The 17th Annual Jazz on Jefferson Festival • What Cities Are All About

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Local Music, Culture, Community Profiles,   From Issue 930   By: Robert E Martin

26th May, 2022     0

In a city that has witnessed a high level of demolition of its historic architectural heritage over the decades, the six block area of South Jefferson Avenue on Saginaw's East Side has both survived and served as an important and vital center of the community - a distinctly urban core where one can discover businesses, churches, civic buildings and homes with buildings that chronicle the city's development from a lumber boomtown in the early 1850s to one of Michigan's major industrial centers, with structures that form an almost encyclopedic collection of 19th and early 20th century architectural styles, many designed by nationally prominent architects.

Amidst this splendid landscape the annual Jazz on Jefferson festival was developed back in 2003 by the Jefferson Avenue Events Committee to forge an alliance between musical and visual artists while showcasing the unique resources of South Jefferson Avenue; and to also involve and integrate the many organizations and individuals that call South Jefferson Avenue home.

And now after a two-year hiatus, the 17th Annual Jazz on Jefferson extravaganza is slated to blossom on Wednesday, June 8th, featuring performances by top local & regional jazz musicians such as The Saginaw Eddy Band, the award-winning Robert Lee Revue, Lavel Jackson, a saxophone quartet known as Saxxy, and a headlining performance by The New Reformation Jazz Band at First Congregational Church at 7:30 PM, all free to the public.  Additionally, architectural walking tours of the historic district, food vendors, and an antique & classic car show are huge components of the festival, which traditionally draws thousands of people to the neighborhood.

Running from 4:45 - 8:00 PM, according to Thomas Trombley, event chairman who also works on South Jefferson as Chief Curator of the Castle Museum and has been involved with the event since its inception, “One of the most important aspects has been the continued growth of this event. It has successfully helped to make people aware of the resources of South Jefferson Avenue, provided great entertainment over the years, and has made people aware of how special the institutions and architecture of South Jefferson Avenue truly are to the area.”

Trombley notes that the goals of Jazz on Jefferson have remained steadfast throughout the decade. “Looking at an agenda from our early meetings, our goals included creating a distinct identity for the street, promoting the use of underutilized properties, and creating public awareness for the South Jefferson avenue resources.   The South Jefferson corridor, with its mix of churches, the Hoyt Library, the Castle Museum of Saginaw County, and private one-of-a-kind residences, is truly the sparkling showcase of this special musical extravaganza. Jefferson has some truly one-of-a-kind structures”

By the early 1860s, South Jefferson had become a major thoroughfare.  At the end of the Civil War, three major brick church buildings - First Baptist Church, Jefferson Avenue United Methodist Church and First Congregational - were constructed on South Jefferson. With towers and steeples visible throughout the community, they became instant landmarks.  They announced the permanence and prosperity of East Saginaw and defined the scale of stature of South Jefferson.  One-hundred fifty years later, two of these three churches are still landmarks in the community.

By the late 1870s, East Saginaw, Michigan's third largest city was known as the lumber capital of the world.  It was a wealthy, boisterous city.  This prosperity was evident in the elegant homes that lined the street and the prosperous businesses near the intersection of South Jefferson and East Genesee. 

“This event is a celebration of place and could not be held in any other location,” Trombley reflects. “With so much emphasis now on going regional, it's fun to focus instead on this small but vibrant street. When everything falls together with Jazz on Jefferson you realize how it fits into the larger region.. It's a combination of setting and activity and the thrill of turning a corner and finding something new.”

Trombley notes how the format of the Open Houses will vary and how each organization involved with the Festival I responsible for developing the programming within the confines of their facility.

After a two-year hiatus because of the pandemic, Trombley says that the structure for this year’s festival will be very much the same as it has been.  “There’s always been a continuity with our programming but always a different surprise each year with the way the evening evolves,” he reflects. “People are meant to explore and have a good time. None of the concerts are meant to be formal and this offers a brief opportunity to explore the street and discover what it has to offer.”

When asked if he has noticed much of an evolution of the neighborhood over the past 20 years, Trombley feels it has continued to improve. “When dealing with 130-year old homes its always an uphill battle, but also a very special and rewarding one.  Some remain vacant, some are works in progress and will continue to be, but collectively it’s a special place and when people realize its walkability, that also makes it unique.”

“One of the new attractions people will notice is how the exterior of the old Jacobson’s building has been restored. Several organizations went together to put up large photo murals where the windows are covered on two sides of the building to tell the story of the block and how it evolved over time,” he explains. “Cities are always a work in progress and always changing, but I feel if people return to Jefferson after a couple years they will be pleasantly surprised. It’s a special place and I’m proud to be part of it.”

“What I love about Jazz on Jefferson is that’s a cooperative event and showcases the whole idea of a neighborhood,” he concludes. “We’re stronger because we all work together while also competing to make something very special, but are always working as a team to showcase our neighborhood. Honestly, this I really what cities are all about.”



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