by Janet I. Martineau
Three concerts ...featuring soul singer/songwriter Bettye LaVette, jazz guitarist/singer John Pizzarelli and Gershwin pianist/arranger Kevin Cole.
Three dates ... Friday, June 24, through Sunday, June 26.
And three cities ... Bay City, Midland and Saginaw.
“We want to really mix it up,” says organizer Molly McFadden, a Midland jazz/cabaret singer with New York City credits. “So even though the Bay City concert is titled ‘Blues on the Bay,’ the Midland concert ‘Swing & Jazz in the Park’ and the Saginaw concert ‘Soul at the Temple,’ people can expect to hear all kinds of music at all three.”
McFadden says plans are in the preliminary stage, but so far the financial backers include Garber Management and Dow Chemical; Central Michigan University and the Great Lakes Bay Alliance are on board both with promotional help and serving on the event’s committees, and the concert sites and some of the talent are secured.
“We are the poster child of the arts for the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance,” quips McFadden, “the first big-scale collaborative effort (between the three counties of Saginaw, Midland and Bay).”
LaVette, who was born in Muskegon and raised in Detroit, headlines the June 24 concert at Bay City’s Friendship Shell in Wenonah Park. Pizzarelli follows on Saturday, June 25, in Midland’s Chippewassee Park, near the Tridge. And Cole closes the weekend Sunday in Saginaw’s Temple Theatre -- with an additional headliner in the works there.
“We’re also booking high school jazz bands and combos, regional jazz groups, and putting together a regional 18-member Michigan Jazz Trail Band conducted by Tom Knific, a bassist/composer/professor at Western Michigan University,” says McFadden. “And at the end of each concert, the plans are the opening acts will join the headliner for a big jam session.”
Soul Express and Scott Baker and the Universal Expressions are signed on in Bay City; Flint’s Steelheads steel drum combo and Bryan Rombalski in Midland. Expect also, during the weekend, to hear McFadden sing as well as Saginaw’s Julie Mulady and Mary Gilbert of Midland.
The two outdoor concerts are expected to run from around 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., she said, with beer/wine and food tents planned. Saginaw has not yet set a time. And ticket pricing is still in the works.
McFadden says 11 years ago she was “blown away” when she attended a jazz festival in Sutton’s Bay -- along with being aware of Detroit’s large annual jazz festival. “It got me to thinking about the astounding talent and jazz musicians we have all over the state as well as in our area.
“So my vision, my passion was to tap into that, to feature high school students and local talent and then parachute in international stars who can mix it up with them. My canopy is that five years down the road we will have a Michigan Jazz Trail Festival linked all over the state doing just that. We are starting it in the Great Lakes Bay Region.”
Cole, the Bay City native who was last year’s headliner at the inaugural event in Dow Gardens, is thrilled with McFadden’s vision and the support it has received from the alliance.
“Michigan has a voice in the arts,” he said, “and I want to help it grow from here in the trenches to out there in the world.”
Cole has lived in Chicago for 16 years, and has amassed international credits with his work as a pianist, arranger, composer and singer of music by George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin. He frequently returns home to perform in the mid-Michigan area.
LaVette, 64, scored her first hit at age 16 with the Top 10 rhythm and blues single “He’s a Lovin’ Man.” Since then she’s gone eclectic, also singing blues, rock, funk, gospel and country.
Her music career took a six-year hiatus when she was on Broadway in the musical “Bubbling Brown Sugar.” In 2007, LaVette won a Grammy nomination for her album “The Scene of the Crime,” featuring her interpretations of music by such country and rock stars as Willie Nelson, Elton John and Don Henley.
In 2008 she performed during the Kennedy Center Honors in a tribute to honorees Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend of The Who. In 2009 she performed during an Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial.
Her most recent album is “Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook,” featuring the music of Beatles, Rolling Stones, Animals and Pink Floyd. And LaVette has been on NPR’s “World Cafe” and “All Things Considered” as as well as all the late night talk shows.
Pizzarelli, 50, is a native of New Jersey and the son of jazzman Bucky Pizzarelli. He is active as a jazz guitarist, vocalist, songwriter and band leader.
He has lists 23 solo albums on his resume as well as 40 more in collaborations ranging from James Taylor to Rosemary Clooney,
In 2008 Pizzarelli was nominated for a Grammy for “With a Song in My Heart,” a tribute to the music of Richard Rodgers. Other popular albums have featured his interpretations of jazz standards and bossa nova and the music of Frank Sinatra and Nat “King’ Cole.
Pizzarelli has performed with the Boston Pops, hosts a syndicated weekly radio show, and has appeared on all the late night talk shows.