Preview: A2 Jazz Fest Lives Up To Past Musical And Historic Legacies


Jazz Fest collage.

Some of the performers at the upcoming A2 Jazz Fest: Bassist, band leader, and festival organizer Dave Sharp (top left), saxophonist Tim Haldeman (bottom left, photo courtesy Mark Bialek), and bassist and vocalist Gwenyth Hayes (right).

The tradition of Ann Arbor jazz festivals is storied and resplendent, with a history that spans generations like few events ever have. There is great precedent in building foundations and interest, then following through with sustainable, creative ideas to make these events successful models for the many other festivals that have followed in their wake.

The inaugural A2 Jazz Fest starts yet another tradition with new ideas, a modern promotional approach, and an emphasis on local, younger performers who play jazz their own way while remaining true to what makes the music our great American artistic treasure.

In the late 1960s - early 1970s, the original Ann Arbor Blues Festival morphed into the legendary Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival held at Otis Spann Memorial Field next to Huron High School, and then concluded in Windsor. It was revived at Gallup Park, the Michigan Theater, the Bird of Paradise, the Firefly Club, and downtown Ann Arbor from 1992-2007. In between, Eclipse Jazz presented three memorable Ann Arbor Jazz Festivals indoors at Hill Auditorium from 1978-1980.

Now the A2 Jazz Fest extends these events with a one-day, two-stage, continuous music presentation at the near side West Park Band Shell, a location that has over the decades hosted concerts ranging from civic bands to the Count Basie Orchestra, to the Grateful Dead.

Jazz Fest collage.

Organizer and bassist Dave Sharp is taking the reins as an extension of his work booking weekday jazz club dates at the Old Town Tavern. The endless logistics, financial details, and working with various players have not fazed cool customer Sharp in bringing this dream to realization.

In a recent interview, Sharp said he realizes all of the issues the site has presented. “I feel it’s an underutilized resource. I thought, why not do a jazz club type festival with primarily trios and quartets – not Latin-jazz, big bands, blues and loud bands. My aim is to use the engineering of the band shell to project the sound.”

A small side stage at West Park will bring school bands to the festival to perform between sets on the Band Shell. Groups of students will come from the Ann Arbor Music Center (where Sharp teaches), Community High School, Ann Arbor Academy, and the Community Music School.

In thirty-minute sets, the Main Stage will showcase up-and-comers, including Max Brown & The Cosmonauts, drummers Sam Genson and Jesse Kramer leading trios, saxophonist Tim Haldeman, vocalist Gwenyth Hayes, veteran bassist Kurt Krahnke, trumpeter Ingrid Racine’s quartet, Sharp’s Three Worlds Trio, and saxophonist/U-Michigan professor Andrew Bishop and his creative jazz quartet.

Sharp has secured a unique partnership with Art Train to accept and funnel tax-deductible donations as a 501(c)(3)non-profit. A Kickstarter campaign has been completed to help defray production, park rental, insurance, artists fees, hospitality, and promotional expenses.

Though it's been time consuming as he played the waiting game, Sharp says, "The main logistic was applying for the permit and waiting for it to clear City Hall and the Parks & Rec Department. It wasn’t necessarily difficult, but everything is locked up and all set.”

There have been a few pre-festival activities, including jam sessions at the Old Town and the Ann Arbor District Library. An A2JF jam session showcase will take place at 7 p.m. on Thursday, September 8, in-store at festival associate sponsor Encore Records at 417 E. Liberty St.

While anticipating a successful event, Sharp envisions it as a smallish festival with room to grow: “I don’t want it to be with a large beer tent with BBQ. Instead, take a subset of groups from the Old Town, have a rhythm section back line with a piano and not a lot to move around, a small P.A. for horns and announcements, and a moderate volume - that’s what it is.”

Complete A2 Jazz Fest Line-Up

12:00 noon: Blueprints: Ann Arbor Music Center Youth Jazz Band

12:30 pm: Ann Arbor Guitar Trio

12:45 pm: Ingrid Racine Quartet feat. Rob Avsharian, Ben Rolston, Chuck Newsome

1:15 pm: Student Jazz Ensemble TBA

1:45 pm: Max Brown & The Cosmonauts

2:00 pm: Student Jazz Ensemble TBA

2:15 pm: Kurt Krahnke Trio feat. Tad Weed & Pete Siers

2:45 pm: Student Jazz Ensemble TBA

3:15 pm: Sam Genson Trio

4:00 pm: Jesse Kramer Trio feat. Kris Kurzawa & Damon Warmack

4:45 pm: Tim Haldeman Quartet feat. Ben Rolston & Nick Collins

5:35 pm: Three Worlds Trio feat. Dave Sharp, Gayelynn McKinney, Elden Kelly

6:25 pm: Gwenyth Hayes Trio feat. Jake Reichbart

7:15 pm: Andrew Bishop Quartet

Michael G. Nastos is known as a veteran radio broadcaster, local music journalist, and event promoter/producer. He is a former music director and current super sub on 88.3 WCBN-FM Ann Arbor, founding member of SEMJA, the Southeastern Michigan Jazz Association, Board of Directors member of the Michigan Jazz Festival, votes in the annual Detroit Music Awards and Down Beat Magazine, NPR Music and El Intruso Critics Polls, and writes monthly for Hot House Magazine in New York City.

The inaugural A2 Jazz Fest takes place from 12 noon to 8 pm on Saturday, September 10, at West Park, 215 Chapin St. Admission is free. Food vendors will be on site. In case of rain, an alternate date and venue is secured. For more information go to