When Jazz vocalist and arts enthusiast Molly McFadden first conceived the idea of pulling together an annual summer Jazz Festival showcasing the top-notch regional and statewide musical talent that populates the Great Lakes Bay area and tying it together with national and international talent in an effort to showcase the breadth & depth of artistry that our area is blessed with, modeling it after similar high-caliber showcases such as the Newport & Montreux Jazz Festivals, her goal was to brand Michigan as a destination point for music fans in the same manner that New Orleans is recognized; and to demonstrate that Michigan has more to offer tourists than golf and water sports.
Now in it's fifth year, The Michigan Jazz Trail has steadily pursued that goal by bringing to local stages some of the finest names in jazz, such as Ramsey Lewis, Jazz guitarist John Pizzarelli, and blues dynamos such as Bettye LaVette, while opening the talents of artists such as Brush Street and The Saginaw Area Youth Jazz Ensemble (SAYJE - who were winners of the Best Big Jazz Band award at this year's Review Music Awards ceremony) to broader and wider audiences.
This year The Michigan Jazz Trail continues to forge a yellow-brick road of musical talent leading to venues throughout the Great Lakes Bay area that will cover a broad and colorful spectrum of contemporary jazz, beginning with a huge kick-off event that teams the Jazz trail up with the Bay Arts Council for a special Wednesdays in the Park 'Jazz Roar' before the 'River Roar' on June 19th at the Friendship Shell in Wenonah Park.
This special kick-off will again feature the Saginaw Area Youth Jazz Ensemble, the equally award-winning ACT-SO Jazz Ensemble, Jive at five swing dancing, and music by the Michigan Jazz Trail Big Band, with guest conductor James Hohmeyer, who will continue the groove through the evening with the band performing great standards by artists such as Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and many others. Guests to perform with the big band will include the vocal acapella group Good Company, Saginaw's Mike Brush & Julie Mulady, plus vocalists such as Mary Gilbert and McFadden, with festivities beginning at 4:30 PM.
Following this kick-off event, July 7th will witness a spectacular musical concert guaranteed to sparkle with Jazz, Gospel and Dixieland, as The Michigan Jazz Trail and Memorial Presbyterian Church collaborate for a huge Summer Concert that will also feature the Michigan Jazz Trail Big Band performing with additional featured guest artists.
A newly installed Letourneau organ will be used for a special arrangement provided by James Hohmeyer, Carol Rumba, Mary Gilbert and Cynthia Levi - all widely respected as three of the most enchanting voices in the region, who will sing together by popular demand and intervweave vocal harmonies that are at once soulful, hauntingly dramatic, and rich with emotion. Plus, the seven-member, stylishly-dressed, all-female gospel group Bamecians will sing one of their favorite numbers, Go Tell it on the Mountain, with a heart warming and foot-stomping Dixieland Jazz band to set the mood. This concert will begin at 6:00 PM in the sanctuary of Memorial Presbyterian Church on Sunday evening and will be a free concert. Plus there will be an old fashioned picnic out on the front lawn for folks to dine and catch some summer fireflies.
Over the last few years the Michigan Jazz Trail was held over a consecutive 3-day period in each of the tri-cities; and this year they are spreading events throughout the duration of the summer and into the fall. What was the reason for making this format change and does approaching it this way make the even more easy to manage, while also offering consistent entertainment opportunities throughout the duration of the summer months?
“We are now entering our fifth year and the brand name of the Michigan Jazz Trail has grown to where we are now invited to perform in other communities and venues,” explains McFadden. “For instance, the Stevie Wonder Tribute Dinner on August 23rd in Saginaw, as well as the Tawas Art Fair with Wine on August 3rd has invited us to perform, so we thought why not become truly regional and seasonal and thereby have the opportunity to perform throughout the year, which helps our mission and vision grow.”
“Next year we hope to tour throughout the state and be the ambassadors for the Great Lakes Bay Region. All of this leads to our ultimate goal, which is to pursue the fact that we have wonderful musical opportunities throughout our state and are, what we envision - The Michigan Jazz Trail.”
With this Kick-off concert in Bay City featuring some of the region's finest jazz musicians and ensembles and following true to that vision, how did the Jazz Trail committee arrive at which artists to feature for this kick-off and what kind of collaborations can enthusiasts expect?
“We have been working with these artists and others for the past four years,” reflects McFadden, “and we will collaborate. Julie Mulady and Mary Gilbert will sing together, and I will perform with the Big Band the Bistro trio. Scott Tuttle will also join us on a solo and we hope to have more musicians throughout the year join us from Ann Arbor and Lansing. These are highly qualified folks who record in New York and LA and we will all share our love and passion of music and jazz. Jeff Hall puts together the book and the musicians, and he keeps the quality and the bar raised high.”
Has McFadden's goals and visions for the Michigan Jazz Trail evolved or changed since its inception five years ago? “No,” she responds. “By next year we hope to tour the state and then following that course we intend to go to other states showcasing the talent we have in Michigan. My wish is to take everyone, especially when you look at the musicians that you have to perform, along with the symphony orchestras in this region. The list goes on. But I need to focus on jazz. And I'm also thrilled to be a part of the Art and Sol in October, with a special show at the Castle Museum, along with a performance at 1st Presbyterian Church in Saginaw; and at the end of the year we intend to do another Holiday New Year concert.”
“Plus, by tying these first two outings to established events like the River Roar and the Midland Fireworks Festival, we feel this will open more people to the musical talent that our area offers.”
“They tell me that Jazz is a hard sell, but how can that be when so many young folks are listening and playing it? I mean, look at all the recording artists of today from Alicia Keys to Usher - they are recording jazz and selling it, so I rest my case!”