A Trio of Days: The 2018 A2 Jazz Fest expands to three swinging nights


Marion Hayden, Michael Malis, and Marcus Elliot

Bassist Marion Hayden will headline the A2 Jazz Fest's closing night with her Ensemble; pianist Michael Malis and saxophonist Marcus Elliot's Balance duo opens the evening.

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.)

Several festival volunteers help Sharp make the fest happen, including key committee members Jennifer Pollard, who runs the invaluable Lifting Up A2 Jazz page on Facebook, which spreads the word about concerts in Washtenaw County, and Patrick Chong, who maintains a2jazzfest.com.

"Jennifer and Patrick have done amazing levels of work on the website, Facebook page, and elsewhere," Sharp says, "to the point where we could not make the festival happen without them. And we've had lots of help from many, many people behind the scenes, including musicians lining up backline gear, Paquetta Palmer lining up artist hospitality, Ali Ramwali from Jerusalem Garden donating food for the artists, venue owners accommodating requests, radio hosts inviting us on the air, the list goes on and on."

The A2JF grew out of the weekly Wednesday night jazz shows at Old Town Tavern, which Sharp books, so there are many familiar Southeastern Michigan artists playing the fest every year. Sharp says A2JF is hoping to add out-of-town headliners for future fests, though fans "really like the local aspect of the festival."

A2JF 2018 is the first time Sharp has programmed the fest thematically, featuring a world-jazz night on Friday, a student-jazz showcase on Saturday afternoon, a straightahead jazz bill in the evening, and a piano focus on Sunday. But the circumstances of the groupings came together because of the venues hosting the fest.

"It was directly related to securing LIVE on both Friday and Saturday, which has a great dance crowd on Friday nights," Sharp says. "Further, the challenge of getting a real grand piano to the stage at LIVE led us to host a show using the amazing piano at Kerrytown Concert House."

Avant-garde jazz, which will be well-represented in Ann Arbor at the 22nd annual Edgefest on Oct. 16-20, isn't featured at A2JF, but not for lack of interest by the organizing committee. It's more an acknowledgment that there are others also doing a great job at promoting jazz in the area. "There was no conscious effort to stay away from avant-garde jazz," Sharp says, "but Edgefest, Ziggy's [in Ypsilanti], and Trinosophes [in Detroit] seem to have the avant-garde audience's attention around SE Michigan."

If the positive trend continues and A2 Jazz Fest continues expanding, perhaps all these great places could combine forces for an avant-garde showcase in 2019 -- just keep that fourth day well under 10 hours.

6-7 pm - Raka
7:15-9 pm - Tumbao Bravo

3-3:30 pm - Community Music School Jazz Ensemble
3:40-4:10 pm - Community High School Jazz Ensemble
4:20-4:50 pm - The 5 Brothers 
5 pm - Trunino Lowe Quartet
6 pm - Jon Taylor's Beam Songs
7 pm - Janelle Reichman +4
8 pm - Sean Dobbins Trio

4-5 pm - Balance featuring Michael Malis and Marcus Elliot
5:30-6:30 pm - Roe Bickley Kramer Trio
7-8 pm - Marion Hayden Ensemble

Christopher Porter is a library technician and the editor of Pulp.

The A2 Jazz Fest runs Friday, Sept. 28, and Saturday, Sept. 29, at LIVE Nightclub and Sunday, Sept. 30, at Kerrytown Concert House. All concerts are free of charge.