Swinging Into the New Year: Pete Siers and the King of Swing


Pete Siers

Pete Siers is a good man on the drums.

“It's a sense of melody, harmony, rhythm, and simplicity that is of interest to all of us,” said drummer Pete Siers about what Benny Goodman's music means to him.

In fact, Siers is so in love with the King of Swing's sound, his band recorded a second CD dedicated to the great clarinetist: Goodman and Beyond Vol.II. The band will celebrate the release by swinging into the new year at the sold out Kerrytown Concert House on Saturday, December 31. Siers will be accompanied by the virtuosic pianist Tad Weed and clarinetist Dave Bennett, a Goodman devotee.

The Ann Arbor-based Siers is focused on the core elements of jazz -- swing, improvisation, etc. -- but he’s not bound by tradition. Instead, his concept is to expand on those vital elements and take jazz into a personal realm, which has always been the objective of any skilled musician not dictated to by commercial constraints. Siers also considers Goodman’s music to be modern as opposed to vintage because, given the entire history of music, jazz is chronologically modern.

Jazz, Not Ethio Jazz: The Blue Nile & Louis Johnson Serve Up Ethiopian Food & Great Music


Louis Johnson

Louis Johnson brings American ambiance to Ethiopian fare.

Ann Arbor is well known for its wide variety of ethnic restaurants. From South American, Caribbean, Asian and African cuisine of all stripes, the offerings are all high quality. But very few of these venues also feature any live music, much less classical or jazz.

So, when you think of jazz being played at an Ethiopian restaurant, your first thoughts might turn to the long-running Ethiopiques CD series that did so much to promote the Ethio-jazz style throughout the world.

But at Ann Arbor’s the Blue Nile restaurant, you won’t hear Ethio jazz, which was created by vibraphonist Mulatu Astatke and mixes traditional Ethiopian music with jazz, funk, and Latin rhythms.

Instead, every Friday and Saturday night, the restaurant on 221 E. Washington Street offers top-notch music courtesy of Louis Johnson and a small ensemble of rotating musicians who pull from the Great American Songbook, Brazilian music, the repertoires of Duke Ellington and Horace Silver, and many other jazz standards.

“I'm always trying to challenge the musicians to play something different, and they always rise to that challenge,” Johnson says. “I can't stump them.”

Jazz has been a staple at the Blue Nile going back to a time when saxophonist Doug Horn played there several years running prior to Johnson's current stint, which is going on five years.

Preview | Interview: Singer Marlena Studer


Marlena Studer

Wine, woman, song: Marlena Studer is ready for the holidays.

Singer Marlena Studer has a particular affinity for the holidays that stretch from Thanksgiving to New Year's Eve. The jazz and American popular-song stylist enjoys digging into the Christmas and wintertime chestnuts everyone knows, especially ones that evoke the love and camaraderie many people feel for their family and friends during this time of year.

Studer, as most people do, connects the holidays with memories; in her case, she recalls being taught how to sing by her mother. She remembers singing nursery rhymes and, later, tunes popularized by Andy Williams and Neil Diamond. “My mother taught me to sing when I was two years old,” she said. “She loved showing off her kids in front of the grandparents. We would stand up in front of them and sing songs and they would clap for us. I also danced and performed in theater in high school.”

Preview: Ron Brooks Trio+ Remembers CJQ & More


Rayse Biggs Ron Brooks at Ann Arbor's Water Hill Music Festival.

Rayse Biggs on trumpet. / Ron Brooks at Ann Arbor's Water Hill Music Festival.

Jazz bassist Ron Brooks has held many roles as bandleader and sideman. Among them are working with famed pianists Bob James and Stanley Cowell and serving as a founding member of the legendary Contemporary Jazz Quartet/Quintet (CJQ), the Latin jazz band Mixed Bag, and of course many versions of the Ron Brooks Trio. As the owner and operator of the late lamented Bird of Paradise nightclub, Brooks performed nearly every night in Ann Arbor for over four decades.

Brooks’ performance schedule since the Bird closed its doors in 2004 has been reduced to select gigs. He spends his daytime hours as a mediator for a Jackson, MI dispute resolution center - as he has most of his adult life. But jazz fans who know him as "The Mayor" will have an opportunity to hear both the Brooks trio and a recreation of CJQ in a single performance at the Kerrytown Concert House. This is a repeat of an historic show at the recent Detroit Jazz Festival (DJF) in tribute to CJQ and DJF’s founding father, pianist/composer Kenn Cox. It will also feature the music of Brooks’ partner, Eddie Russ, along with Larry Nozero in Mixed Bag.

Beyond CJQ, Brooks is the founder and President Emeritus of the Southeastern Michigan Jazz Association. He's worked with arts and philanthropic organizations including The Jazz Alliance of Michigan (JAM). He's been one of the most prominent African-American business persons in Washtenaw County. And he's a prolific performer in his own right, backing many major jazz performers coming through town.

Some of those artists have been Tommy Flanagan, Frank Morgan, Diana Krall, David “Fathead” Newman, Shirley Horn, Kenny Burrell, Mark Murphy, Betty Carter, Sonny Stitt; and countless others, including the greater contingent of Detroit jazz players. Brooks also has the distinction of playing with the legendary Eric Dolphy prior to his untimely death in the early 1960s.

The 2016 Brooks 3 + 2 combo will include saxophonist/flutist Vincent Bowens and trumpeter Rayse Biggs, two of the more prominent Detroit based musicians. With the passing of Leon Henderson (brother of the renowned saxophonist Joe Henderson) and the iconic trumpeter Charles Moore from the CJQ, Bowens and Biggs are two of Detroit’s more capable interpreters of contemporary regional jazz.

Kenn Cox's parts will be taken by pianist Gary Schunk, while drummer Djallo Djakate Kieta has the unenviable duty of taking over for two CJQ drummers who played side-by-side - the late Bud Spangler and West Coast transplant Danny Spencer. They will play material from the recently reissued Blue Note album Introducing Kenn Cox And The Contemporary Jazz Quintet, the landmark recording that stands alongside the Miles Davis epic Bitches Brew as one of the pivotal bridge recordings between the modern acoustic mainstream and jazz rock fusion movements.

In a recent interview, Brooks remembers all the places he played over six decades - most of which are long gone. They include Mackinac Jack's; the original Canterbury House, when it was on Maynard Street; the Loma Linda; the Del Rio; The Towne Bar; Mr. Flood's Party; the Old Town Tavern; the Golden Falcon; Schwaben Hall; and the People's Ballroom. He also recalls the 1972 Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival at Otis Spann Memorial field next to Huron High School where he played with the CJQ+.

Ron Brooks trio, 1967

Ron Brooks Trio at the Canterbury House, 1967. / Visit Oldnews.aadl.org for more photos and articles of Ron Brooks and his trio over the years.

Brooks also played The Earle; the top floor Sandalwood Lounge with Mixed Bag every Sunday night; the lobby of the Ann Arbor Inn; of course The Bird; as well as more recently, The Raven's Club and Bigalora on Washtenaw Avenue.

Brooks recalls the origin of "The Mayor" moniker, bestowed upon him by the late Marcus Belgrave. “When there was the political challenge or coup of getting a liquor license,” Brooks reminisces, “during a time when they were based on the repopulation of Ann Arbor and only seven new licenses came up, I was one of several people to apply. Larry Hunter was helpful on the City Council - he was a good guy - and I was the last to get a license as there were no other minorities who had them. Marcus made a comment like, ‘Well, you're like The Mayor,’ and it stuck."

Brooks addressed why now is the right time to bring the music of Cox and Russ to the forefront. “Stanley Cowell from Toledo and Danny Spencer were my roommates,” said Brooks, “Pianists Mike Lang or Dr. Tim Tomke, drummers Bob ‘Cleve’ Pozar and Bob Elliott were there in the early days, too. We were trying to find places to demonstrate what the music was and how valuable it would be in the community. Bob James left Ann Arbor after we won the Notre Dame Intercollegiate Jazz Festival, followed by the forming of CJQ.”

Fast forwarding some fifty years later, Brooks added, “I was approached by the Detroit Jazz Festival as a surviving member of CJQ, so we put it together and pulled out a few of Kenny's old tunes and I thought it was a good idea to keep the band going if I could.

“It’s about time. The charts are sprinkled all around - [longtime RB3 drummer] George Davidson had some, [Mixed Bag percussionist] Dave Koether had some from Eddie, and the music was accessible. Barbara Cox [Kenny's widow] was very cooperative. Vincent and Rayse were aware and into it, so I was encouraged to commemorate Kenny's and Eddie's music.

“The experiences I've had were wonderful for me,” concluded Brooks. “I owe so much to music - my life and my success - to the advent of being around and exposed to these musicians who helped in my personal growth. I miss the people the most, but the quality of the music especially at The Bird was so high. What flashes in my mind was the night we had Dizzy Gillespie in town and there were two or three hundred people off the street looking through the window at his trumpet bent up in the air. That vision comes back to me often."

Michael G. Nastos is known as a veteran radio broadcaster, local, national and international 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 Ron Brooks 3 + 2 play The Kerrytown Concert House, 415 N. Fourth Avenue this Friday, November 18 at 8 pm. For more information call (734) 769-2999 or visit http://kerrytownconcerthouse.com. They also appear at Schoolcraft College in Livonia for a SEMJA benefit at 3 pm on Sunday, November 20.

Preview: Guitarist Tackles Motian's Music & More


Carl Michel and Paul Motian

Local jazz guitarist Carl Michel // Late drummer and composer Paul Motian.

The late drummer Paul Motian was an icon not only among his fellow percussionists, but as a composer in his own right. With credits ranging from the great pianist Bill Evans’ trio and the legendary Keith Jarrett led mid-70s small ensemble, Motian became important in many ways as a mentor and unique presence in modern jazz.

Ann Arbor-based jazz guitarist Carl Michel has recognized the contributions of Paul Motian to the extent he has re-created a complete repertoire of his music. Michel also has his own substantial set list of original music and interpretations of standards, including his favorite compositions written by Chick Corea and Antonio Carlos Jobim - plenty of material to present at his live performances.

In the interim of his research and recording of Motian’s music, he has recently discovered a blog of Cindy McGuirl, Paul Motian’s niece, who is self publishing a book of his compositions. Her blog is titled “Uncle Paul’s Jazz Closet” that has podcasts of radio shows that she curates featuring her uncle’s music. She is publishing a first volume, and if there is enough interest, there will be a follow-up compendium.

Carl Michel started playing electric guitar, switching from cornet, inspired by 1960s rock and blues guitarists. A student at the West Bank School Of Music in Minneapolis, then the Berklee College Of Music, Michel moved to Austin, Texas with his brother, percussionist Robert "Booka" Michel, and became a co-founder of the Creative Opportunity Orchestra, with the innovative lead vocalist Tina Marsh. In 1983, he lived Madison, Wisconsin for a decade, settled in Detroit and then Ann Arbor, where he teaches at the Ann Arbor Music Center, and formed the Carl Michel Group, performing in the Metro Detroit area since 1995.

He has received two Emmy awards in Music Composition and Arrangement based on his work during the 16-part documentary series about 1930s-2000s pioneering female journalist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer Doris O’Donnell Beaufait titled “Cleveland.” His music is featured on film soundtracks "The Fourteenth Victim - Eliot Ness & The Torso Murders,” and “Dusk & Shadow - The Mystery Of Beverly Potts.” He has five recordings as a leader that explores contemporary jazz stylings with either a straight ahead or funky side. The 1998 Carl Michel Group and 2000 Carl Michel Group + CDs received across the board critical review acclaim and nationwide radio airplay.

Those initial CDs are a source of pride for the guitarist in that he received much unexpected praise and attention. “I do want to mention my vinyl LP from the 1980s when I was living in Madison called Food Of Love. That was a trio record. I thought it was more adventurous. When you get your first recording out, it is a sense of accomplishment. It made Cadence Magazine’s Editors Picks. When I moved to Detroit and got to know some people, did some more writing and got to know (drummer) Gerald Cleaver, (bassist) Tim Flood and (saxophonist) Michael Graye, Alex Trajano did the recording, Then I wanted to do a larger ensemble for the Group + and had a good core. So in came (saxophonist) Andrew Bishop, (trumpeter) Paul Finkbeiner and (pianist) Ellen Rowe, and did more extensive writing with more orchestration and arrangement.”

The Creative Opportunity Orchestra led him to believe his arrangements were another valuable aspect of his talent, thus his involvement with film scores. “For ‘Cleveland,’ I had a vision of the Ken Burns documentaries, and I thought I needed more music that related to the period, and I thought more of that time period. There are some elements of darkness like her covering the Sam Shepherd story, and then Doris O’Donnell’s traveling with the Cleveland Indians, unheard of for a woman at that time. And there were stories of women working in factories during World War II. There were many things to think about, but I was given free reign. I was given the synopsis of the series and I wrote themes and sent MIDI files for editing. Some of it was quartet and others were solo piano.”

As far as his connection to Paul Motian’s music, it goes back to his early interest in jazz. I got information from record stores - the first record I had was a Wes Montgomery or Milt Jackson album, then Ralph Towner and Gary Burton. I liked the ECM label and the sound. I fell into John Abercrombie and Pat Metheny pretty hard, but I found a promo copy of Dance by Paul Motian on ECM, which at first I didn’t get it but I loved the spacious sound, and there was no other drummer so unique. Then it was his project Rambler with electric guitarist Bill Frisell and got reacquainted with Keith Jarrett’s American Quartet and Quintet. But it was Paul’s Live In Tokyo that really turned the light on and I realized so much in his music - elements of Thelonious Monk, Eastern European music and Ornette Coleman coming together in his writing and it hit a peak.”

“I tried to get in touch with him, wrote to the record label - his music is not in The Real Book - and he graciously sent me 10-12 copies of his music. I got together with some people and went through this music ten years ago, There’s a lot of depth and you see how the writing is becoming stronger. Then he was not touring, only playing in New York and I went to the Village Vanguard to hear him, Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano. It was religious and mesmerizing. Then he passed away in 2011. Through the internet I was able to meet others who were interested in his music, had copies and was able to exchange music with them. I wrote his music administrator to see if I could get more, was able to, and did the recording project of which I’m proud of.”

As multi-faceted a musician as Carl Michel is, we listeners and his students are benefactors of his vision and broad experience. On the surface as laid back and less interested in image, Carl Michel is a major figure in the Ann Arbor jazz scene we all should pay closer attention to.

Michael G. Nastos is known as a veteran radio broadcaster, local, national and international 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.

Carl Michel & Friends with bassist Keith Malinowski and woodwindist Paul VornHagen play The Old Town Tavern, 122 W. Liberty, Wednesday, November 16 at 8 pm. For more information call (734) 662-9291 or visit online at http://oldtownaa.com.

Preview: Father of folk storytelling has more tales to tell


Jay Stielstra

Jay Stielstra, Old Man in Love.

Ann Arbor is blessed to have many veteran acoustic musicians grown from experiences in the old days via performing at the original Ark Coffeehouse on Hill Street and the late lamented Mr. Flood’s Party. They have lived to give us an overview of pre-technology years and simpler times.

Jay Stielstra, a native of Ludington, is the local founding father of this movement. Borne of the 1960s protest movement and the so-called folk music boom, he has written some one hundred fifty tunes about the life and times of legendary or fictional figures dealing with heartbreak and triumph, and the outdoors lifestyle that is much more rural routed and natural than the digitally produced country music of today. In his eighties, the guitarist and vocalist still has a lot to say based on his experience, his love of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and his longtime affection for Ann Arbor as not only the city of trees, but the beauty that still surrounds the outskirts of our city, untouched by strip mall mentality.

Stielstra’s magnum opus “North Country Opera,” as well as “Tittabawasee Jane,” “Old Man In Love,” “Escanaba,” “America, America,” and “Prodigals” are full-length theatrical musical dialogues that have stood the test of time. So too have songs like “Spikehorn,” about the Harrison, Michigan iconic backwoods coal miner and bear whisperer/preservationist/advocate John “Spikehorn” Meyer, a timely poem for the season titled “Autumn," the poignant “November Love” and “The Most I’m Missing,” a sly spinoff on “Farmers Daughter” titled “Baker’s Daughter,” and locale-driven tunes like the recently penned “Cut River Bridge” and “Manistee Waltz.”

Stielstra’s current ensemble consists of a cadre of admirers, followers, and talented players he has essentially mentored. They include guitarist/vocalist Chris Buhalis, mandolinist Jason Dennie, slap bass expert David Roof, harmonica master Peter “Madcat” Ruth, and rising star songwriter, guitarist and singer in her own right Judy Banker.

We spoke to the veteran musician and award winning playwright /actor from Manchester during a rehearsal session prior to his upcoming Ark show. The former Ann Arbor High/Pioneer and Huron High School football coach, public school teacher, and carpenter is also as humble as a Buffalo nickel, and responds with equally laid back demeanor about his status as an icon and the depiction of his sound as easy-going mosey down music.

Originally influenced by Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams, Stielstra also mentions the music of the Washington First Baptist Church. “A lot of my tunes, the patterns and progressions come from those old gospel songs. I’m not a religious person at all, but my parents were during World War II. I loved those tunes and still do. My mother played piano and my four years younger brother Elden Stielstra still is a tremendous trumpet player in Grand Rapids who plays Dixieland and big band music. He was the musician in the family,” he chuckles, “and I was the jock."

“I started singing when my daughters were small,” he continued. “We didn’t have a piano then so I got a guitar and said I’ll see if I can play that and learned to strum a few chords. Then the folk music thing came on - The Kingston Trio, Bob Dylan and Pete Seger. Most all of those tunes were simple. In the seventies there were places to play in town - it just went from there. I was in the schools, then retired from coaching, became a carpenter and did year round what I did every summer.”

Jay got into theater, building sets at the old Tech Center and original Performance Network where the YMCA is now located. This led to the North Country Opera and his one man show Old Man In Love.

But an accident curtailed his performing career: “I stopped playing, had to relearn and retune the guitar, and eventually was fortunate to play for a long time with excellent musicians like mandolin player Kelly Schmidt, bassist Gary Munce, David Menefee, Eric Nyhuis, Judy and John Banker - we had a trio together for four years. We worked with Drew Howard out of Lansing a number of times; Jason whenever we can because he’s a full time musician; and now Madcat - we got together with him last year and will again this year. He’s great.”

As far as a blues component, he added, “Yes, at one time in my life, and I had my heart broken a lot of times. It has influenced a number of songs I have written. Why it happens or how it happens, I have not a clue.”

Amazingly Jay Stielstra has only two recordings to his credit, but a long standing legacy of live shows all over Michigan and other far flung places leads him back to his home and to us, hopefully for many more years to come.

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.

Jay Stielstra & Friends play The Ark, 316 S. Main Street, on Thursday, November 17 at 8 pm. For more information call (734) 761-1800 or (734) 761-1818, or visit online at http://theark.org.

Preview: Celebrating 20 Years of Edgefest in One Year


Edgefest celebrates 20 years at the Edge

Edgefest celebrates 20 years at the Edge.

To do anything for twenty consecutive years is an accomplishment to be lauded with high praise. When it involves the cutting edge of creative improvised jazz, it’s an even larger feather in one’s cap.

Twenty years of presentations at Edgefest will be summarized in this year’s event. Bringing back longstanding favorite ensembles, emphasizing our local contingent of progressive-thinking musicians, and adding new twists and turns other events might not dare attempt bodes well for future generations of patrons and performers to continue looking up while getting down.

Over the decades, Edgefest has received national and international acclaim for their risk-taking bookings. Substantial grants have financially buoyed their ambitious line-ups, astute listeners have reveled in the innovative music heard here and nowhere else in one setting, while many musicians look forward to their return to Ann Arbor. Even throughout the year with the regular Music At The Edge series, Michigan audiences always have the opportunity to hear this music during any given season.

What is creative improvised jazz? It takes on many forms, from pure spontaneity to open ended composed work that goes beyond notes on a page. It can be serene or jarring, pastoral or jagged, even incorporating true new music based on folk forms from other countries melded with the swing, blues, and improvisation of finely tuned American-based jazz. For sure every flavor is different, yet each somehow holds a universal appeal that even the uninitiated can appreciate if they take the time--and the equally bold step--not to pre-judge but instead to just listen deeply.

Pre-Edgefest events have already taken place. Saxophonist Dave Rempis and Gunwale played Encore Records October 14. A week later the substantive duo of drummer Gerry Hemingway and trombonist Samuel Blaser performed at Encore October 7. That afternoon the University of Michigan hosted a piano duet between Kris Davis and Craig Taborn and included a sampling of her new CD Duopoly featuring the two pianists and others with Davis in strictly composed or improvised duets.

Trumpeter Mark Kirschenmann and keyboardist Stephen Rush’s electric Miles Davis tribute band Big Fun played the University of Michigan Museum of Art October 2. Both Kirschenmann and Rush are part of Edgefest’s proper line-up.

Pianist Kris Davis

Kris Davis is at the top of the lineup. / Photo by Peter Gannushin.

What sets Edgefest apart is the inclusion and emphasis of our local area performers, including recent Ann Arbor transplants such as percussionist Matthew Daher and bassist Will McEvoy; saxophonists Marcus Elliot and Tim Haldeman; the fascinating Balkan fusion group Ornamatik; U-M professors Kirschenmann, Rush, and Ellen Rowe; U-M graduate (and student of Geri Allen) Michael Malis, who was at the A2 Jazz Fest with Andrew Bishop and has been touring and appearing in New York City in support of his recent debut CD Lifted from the No of All Nothing; Tad Weed’s Freedom Ensemble, celebrating the music of pianist Herbie Nichols; tabla drum master John Churchville; Michigan’s famed Northwoods Improvisers; multi-instrumentalist Ken Kozora; multi-woodwind player Piotr Michalowski with the potent MoTreetown Collective and their three horn front line reminiscent of the Griot Galaxy; keyboardist Kenn Thomas; and U-M students performing large ensemble works written by John Hollenbeck.

The festival has gone though its share of trials and tribulations. At times crossing international borders has been tricky for musicians. Late arrivals or last minute cancellations always present timing problems, especially during the tragic and memorable Hurricane Sandy. And the festival has lost a few mighty performers who have passed away, including European multi-instrumentalist favorite Lars Hollmer, Chicago tuba player Aaron Dodd, trumpeter Paul Smoker, bassist Dominic Duval, and Dutch master Willem Breuker.

A special set during this year’s fest will come from the group TranceFormation in tribute to pianist Connie Crothers, who recently passed on. A disciple of Lennie Tristano, Crothers was initially in Ann Arbor nearly ten years ago when the International Society for Improvised Music hosted their annual conference here, and then played at KCH. A tribute to Crothers will be staged, featuring vocalist Andrea Wolper, bassist Ken Filiano, and saxophonist Vinny Golia, celebrating his 70th birthday.

Pianist Kris Davis will be the clear star of Edgefest for this year, as part of a tour supporting her 2014 trio CD Waiting For You To Grow on the Clean Feed label with drummer Tom Rainey and bassist John Hebert.

Then again, there are favored and featured artists returning, most notably Golia and Filiano in other bands; the legendary Trio 3 with Oliver Lake, Reggie Workman, and Andrew Cyrille; acclaimed trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and bassist John Lindberg; John Hollenbeck’s Claudia Quintet; bassist William Parker; saxophonist Tim Berne with the wild electric guitarist David Torn; violinist Jason Kao Hwang; koto expert Miya Masaoka; the top notch co-op collective Conference Call; and, especially, the participation of Edgefest co-founder David Lynch, who is consultant for 2016.

KCH’s Deanna Relyea has seen all the changes, borne the brunt of audience shifts and trends in modern music, yet continues to be motivated to set up venues, book musicians, and support the event. Like her Nash Bash, which celebrated its tenth year in 2016, these ideas endure because audiences want to hear the music.

Wadada Leo Smith

Wadada Leo Smith.

The inaugural edition in 1997 featured Tim Berne, Rova, Charlie Kohlhase, and Dave Douglas in a one-day event. Things have expanded beyond everyone’s expectations, even the originators Lynch, Relyea, Jules Ryan, and Damon Stanek.

In an interview with creative singer, founder, and artistic director Relyea, she talked about the Edgefest audience, and KCH’s objectives. “I think the Concert House is here to bring music ahead, whether it be classical music, jazz, or contemporary music in general. So it’s our mission to do new music. I don’t think there would be such an audience for this music if not for us, and people would not be as aware of it. I most certainly have grown into it. I feel like I’ve had my graduate education.” In recent years for instance, Relyea has become a part of Jason Kao Hwang’s vocal project on the Innova label Voice.

Audience development is key to the broadening of all horizons. “This is not a festival drawing thousands of people,” she added. “Even people in New York City don’t have this audience, but in Ann Arbor we started with a one day festival with Dave Douglas.” Now it’s nearly thirty bands in at least six different locales, not including schools.

Another aspect of Edgefest is that it brings back former area players like bassist John Lindberg, and especially ex-Ann Arborites like the renowned and brilliant pianist Craig Taborn, who will accompany two different groups and play a stand-alone solo piano set. “We are all proud of that. It’s really great to have them. Also our Saturday afternoon slot specifically emphasizes our area musicians, in this case the MoTreetown Collective and Northwoods Improvisers."

Then there’s at least one European, Canadian, or foreign group, in this case Sylvaine Helary’s Spring Roll, direct from Paris, France, and on tour in the U.S., who have a double CD out on Ayler Records Printemps/Spring Roll. Helary wields four different flutes and sings in a manner that has been described as a cross between Nina Hagen and Iva Bittova--sassy and minimalist-- while the band has been depicted as a hybrid between theatre, music, sound, poetry, and political manifesto. “I really look forward to that,“ Relyea said. “People love her, and in my conversations with her she seems charming.”

There will be commissioned works written by violinist/violist Jason Kao Hwang and his Burning Bridge Ensemble written and premiered specifically for this 20th Edgefest, featuring strings, brass, the Chinese erhu, and pipa. Another highlight should be the debut of trumpeter Mark Kirschenmann’s All Sanctuary trio featuring the trumpeter Jennifer Ellis on harp, and Churchville’s tabla, while Stephen Rush’s original Piano Concerto will be played prior to a scheduled Big M Records recorded document.

If jazz is indeed the music of surprise, there will be a thousand such moments in store at the upcoming Edgefest celebration.

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 the Southeastern Michigan Jazz Association, Board of Directors member of the Michigan Jazz Festival, and writes monthly for Hot House Magazine in New York City.

Edgefest takes place October 26-29 at the Kerrytown Concert House, 415 N. Fourth Ave. for main performances, along with other locales. Workshops will be at the Community High School, Scarlett & Clague Middle Schools, and the University of Michigan School of Music.

Preview: Ingrid Racine Moving Toward Major Player Status


Ingrid Racine at the recent Ann Arbor Jazz Festival

Ingrid Racine, with Ben Rolston and Chuck Newsome, at the Ann Arbor Distilling Company during the recent 2016 A2 Jazz Festival.

Our local contingent of modern jazz improvisers is as substantial as those coming in from out of town. We’re fortunate to have them, considering the paucity of performance spaces for them to ply their craft.

One performer who seems to take it all in stride is trumpeter Ingrid Racine. Juggling motherhood in tandem with her mate, club DJ Alvin Hill, creating and exploring performance spaces, teaching, performing some administrative duties, and recently making her debut recording would be a bit overwhelming for anyone. Add to that the tricky parameters of playing a brass instrument and one has to admire how from day to day she fits all this in yet plays so beautifully, straddling the not so fine line between jazz tradition and her personal brand of modernity that appeals to a mostly younger -- but some older, universal -- jazz demographic.

She has listened to and incorporates many aspects of the 100 years of jazz; she embraces everything from early trad and swing to mainstream jazz, and be bop, fusion, folk forms, and even the hip hop of her generation.

It's rare for a jazz musician to be born, raised, and continuing to live in Ann Arbor. Racine graduated from the jazz program at Community High School, guided by Mike Grace in 2000. She obtained her BFA in Jazz Studies at the University of Michigan where she was instructed by the great Detroit saxophonist Donald Walden, and Detroit Symphony Orchestra and jazz trumpeter Bill Lucas.

By graduation, Racine was entrenched as a member of Phil Ogilvie’s Rhythm Kings, Mady Kouyate’s Heat of Africa, and the Detroit-based all female jazz group Straight Ahead. She toured and recorded with the Afro Beat large ensemble NOMO from 2003-2009, recording for the West Coast based Ubiquity label. In 2007, she returned to University of Michigan to study with vaunted jazz piano star Geri Allen while completing her Masters Degree in Improvisation. She also curated for three years the summer outdoor series of shows on the patio of the Gandy Dancer.

Other associations include collaborations with Marion Hayden, the Paul Keller Orchestra, Wendell Harrison, the Heather Black Project, Jesse Kramer's Juice Box and Ethan Davidson. She’s also been heard with the Gin Dandies.

Ingrid Racine was working professionally during her days as a student. Her playing has fit in with trad jazz groups like P.O.R.K - Phil Oglivy’s Rhythm Kings led by James Dapogny, the Paul Keller Orchestra and Women In Jazz ensembles. While far from petite, Racine handles her brass trumpet with a savvy that has recalled veterans twice her age such as Freddie Hubbard, Jack Walrath or Valery Ponamarev, while also adding some of the ethereal qualities of the late Kenny Wheeler.

As a composer, Racine is also asserting herself, as evidenced by the release of her independent Kickstarter funded debut CD Concentric Circles. She’s a little on the funk side of jazz, can swing as hard as she needs to, and sings on occasion delightfully. Her recent hit performance at the A2 Jazz Fest with her regular quartet, numerous club dates, and her regular gig every Sunday for brunch at the Gandy Dancer has shown her to be a reliable player that delivers consistently. In a world dominated by male instrumentalists, Racine is proving she is a leader among women or any gender in jazz, a contingent that is finally ascending with rapid and overdue recognition.

Her regular band with guitarist Chuck Newsome, bassist Ben Rolston, and drummer Rob Avsharian are proving that practice does indeed make perfect, especially hearing the quartet at the Gandy Dancer. On the CD she’s joined on select tracks by rising star keyboardist Ian Finkelstein and veteran trombonist Vincent Chandler.

The fluid motion of her horn lines belies the fact that hard metal pressing against teeth and lip skin embouchure is no easy task, and can eventually be damaging, yet she takes care of business on all of these levels to emerge as perhaps the premier female jazz player in this era and this region.

She recalls her early days listening to funk and ska music. “In ninth grade it was the British second wave - The Specials and English Beat. Then I went backwards to the Jamaican stuff. There were strong Community High school bands back then. I played in an all-female punk band Vomica, named from the homeopathic remedy, and The Brewts, whose drummer was Barrett Miller, Ben Miller from Destroy All Monsters’ son.”

The unlikely bridge between the harder edged music and jazz was Chet Baker. “My brother was in the CHS Jazz band and the rockabilly group Lucky Haskins. Justin Walter and Ben Jansson were in his band - great jazz players. It started for me with Chet Baker on records, something that was accessible to me, and someone singing, and the playing. I heard a Thelonious Monk compilation record which I listened to death. Then I was in Sandy Machonochie’s jazz band at Tappan Middle School and she made me take improvised solos against my better judgment."

The juxtaposition of working simultaneously with James Dapogny a.k.a. Phil Oglivy, and NOMO as a bridge between Jelly Roll Morton and Duke Ellington to Fela Kuti might seem disconnected, but Ingrid Racine considers it a blessing. “For NOMO, it was cool kids playing at dance parties, but when I was hungry for gigs I sat in and got my butt kicked for the first two years with P.O.R.K."

Her career path has led her to the long overdue solo recording Concentric Circles, the culmination and an offshoot of her 12 year, regular Sunday brunch gig at the Gandy Dancer, where she has honed her playing and singing. “I feel like writing-wise I go through phases. I’ll book a gig and challenge myself to write all new tunes. So this batch of music with this band goes back to 2012 at The Raven’s Club. I knew the vibe I wanted to go with. So over the course of a few years we only played it a few times. Then there was music we did at the Elk’s Lodge. So the CD is an amalgamation of two writing periods."

“I’m not a big wailer, a high note player. My approach to the instrument is more forgiving. Just the way I hear things is more lyrical. I even didn’t want to think about it being a so-called jazz record, because I didn’t want that pressure of being virtuosic."

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.

Ingrid Racine & Friends perform every Sunday for brunch at the Gandy Dancer, 401 Depot St., from approximately 10 am - 2 pm. For dining reservations, call 769-0592. Ingrid also performs every Sunday with the Heather Black Project at the Ravens Club, 207 S. Main St., from 8 pm - 11 pm.

Ingrid is also leading an ongoing Music Production workshop presented by All Arts Access at AADL on Tuesday, October 25, November 8 and 22, 2016 at the Downtown Library.

Preview: Katie Geddes Serves Music Community On Several Levels


Preview: Katie Geddes Serves Music Community On Several Levels

Katie Geddes / Katie's debut album We Are Each Other's Angels from 2010.

There are many musicians, promoters, and support staff who thrive on service to the community. They tirelessly and with inadequate recompense give of themselves for the greater musical good. Then there’s Katie Geddes, who fills that bill beyond the call of duty.

A premier singer in our midst for some three decades, Geddes (pron: Ged-us) makes appearances at The Ark, the Green Wood Coffee House, smaller clubs, nursing and direct care facilities, the occasional festival, and even hosts house concerts. Her profession as a financial planner feeds her monetarily enough to be able to take music and acoustic folk art to as high a level as any local musician.

She also programs the shows at the Green Wood Coffee House in the First United Methodist Church at Green Road on Ann Arbor’s near north side. The series has been active since 1995. Recent performers have or will include Melanie (which was sold out), Chuck Mitchell, Don Henry, Mary McCaslin, Chuck Brodsky, Lou & Peter Berryman, Don White & Christine Lavin, John Ford Coley, Laurie McClain, Jeremy Horn, Sally Barris, and of course Geddes. In a room capacity of 200, most patrons hearing big name folk acts while not being church parishioners, is impressive.

We have breaking news: Katie Geddes has plans to record as many as six new CDs in the coming years. One will feature Melanie singing on it and producing it; as well as a tribute to Carly Simon. “I can’t believe no one has done that," she said in a recent interview. “Don Henry will produce that one.”

She’ll also do a solo album, another alongside her vocal trio All About Eve, plus a gospel, and a Christmas album. Whatever project she finishes first will be released first. She hopes all will be done in the next several years. “I would like to think so, but it takes me a long time because music is my side project.” When asked if she is a perfectionist she says no. “I do things over, but the time that goes between my recording sessions might be six months. David Mosher is very patient with me. He keeps my hard drive right there in his studios so when I do show up he’s ready."

Her debut studio CD We Are Each Others Angels was issued in 2010 and was made at Mosher’s Lake Studios in Brighton and Big Sky in Ann Arbor. The Live At Green Wood with The Usual Suspects dates back to 1999. It’s safe to say these new ideas have had plenty of time to germinate and now they are getting ready to sprout wings.

Because of the specific use of guest artists, most times Geddes has to wait until they come to town to book them at Green Wood. Her personal producer is a constant. “Now David Mosher is a wizard on all different kind of instruments, so I would lay down vocals and he would record a mandolin or a fiddle, then I’ll decide whether to keep it or not. The one I’m doing now has Robin McNamara, then a good two years later Jonathan Edwards added harmonica. That’s how I work.”

The guest artists become friends through her booking them at Green Wood. She also interprets other folks' music exclusively. “I do no song writing. I did write a book of poetry that maybe someday someone will put to music. They’re not really formatted."

“I cover songs and I think I'm pretty good at choosing songs and interpreting them. I like to ‘folkify’ pop - I’m a big fan of 1970s radio pop. I’ll countrify it or add a yodel, or harmony where there was not one before. By chance I’ll hear something I haven’t heard in forever and it’ll be stuck in my and really need to redo it. Or we’ll do something in church like Joe South’s 'Games People Play' because it was perfect for the service that day. It’s very relevant. We used Hammond organ on that.”

Some of the artists songs she has covered include Nanci Griffin, Gillian Welch, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, J.D Souther, John Lennon & Paul McCartney, and John Prine.

She mentions songs in church done by Mary Gauthier or Susan Werner, emphasizing the lack of hymns or strictly spiritual music. "We don’t do church music at our church.” As far as dream artists to book or collaborate with, she listed Sweethearts Of The Rodeo, Jennifer Warnes, and Dion.

Then there was the sold out show in the late 2000s with the recently deceased Rod McKuen. “We knew ahead of time we would have had too many people for the room so we put it in our downtown location. His fans had been waiting decades to see him. They came from all over the country."

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.

Katie Geddes performs at 8 pm, Saturday, October 8, at the Interfaith Center For Spiritual Growth in Café 704, 704 Airport Blvd. off State St. For reservations e-mail Al Carter at cafe704@gmail.com or call (734) 327-0270.

Preview: Judy Banker emerging as a premier singer/songwriter


Judy Banker Band

Judy Banker Band

By day she's a therapist and the Executive Director of the local Center for Eating Disorders. But on more occasions lately, Judy Banker continues her ascent as one of the brightest stars on the acoustic music scene, writing her own songs, playing exuberant music on her guitar, and vocalizing lyrics that have a universal appeal.

It’s no stretch to say that Judy Banker is ultimately so happy when performing it all seems completely natural. Her enthusiasm and sheer elation while playing her music is infectious and evident. Her radiant smile and stage presence has made her popular, leaving her fans and admirers asking for more. She possesses that rare combination of charisma and charm, along with a healthy injection of musicianship that seems so organic and soul driven, not produced in any way, shape or form.

At the last three editions of Nash Bash in the Kerrytown Farmer’s Market, Banker has been a shining star, eliciting the remark from Kerrytown Concert House’s Deanna Relyea that she “now can’t imagine a Nash Bash without Judy Banker.” Singing as a member of the Bill Edwards group for a scant few years as she did at the recent Nash Bash, but also extensive time working with Jay Stielstra, she’s now become a leader in her own right with encouragement from Stielstra and friends who recognize her singularly unique talent and stage presence.

Making her way from her native Manitowoc, Wisconsin west of Milwaukee to Ann Arbor, Banker is living proof that life’s lessons and feeling one’s own share of personal blues can turn into positive messages and the kind of music anyone can relate to - no matter their lot in this human condition of America. Inspired by similar artists of the 1960s, Banker writes songs with a more creatively complex vision, yet with simple and easy to understand lyrics. She’s already written several that could be considered classics, like the tune prompted by a comment from her son, the title track on her debut CD Devils Don’t Cry, “If You Could Read My Mind” (not the Gordon Lightfoot hit), “Feet Of Clay,” and the deeply poignant “Regrets." Devils Don’t Cry is a complete compendium of the twists and turns anyone might face, turned into a delightful and at times heart-weary mix of cautionary tales and tonics for the troops. The initial CD could perhaps see a follow-up soon - she has more material laying in wait - but her first effort could easily be issued on any major folk music label. It’s that good.

Banker's support group is perfect for what she attempts and accomplishes as an artist. The band includes renowned slap bassist and vocalist David Roof, violinist/vocalist Greta Mae Barnard, lap steel, dobro, and slide guitarist Tony Pace, and drummer/percussionist Stuart Tucker.

Initially Influenced by the likes of The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul & Mary, Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell, Banker’s music is neither stern nor ethereal, yet she retains threads of some of those values, along with a heart that professionally and musically wants wrongs to be righted. She is also not strictly urban or rural, but takes in elements of simplicity and sophistication to make music that is clearly all her own.

In a recent interview, Judy Banker talked about the inspiration behind her personalized story/songs. “I want to express this complex of emotions in a thought. It’s continually fascinating to me how right and wrong are so hard to decipher - it’s all a point of view. It isn’t really hard to pick a subject. I will look back on something that I’m stuck on or can’t figure out."

As a player, she started on a cheap guitar, and, along with her older brother, took lessons. “We played piano as kids. We learned chords in the key of C and G, then our teacher said that was all he knew. Then we had a cover band in middle school.” She also mentioned Joni Mitchell and had all of her albums: “Her writing is incredible, but I didn’t play her songs because I didn’t know the chords. It was outside of my Mel Bay music book. Some of my melodies have that feeling."

When asked where her songwriting can go she admits this is an early foray, as she’s been doing it for only four years. “What I imagine - the area that I’ll branch off into - is working on other people’s stories more. I hear people’s stories all the time - the battles that women go through all the time. I haven’t written anything political or about disenfranchised groups. I wouldn’t rule that out, it’s something I’m passionate about and care about - people who are being battered by our culture."

Banker is delighted with her audience response, feeds off it, and is interested in taking it to a higher level. Once again, her happiness quotient on stage is shared with her listeners. “I would love to channel bringing joy to people’s lives in a substantial way instead of, say, buying them a new toy. Helping people clear out some of the gunk and have better lives - I’ve dedicated my whole life to that."

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 Judy Banker Band performs at 7:30 pm on Thursday, October 6 at Johnny’s Speakeasy, 2923 Dexter Ave. on Ann Arbor’s far west side. E-mail only for reservations at johnnyspeakez@gmail.com. Seating is limited. The neighborhood has little if any local parking, so promoters are providing a shuttle between Plum Market in the Westgate Shopping area and The Speakeasy to easily access the show. Board from 6:30-7 pm. E-mail a reservation for the shuttle at judithbanker@gmail .com.