The A2 Jazz Fest (A2JF) began in 2016 as a single day, featuring 14 acts over 10 hours.
Even if your name is Jazzbo von Chromatic Chord Progression, 600 straight minutes of jazz is a grueling marathon.
A2JF added a second in 2017, spreading out the shows, and it's a three-day event in 2018, running Friday, Sept. 28, and Saturday, Sept. 29, at LIVE Nightclub and Sunday, Sept. 30, at Kerrytown Concert House. Bassist and fest organizer Dave Sharp said it was a "natural progression and a way to make it easier to attend more events."
And the whole event is still free of charge.
But there was an additional reason for stretching the fest to three days: "From musicians, there was intense interest," Sharp says, "and the committee worked hard to include as many groups as possible." (See the full lineup below.)
Through a combination of grit, trial and error, an ear for music, and an engineering mind, my brother-in-law Tom Rein has managed to make a living for 40-plus years as a string-instrument maker (also called luthier). Tom started his luthier business, Tom Rein Guitars, in the mid-1970s when there were under 50 in the entire U.S. Now, he estimates, there are over 1,000.
After my sister, Laura, retired as dean of libraries for Webster University, Tom moved his luthier business to Saline, Michigan.
Tom has been involved with music from age 10 when he took up the clarinet. The clarinet gave way to the tenor and baritone sax, which gradually gave way to the guitar.
“Being a player helps a lot in developing a signature sound,” Tom explained. “Musicians are always looking for the instrument that manifests the sound that they hear in their head. I’m able to tailor the sound to suit individual players while remaining true to the sound I’ve developed over many years.”
A huge part of Tom’s process is to figure out what type of wood to use for each soundboard, and he has developed an incredible appreciation for trees.
Saxophonist Kenji Lee is a final year University of Michigan student who is entering his third year as Concert Series coordinator at Canterbury House, the home of U-M’s Episcopal Chaplaincy, and a welcoming space in which U-M music students, their friends, and local and touring musicians can share their work and have fellowship amongst themselves and the broader community.
Journey to U-M Ann Arbor
For the group that puts the Ann Arbor Russian Festival together every year, it’s about much more than simply having a fun time, it’s about sharing their culture.
“Nobody knows what is Orthodox church,” laughed Leta Nikulshina, the festival’s entertainment director. “People think, ‘Are you Catholic?’ ‘No, we’re not.’ Or, ‘Are you Jewish?’ ‘No, we’re not.’
“Its kind of the way to open up who we are and bring us closer to everyone else,” she said.
The festival’s beginnings also had a slight ulterior motive.
There’s an interesting look that Freddy Cole sometimes gets when he’s playing. It’s not a faraway look, exactly, but it’s as if he’s not fully present, not completely in the moment. Sitting behind the keyboard, he stares off into the audience, looking at them but not really seeing them. His hands move across the piano keys seemingly with a mind of their own, coaxing out chords and picking out melodies. It’s like he’s somewhere else.
At least that’s the impression I got last Thursday at Kerrytown Concert House, where the Freddy Cole Quartet gave a pair of evening performances. Made up by Cole on piano and vocals, Randy Napoleon on guitar, Elias Bailey on bass, and Jay Sawyer on drums, the quartet offered a refreshing and skillful taste of straight-ahead classic jazz.
The crowd for the third annual Community Sing with Matt Watroba at The Ark on August 16 was not large -- maybe 50, 60 people -- which was perfect. It allowed Watroba to invite us all to bring our chairs to the flat area in front of the stage and form a large circle. It also allowed him to ignore the microphone that had been set up on the stage and instead move around inside that circle, and lead us in singing without using any amplification.
He didn’t need it.
Every August for the last 12 years, a bit of Nashville has visited Ann Arbor for the Kerrytown District Association’s Nashbash music festival.
Thursday’s edition of the event coped with extensive road construction around its location at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, along with threatening weather for much of the day. But by the time the festival kicked off, the weather was flawless, the fans dodged the construction barrels, and the smell of barbecue filled the air.
There ain’t nothin' like the blues.
Perhaps that is why in 1969, a group of University of Michigan students created a gathering in an open field on the banks of the Huron River to listen to some blues from the likes of Otis Rush, Howlin’ Wolf, Big Mama Thornton, T-Bone Walker, Lightnin’ Hopkins, B.B. King, and Muddy Waters.
They created not only the first blues festival in Michigan but the first electric blues festival ever.
While the exact origins of Morris dancing are not clear, historians do know that people have been participating in this lively step dance for centuries. Shakespeare mentioned it in his plays. Peasants enjoyed it along with their summertime ales in the 1600s. The first known written reference dates to 1448 when Goldsmiths’ Company in London paid seven shillings to Morris dancers for a performance.
And in the Ann Arbor area, dancers have gathered since 1976 to engage in this energetic form of folk dancing. Ann Arbor Morris dancer Carol Mohr enjoyed international folk dancing and fell in love with Morris in the late 1970s.
For anyone who believes in the power of pop music to communicate in a powerful, even transcendent way, the idea of Bettye LaVette singing the songs of Bob Dylan creates some pretty high hopes. On August 9, the Sonic Lunch concert series brought that pairing to downtown Ann Arbor, and the results were just as good as expected.
Local singer Antwaun Stanley and his tight band opened the show with a sharp, energetic set that brought a modern spin to a 1970s soul/funk sound. A couple of terrific covers -- Maze’s “Running Away” and Al Green’s “Simply Beautiful” -- demonstrated his compelling stage presence and showcased his vocal range.
But the highlight of Stanley’s set was “Where Are We Now?,” a song he wrote with Tyler Duncan and Theo Katzman in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. Something of a modern-day “What’s Going On,” the song drew a huge response from the crowd. “Are we breaking through, or are we breaking down?” Stanley sang. “We’ve got to be the change; we’ve got to preach the change.”
LaVette opened her set with the title song of her recent Dylan album, Things Have Changed. One of the best of Dylan’s latter-day works, it carries a new, ominous impact in the current social climate, and LaVette brought all of that to her performance.