafa Jazz Festival, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year at the Black Archives Historic Lyric Theater. The festival also served as a fundraiser for college and high school jazz students, which Mustafa also supported through his not-for-profit MSM Arts Inc.

In a testament to Mustafa’s influence, the Melton Mustafa Jazz Festival hosted performances over the years by such luminaries as Jon Faddis, Benny Golson, Grover Washington Jr., Wallace Roney, Patrice Rushen, Billy Cobham, Herbie Mann, Billy Taylor, Clarke Terry, Najee and Randy Brecker.

But Mustafa also created a forum for South Florida artists and students to perform, teach, learn and network at the festival. These included Shareef Clayton, Nestor Torres, Nicole Yarling, Valerie Tyson, the Dillard Center for the Arts Jazz Ensemble and the Broward College Jazz Band.

“It’s about passing the torch,” Melton Jr. said. “He always had offers to teach other places, people always pulling at him. But he cared about this community, and he cared about helping out the youth.”

Coral Springs-raised saxophonist Patrick Bartley was a 17-year-old and a member of the Dillard jazz band when Mustafa asked him to perform on “The Traveling Man.” Mustafa gave the teen a featured role on the album, even including Bartley in the picture on the cover. Melton Jr. had introduced Bartley to the saxophone and as a preteen he had attended Mustafa’s jazz camps at Florida Memorial University.

“[Mustafa] had such a crazy career but yet he decided to come down to Florida and give his whole life to young people,” Bartley said. “He should be remembered as a person who would put other people before him in every single situation.”

The opportunity Mustafa offered on “The Traveling Man” allowed Bartley to see the possibility of a career in music for the first time, he said. The education Mustafa offered was not only about music, but the real-world advice of someone who traveled the world in the business.

Bartley spoke by phone from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport Thursday evening while waiting on a flight to performances in New York. In February, he has a slate of shows in China.

“What made him such a gem … I don’t like to talk about him in the past tense, because he’s still alive to me. What makes him such a gem, is because he’s able to play on such a high level, Woody Shaw transcriptions, and making his own lines, and then he’s a very masterful educator,” Bartley said. “Usually musicians have one or the other. To be able to communicate that is an incredible skill.”

bcrandell@sun-sentinel.com

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