Miami herald

Fitzroy and the tropical funk vanguard

click to enlarge Jason Jeffers, Fitzroy frontman - Richard Patterson
Richard Patterson
Jason Jeffers, Fitzroy frontman

In Miami, a perfect storm's been brewing for years, though it has nothing to do with the impending hurricane season. The town's rich culture — a cosmopolitan mix of Caribbean, Latin American, European and American influences — is increasingly reflected in its diverse musical acts.

"These are very exciting times to be in Miami," muses John Speck, frontman and trombonist for Miami tropical-funk act Bacon Bits. That's a bit of an understatement; what he sees here is nothing less than a revolution-in-waiting. For proof, Speck cites Suénalo, Locos Por Juana, Skampida and Fitzroy (among others) as groups playing a multi-headed mix of reggae, Cuban jazz, R&B and funk. The diversity of genres is all part and parcel of this as-yet-unnamed scene.

Jason "Fitzroy" Jeffers agrees with Speck's vision for Miami. At 25, he's old enough to have some real-world experience behind him, though in terms of music, he's still a rookie. Jeffers grew up in Barbados, rapping to prerecorded beats until he moved to Miami for college. Afterward, he earned a steady paycheck writing for the Miami Herald, doing the 9-to-5 bit while, in his words, "being half-ass" about his music career. So one day a few months back, he quit and put a backing band together. Asked whether leaving his day job was a risk, he shrugs.

"When you have faith in something, it's not that much of a risk, anyway," says Jeffers, who now devotes himself to Fitzroy full-time. His music, strongly rooted in the '80s pop funk of Prince, is reflective of his casual, upbeat disposition. And, like Jeffers himself, Fitzroy's music is more organic than its dancehall reggae counterparts currently dominating the Miami scene.

"You've got similar things in New York," notes Speck of Bacon Bits, which shares a guitarist with Fitzroy. He adds that the Big Apple "seems to be more serious." He and Jeffers both stress the chasm between the New York and Miami reggae/funk scenes. For Speck, New York is simply a place where people don't want to cut loose — "they don't dance as much there," he says — while for Jeffers, it's all about the two metropolises' comparative age.

Regarding Miami, Jeffers says, "It's still a young city in the sense that New York ... everything's already in place there. Of course, you'll find movements, but it really isn't a blank slate. Miami is."

For Your Ears (and Eyes)

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