by Janet I. Martineau
A triple treat returns in June when the Michigan Jazz Trail Festival winds through Saginaw, Midland and Bay City.
Headlining the festival are Ramsey Lewis and former Michiganders Dee Dee Bridgewater and Patrick Yandall. Tickets to see them are now on sale. But the opening night salvo is a free kick off party featuring local talent.
“”We’re calling it Blues on the Bay and it is aimed at celebrating the Great Lake Bay Region and its talent,” says festival founder Molly McFadden of the Wednesday, June 20, free event at the Friendship Shell in downtown Bay City.
“We’re still lining up the talent, but we have high school jazz bands, the seven-member Soul Xpress, Sara & The Groove, the Perry Woodard School of Dance. It starts at 3:30 p.m. and runs until dark with a food tent, beer and wine.”
The following events in Midland and Saginaw have a change of venue this year from last year, says McFadden.
“Jazz on the Green” takes place Saturday, June 23, in Midland’s Dow Gardens, headlining three-time Grammy winner Ramsey Lewis, a pianist, as well as the 18-member Michigan Jazz Trail Big Band.
And “Heart and Soul” settles in Saginaw’s TheDow Event Center on Sunday, June 24, with singer/songwriter Dee Dee Bridgewater and guitarist Patrick Yandall, who have early life roots in Flint and Bay City respectively.
“Dee Dee and Patrick no longer live in Michigan, but we are bringing them home and celebrating the fact they began their careers in this region,” says McFadden, herself a jazz vocalist and with her husband the owner of Molly’s Bistro in Midland.
“And the Jazz Trail Big Band musicians earlier had said to us, ‘Can you get Ramsey Lewis and Dee Dee.’ They love them. Some of them will be playing for Dee Dee and she is thrilled.”
The Michigan Jazz Trail Festival began in 2010 with a single concert in Dow Gardens. Last year it expanded to three consecutive nights in three cities with concerts at the Friendship Shell in Bay City, in back of the H Hotel in Midland and at the Temple in Saginaw.
“We’re mixing it up this year with some site changes, and the gap in the dates because of the River Roar’s 25th anniversary event in downtown Bay City,” says McFadden.
The Saturday night concert starts at 5:30 p.m. with performances by high school jazz bands, ACT-SO, Voices of Jazz and vocalist Mary Gilbert of Midland.
At 7 p.m. the all-pro Michigan Jazz Trail Big Band takes the stage. And then Lewis and his Sunshine Band wrap up the night with a two-hour set starting at 8 p.m.
The Dow Gardens grounds also will feature food tents and beer and wine sales. Dow Gardens is adjacent to the Midland Center for the Arts at 1801 W. St. Andrews.
Over in Saginaw, the Sunday concert at TheDow Event Center, 303 Johnson, begins at 3 p.m. with performances by the city’s First Ward Community Center Choir, the Saginaw Youth Jazz Orchestra, the six-member Good Company vocal ensemble from Midland, and the Mike Brush/Julie Mulady duo from Saginaw.
Yandall takes the stage at 4 p.m. for a 30-minute set, followed by Bridgewater.
Lewis, who lives in Chicago, recently released his 80th album, titled “Ramsey Lewis, Taking Another Look.” He has been a leader in the contemporary jazz movement for more than 50 years, forming a variety of ensembles over those years; collaborating with such artists as Nancy Wilson, Billy Taylor, and Earth, Wind and Fire; dabbling in pop and R&B as well as jazz; composing.
Other credits include hosting a radio show for 12 years and a 13-episode “Legends of Jazz” PBS series, serving as the artistic director of the Jazz at Ravinia Festival, and teaching at the Roosevelt University in Chicago. He won his Grammys in 1973 for “Hang on Sloopy,” 1966 for “Hold It Right There” and 1965 for “The In Crowd.”
|Dee Dee Bridgewater|
In addition to also winning Grammys, Bridgewater snared a Broadway Tony in 1975 as best featured actress in a musical (Glinda in “The Wiz”) and in 1986 was nominated for Britain’s equivalent of the Tony for her lead role in “Lady Day,” the story of Billie Holiday.
In a career spanning 40 years, she has performed with Sonny Rollins, Dizzy Gillespie and Max Roach; is in her second decade hosting NPR’s “JazzSet” show, and was the first black actress to play the role of Sally Bowles in “Cabaret” in a produced staged in Paris, where she moved to in 1986.
Bridgewater’s Grammys came in 1998 for “Dear Ella,” a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, and in 2010 for “To Billie With Love From Dee Dee Bridgewater.”
Yandall plays smooth jazz, rock and blues and has 13 albums to his credit. His song "Who's The Bossa Now," from the album "Samoa Soul," was used in the political satire film “War Inc.,” starring John Cusack and Marissa Tomei.
Yandall's music has also been featured on television and news broadcasts and the Weather Channel. He lives in California.
A festival pass is $45 for the Saturday and Sunday concerts. Single tickets are $25 to each of the two ticketed concerts, with students admitted for $20. Tickets are on sale online at www.StarTickets.com or by phone at (800)-585-3737. They also are on sale at the box office windows at TheDow and the Midland Center for the Arts and at all Michigan Meijer store service counters.
All seats are general admission, and in the case of the two outdoor concerts patrons must bring their own seating.
The Michigan Jazz Trail Festival was begun by McFadden as a way to celebrate the rich jazz history in mid-Michigan and to link it with other jazz festivals taking place throughout the state during the summer.
“We eventually want a continuous jazz circuit that winds that winds through the state during the summer and ends on Labor Day in Detroit with the Detroit International Jazz Festival,” says McFadden.
Among the festival supporters are the The Dow Chemical Company, Wildfire Credit Union, Dow Corning, Chemical Bank, Garber Management Group, Graff, Fabiano Brothers, Ieuter Insurance, Eastman Party Store, Informa, Michigan Sugar, Wolverine Bank, and Citizen's BankWealth Management.
For more information, log on to www.michiganjazztrail.org