Come Together: A2 Jazz Fest will showcase the region's rich talent


A2 Jazz Fest

2017 A2 Jazz Fest performers include (clockwise from left) Dan Bennett, Sean Dobbins, Tristan Cappel, and Janelle Reichman, among many others.

Although the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area is certainly home to many talented jazz musicians, sometimes it might seem that they fly a little under the radar. The A2 Jazz Fest is out to change that.

The free admission, two-day festival returns for its second edition Friday and Saturday, September 8 and 9. Friday evening’s venue is the First Congregational Church, while on Saturday the festival takes over LIVE nightclub. (This is a change from the initially announced location at the Ann Arbor Distilling Co.)

“Currently jazz is featured at a number of restaurants and bars, once or twice a week, but there is no longer a dedicated jazz club in Ann Arbor or Ypsilanti," says Dave Sharp, local bassist, bandleader, and organizer of the A2 Jazz Fest. "UMS and the Kerrytown Concert House certainly feature amazing jazz groups, but not on the scale or frequency of a jazz club or jazz festival."

Sharp noticed there were "many other cities in Michigan had been presenting jazz festivals, and Ann Arbor wasn't on the list. With all of the jazz talent in the area and the relatively small number of venues featuring jazz in a listening environment, it seemed like a jazz festival would give jazz listeners and jazz musicians a positive musical experience.”

So last fall, Sharp organized the first A2 Jazz Fest. “The reception was extremely positive on many levels, including the audience, the musicians and the volunteers who helped to make the festival run smoothly. Attendance was higher than expected, and the success allowed us to sponsor a four-part jazz series in the fall and spring,” he says.

Sharp also books the weekly Wednesday jazz series at Old Town Tavern, and those acts provide a starting point for the festival lineup. The bill includes Tim Haldeman's Open Water as a Child, the Tristan Cappel Unit, the Sean Dobbins Organ Quartet, the Janelle Reichman Quartet, the Paul Finkbeiner Quartet, the Ann Arbor Guitar Trio, Andrew Bishop’s Prelude Theory, and the Dan Bennett Quintet, among many others. (See the full schedule here.)

“There also many young people playing jazz in middle school, high school, and college, and this year we are featuring more student jazz ensembles, from Community High, Skyline, Community Music School, Washtenaw Community College and the University of Michigan,” Sharp says.

The two-day event is funded through a Kickstarter drive and other donations, sponsors, and fundraising events. As a result, admission is free both days. That encourages strong attendance and also frees the festival up from depending on ticket sales, Sharp notes.

Donations are still welcome, however. “We have a partnership with Artrain Inc., a non-profit organization that accepts (tax-deductible) charitable donations on our behalf. Also, our volunteers send around donation jars at all our events to help fund future events,” Sharp says.

And he expects those future events to continue including the A2 Jazz Fest in 2018 and beyond.

➥ Read our interview with Tristan Cappel from March 2017 here.

Bob Needham is a freelance writer; the former arts & entertainment editor of The Ann Arbor News and

The A2 Jazz Fest takes place from 7-11 p.m. Friday, Sept. 8, at the First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor, 608 E. William St.; and noon-10 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 9, at LIVE nightclub, 102 S. First St. Admission is free both days. For more information, see the schedule and lineup pages on the festival website.