Move Over Montreux & Newport

The 2011 Michigan Jazz Trail Festival Showcases World Class Talent

    icon Jun 09, 2011
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The diversity and depth of mid-Michigan's Great Lakes Bay creative musical community is deeply embedded within the roots of our region, yet in many ways is also our 'best kept secret'.

Apart from Detroit – which enjoys an international reputation for fostering the revolutionary sound of Motown – if you mention Michigan to somebody west of the Mississippi or east of the Hudson rivers, they will often think of 'fishing, golf, hunting, water, and forests.'

Indeed, for over three decades this publication has focused upon the creative originality of mid-Michigan artists forging distinct and often ground-breaking amalgamations of sound; yet even when many eventually do break out upon a national or international stage, they often are said to be from Detroit, or Chicago, or wherever they need to transplant themselves in order to attain a broader audience.

But thanks to the vision, determination, and commitment of critically acclaimed jazz singer and restaurateur Molly McFadden, the weekend of Friday through Sunday June 24-26th are the dates that provincially traditional perceptions of the Great Lakes Bay Region are set to change, with the 2011 Michigan Jazz Trail Festival poised to take its position on the world stage alongside such other iconic names as Newport and Montreux.

The Michigan Jazz Trail Festival is a synthesis of national headliners and local talent which tours nationally that will converge to forge a yellow-brick-musical road leading to venues in Bay City, Midland, and Saginaw that cover a broad and colorful spectrum of contemporary Jazz.
Similar to the fluidity of the jazz idiom itself, festival founder McFadden embraces the broad parameters of this year's focus. "We have all our acts locked in place and I believe we will cross bridges and boundaries with this event," she notes.

To fully understand the scope and perspective of her dream, we must rewind a few years back, and also delve a bit into the background of McFadden herself in order to realize that perhaps only an ostensible 'outsider' such as McFadden could thread together both the pieces and dynamics of such an ambitious event.

Pennies From Heaven

"About 12 years ago my husband and I moved here from New York because business brought us here. We had both been performers and writers in New York and the business opportunity we moved here for did not work out," explains McFadden.

"So in January I brought my jazz trio from New York and did a 'Jumpin' January Jazz' performance at the Center, wondering what we were going to do to make a living here in the Midwest."

"About six years ago we decided to open Molly's Bistro, which came out of me doing breads and coffees at the Farmers Market," she continues. "People wanted our products, so I opened a place reminiscent of what we used to go to in New York. My husband suggested we put a piano in so I could sing, and we brought in artists from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and even had Joe Wilder – a dear friend of mine and a great jazz trumpeter who's performed at the Smithsonian and Lincoln Center, come to Midland to perform."

"We did a broadcast for Delta Public TV and it got me thinking about music in this area. I started meeting local artistic individuals like Jeff Hall, Matt Corrigan and Mike Brush and eventually over the course of a half dozen years, we brought performers into the restaurant and it became a hub, a sort of crossroads for Jazz, Blues, and Gospel artists to perform."

"About three years ago, when I took my trio back to New York to perform, we played at The Metropolitan Room, which was like going back through Memory Lane for me. And I realized that as an outsider who parachuted into Michigan, the history with music runs deep across the state."

"We're coming out of an economic coma – a type of malaise that hit this state, so last year I came up with the idea of doing an outdoor festival that would feature high school students with a dream, pull together a Big Band featuring all the musicians in the tri-area, and mix it all up," relates Molly."

"My goal was to showcase the breadth, width, and depth of music in this area, stir the soup, and mix it up. We had over 800 people attend and it was a wildly successful event."

"Consequently, this year the idea came to go one step further and pull together a weekend festival in three venues in Saginaw, Bay City, and Midland, which meant I had to put my peddle to the floor and get to know people at the grass roots in all three of the tri-cities."

"So what we've come up with is this year's 2011 Michigan Jazz Trail, which features international headliners, as well as local and regional talent."

"Eventually my dream is to create a statewide jazz trail or blues festival – not to take anybody's identity away because Lansing has a phenomenal festival, as does Saugatuck and Detroit – but my perception is why not connect with all the existing festivals and why could we not help to promote the state globally, so people can look at it beyond water, golf, and the auto industry?"

"We have the music here, we have the history, and so that's the dream long term."

A Triangulation of Stars

Headlining the 'Blues on the Bay' component of this year's 2011 festival is soul singer/songwriter Bettye LaVette. Born in Muskegon and raised in Detroit, LaVette has drawn international acclaim; and members of her polished musical entourage have also performed and recorded with Saginaw's John Krogman and Stewart Francke.

LaVette 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; and in 2009 she performed during an Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial.

Jazz guitarist/singer John Pizzarelli is on tap as headliner for the Jazz at the Tridge event in Midland. Pizzarelli is a native of New Jersey and the son of jazzman Bucky Pizzarelli. He is active as a jazz guitarist, vocalist, songwriter and bandleader. He 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.

Saginaw's Temple Theatre will host Bay City born pianist/arranger Kevin Cole, embraced by the family of George Gershwin as one the composer's most faithful interpreters, and a creative force who has performed at The Hollywood Bowl and in England. Also performing at The Temple will be the seven-member New Reformation Band and the Brush Street quartet with singer Julie Mulady.

Now living in Chicago Cole performs solo and with orchestras around the world. He has amassed international credits with his work as a pianist, arranger, composer and singer. He frequently returns home to perform in the mid-Michigan area.

New Reformation, founded by brothers David and Nick Oppermann, is in its 41st year of playing jazz and Dixieland music and has recorded 16 albums. Spirited, always interactive with the audience, and obviously enjoying the music they create, two New Reformation concerts were videotaped, one of them at the Temple, and aired nationally over PBS. And the group has performed at virtually every major jazz festival in the U.S. as well as with symphony orchestras and on cruise ships.

Brush Street features the incomparable Mike Brush on keyboards, who has been repeatedly honored at the annual Review Music Awards Ceremony. It also includes the expressive Julie Mulady on vocals. The group has performed with the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra and at the Detroit Institute of Arts as well as at a variety of venues throughout mid-Michigan.

But for McFadden – a jazz singer herself – what excites her is the fact all three of the concerts will also feature potential rising stars: three high school jazz bands, the award-winning ACT-SO Jazz Ensemble, the newly formed Voices of Jazz and Saginaw Teens on Stage, along with jazz saxophonist Morgan McMillon, who's a recent graduate of the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and who was also featured at the Apollo Theatre in New York while still a teenager.

"These artists are the future for this music, its history and Michigan's heritage," says McFadden. "Including them in this festival provides them with incentive and allows them to perform alongside professionals."

Cost for such a high-caliber event is eminently reasonable – with advance tickets going for $30.00, which gains entry to all three events; and for those who just one to sample one venue, the cost is only $15.00 at the gate for each of the shows ($10.00 for students.)
"At the Savannah Jazz Festival, it costs $50 a ticket just to see John Pizzarelli," points out McFadden.

"We have music here and a sizable musical history," concludes McFadden. "My goal long term is to make this a global destination. Pure Michigan is excited about this, but the funny thing is, the tri-cities have always been a destination. They've had Matrix, the museums, and many artistic resources forever, so we're not reinventing the wheel."

"Really, it's more a matter of putting a new pair of glasses on and seeing what we have more in focus. That's all it really is; and my respect grows deeper for the individuality of each city, the more familiar I become with them."

Michigan Jazz Trail Line-up:

• Friday, June 24, "Blues on the Bay," at the Friendship Shell in downtown Bay City, features LaVette as well as Old Wolves Blues Band, Scott Baker and the Universal Expressions, Soul Express, The Burdons, Bay City Central High School Jazz Band and Garber High School Jazz Band.

Gates open at 3:30 p.m. and the rain-or-shine concert begins at 5 p.m. Concertgoers must provide their own seating on lawn chairs or blankets. Small coolers and picnic baskets are admitted but the park does not allow alcoholic beverages. Limited concessions will be available. Parking is free on streets around the park.

• Saturday, June 25, "Jazz at the Tridge," on the lawn in back of the H Hotel in downtown Midland, features Pizzarelli as well as Molly McFadden and the Bistro Boys, plus a wonderful 16-member Michigan Jazz Trail Big Band under the direction of Thomas Knific, Mike Brush and Julie Mulady, Jeff Hall with Mary Gilbert, Bryan Rombalski and Three Worlds, Saginawian Morgan McMillon,  ACT-SO Jazz Ensemble, H.H. Dow High School Jazz Band and Voices of Jazz. Cynthia Levi with Val Lemmon will also perform, and Midland's own Stacey Houghton will be coming in from New York.
From Saginaw the 11-member gospel group The Bamecians and Jim Hohmeyer's vocal jazz group "Voice of Jazz" will feature young adults from Bay City, Midland and Saginaw.

Gates opens at 3 p.m. and the rain-or-shine concert begins at 4 p.m. Concertgoers will receive wristbands so they can come and go from the concert site to downtown stores and bistros.

Bring your own lawn chairs or blankets. Picnic baskets and wine are allowed. Wine and beer tents and food vendors will be onsite. Dancing space is planned.  And parking is free on most streets and lots around the area.

• Sunday, June 26, "Heart & Soul at the Temple Theatre," 203 N. Washington in downtown Saginaw, with Cole, New Reformation Band, Brush Street with Julie Mulady and Saginaw Teens on Stage (featuring seven performers doing solos and group songs).

Doors open at 3 p.m. and the concert begins at 4 p.m. All seats are general admission. No food or drinks may be brought into the Temple. Parking is free on the city streets, in a lot at the back of the Temple, and with a shuttle service provided from the Saginaw Tower Parking Lot at 515 N. Washington.

The $30 passes are on sale at:

• The Temple Theatre in Saginaw. At the box office, by calling (877) 754-SHOW or online at Box office hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.

• State Theater, 913 Washington  Ave. in Bay City. At the box office, by calling (989) 892-2660, or online at Box office hours are 9:30 a.m. to  4 p.m. Monday through Friday, extended to 6 p.m. Wednesday.

• The Midland Center for the Arts, 1801 W. St. Andrews. At the box office, by calling (800) 523-7649 or online at Box office hours are noon to 6 p.m.  Monday through Friday and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Among the sponsors of the Michigan Jazz Trail Festival and its "Find Your Groove" slogan are Wildfire Credit Union, Dow Chemical, Dow Corning, Garber Management Group, MidMichigan Health, ClearRiver Advertising and Marketing, F.P. Horak, Tri-Star Trust Bank and Saginaw Valley State University.

For more information on the performers and maps for the locations log on to

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