It's been a busy year for critically acclaimed jazz singer and culinary dynamo Molly McFadden, whom is busily putting the finishing touches on the 2012 Michigan Jazz Trail Festival - a synthesis of national headliners and world class regional talent that will converge into a yellow-brick musical road, populating venues throughout Saginaw, Bay City, and Midland from June 20 - 24th.
Kicking things off on Wednesday, June 20th is Blues on the Bay, which true to McFadden's vision of celebrating the divergent talent populating the Great Lakes Bay Region, will be a free event open to all members of the public. “We're still lining things up, but thus far have the seven-member Soul Xpress, Sara & The Groove, The Perry Woodward School of Dance, plus The Scott Tuttle Jazz Quartet, explains McFadden. “This will take place at the Friendship Shell in Bay City and start at 3:30, running until dark with a food tent, beer, and wine.”
“Other featured artists throughout the expanse of the festival will include The Bistro Quartet with Joan Stanley and Mary Gilbert, Jim Hohmeyer's 'Voices of Jazz' in Midland, several high school jazz bands, and in Saginaw we'll turn the spotlight on The First Ward Community Center Choir, Good Company, Mike Brush & Julie Mulady, and The Saginaw Area Youth Ensemble,”
The centerpiece of this year's festival will be Jazz on the Green, which takes place Saturday, June 23rd in Midland's Dow Gardens and will feature three-time Grammy winner Ramsey Lewis tickling the ivories, as well as the 18-member Michigan Jazz Trail Big Band under the direction of Hohmeyer.
“Heart & Soul is the title we've given the Saginaw showcase, which will settle in Saginaw's Dow Event Center on Sunday, June 24th with singer/songwriter Dee Dee Bridgewater and guitarist Patrick Yandall, who have early life roots in Flint and Bay City respectively,” continues McFadden. “Dee Dee and Patrick no longer live in Michigan, but we're bringing them home and celebrating the fact they began their illustrious careers in this region.”
The Michigan Jazz Trail Festival started back in 2010 with a single concert in Dow Gardens and last year it expanded to three consecutive nights in three cities. Molly says this year the festival is stretching out over a longer time-frame with a gap in dates because of the River Roar's 25th Anniversary event in Downtown Bay City.
McFadden explains how her goal with starting up this event was to “showcase the breadth, width, and depth of music in this area, stir the soup, and mix it all up. When I moved here from New York seven years ago, as an outsider who parachuted into Michigan, I couldn't believe the depth of talent and history of music in this area,” she relates. “Now we are well on the way to realizing my dream of creating a statewide jazz trail or blues festival promoting the musical talent of our state, so people can look at Michigan beyond water, golf, and the auto industry.”
Since its inception three years ago, does McFadden see the Michigan Jazz Trail receiving the international notoriety she has aspired for it to achieve? “Actually, yes,” she enthuses. “We have been invited to perform in Tawas this summer on August 4th and we hope to meet and work together with out existing festivals in our area whereby we can expand the roads of creativity on this wonderful jazz trail. There is also interest in having us perform up north next winter in Petoskey, so our legend is growing, as is the recognition of all the great talent we have in this area.”
Insofar as she lives a busy life running Molly's Bistro in Midland, in addition to pursuing her own musical career, what for McFadden personally has been the most rewarding elements that help reinforce her dedication to this event?
“Oh, there are many things,” McFadden enthusiastically responds. “The Jazz Jam Clinics where we are able to provide funding for the clinicians in Bay City that worked with students from the whole area last November. Also partnering with the Grove Street Jazz, where Ed Carney spearheaded and held a monthly jazz jam session with clinicians and students at the Bistro - this was stunning and wonderful.”
“Once a week now Morgan McMillan and Chris Robinson come to Molly's to perform with the trio and they are two fabulous musicians who grew up with Roland Wallace. Morgan performed at The Apollo Theatre in New York and now audiences love them. Getting a chance to meet and work with the First Ward Choir and hopefully Jazz on Jefferson as well as Spotlight on Saginaw - wonderful venues that already are doing what we are and also trying to accomplish.”
“Performing at this year's Review Music Awards Ceremony was a treat. The outstanding talent we featured at Christmas and will do so again this summer. How we are interweaving our regional professionals along with a steady stream of incredible youth and all on stage with international talent - I mean how can this get any better!”
As for this year's Jazz Trail details, the Saturday night concert in Midland starts at 5:30 p.m. with performances by high school jazz bands, ACT-SO, Voices of Jazz and vocalist Mary Gilbert; John Stanley (who recently portraying Patsy Cline at the MCFTA) and McFadden herself at the microphone. At 7 p.m. the all-pro Michigan Jazz Trail Big Band takes the stage; and then the legendary Ramsey Lewis and his Sunshine Band light 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 award-winning sounds of Saginaw's Mike Brush & Julie Mulady. Yandall takes the stage at 3:30 p.m. for a 30-minute set, followed by Bridgewater.
Ramsey 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.”
In addition to also winning Grammys, Dee Dee 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.
With the Festival weeks away, McFadden is amped-up, enthusiastic, and decidedly hopeful. “I truly feel we have just touched the tip of the talent pool and hopefully next year we will have more time to feature more musicians and students.”
“They tell me Jazz is a hard sell, but how can that be when so many young folks are listening and playing it? I mean, look at the recording artists of today - they are recording jazz, and selling it. I rest my case!”
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.
Among the festival supporters are the Michigan Council for the Arts, The Dow Chemical Company, Dow Corning, Chemical Bank, Garber Management Group, Graff, Fabiano Brothers, CMU Public Radio and TV, Delta Public Radio, LIeuter Insurance, Eastman Party Store, Informa Business, Michigan Sugar, Wolverine Bank, and Citizen's BankWealth Management, Consumer's Energy, Horizons Event Center, Wildfire Credit Union, Midland Community Tennis Center, Fabiano Brothers, Wells Fargo Management, Fisher Gravel Company.
Additional reporting by Janet Martineau