Jazz Festival Takes Center Stage This Weekend

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GRandJazzFest’s rhythmic improvisations will infuse Rosa Parks Circle Saturday and Sunday with a dynamic blend of fusion, swing, Cuban, funk, gospel blues and Latin rhythms.

GRandJazzFest is a family-friendly venue that intentionally serves a tuneful smorgasbord of jazz genres, said Audrey Sundstrom, founder and chair of GRandJazzFest and president of GR and Jazz, the nonprofit that produces GRandJazzFest.

“It’s really about expanding people’s minds about what the word ‘jazz’ means when it comes to music,” said Sundstrom. “It’s free (to attend) so it makes it accessible to anybody. It’s about keeping jazz alive.”

The sixth annual festival presented by DTE Energy Foundation features 11 performers over the two days, as well as face painting and a family guitar tent.

Edye Evans Hyde performing previously at GRandJazzFest.

This year’s headliner is Scottish-born veteran saxophonist Richard Elliot, whose contemporary jazz is known for its intense soul inspirations. Other acts include Cuban jazz performers Tumbao Bravo, electro jazz collective Four80East, and jazz guitarist and vocalist Ed Stone and the Flowmasters.

Grand Rapids-based acts include the Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra with Edye Evans Hyde, student jazz band Blushing Monk, and The Isaac Norton Project.

Then there’s Bryan Lubeck who will play a one-hour set Saturday with his Spanish guitar along with his Latin-urban band.

Lubeck will once again coordinate this year’s family guitar tent (as he did in 2015), which will give kids and adults a chance to try out a variety of six-string acoustic, electric and jazz guitars, as well as ukuleles.

Lubeck will be on hand to answer questions as people of all ages jam with the guitars made by Canadian manufacturer Godin Guitars.

Family Guitar Tent, 2015 GRandJazzFest. Photo by Christopher John Wilson
Family Guitar Tent, 2015 GRandJazzFest. Photo by Christopher John Wilson

Guitars will be available for sale “at severe discounts,” Lubeck added.

“We don’t necessarily want to ship them back (to Canada),” he said.

Guitar giveaways are in the mix, too. Drawings will be held both Saturday and Sunday and winners must be present to win.

Lubeck said he decided in 2015 to make the family guitar tent inviting to all people, and that includes those who may have fallen on hard times. His decision to go this route produced some pleasant surprises in 2015.

“I decided I don’t care who it is, if they want to come in and pick up a guitar they can do it,” said Lubeck. “I had a couple of guys who looked like they were down and out who asked if they could play, and they freakin’ lit it up.

“They were jamming to what the musicians were doing on stage and they was just as good if not better. I love that aspect. The idea is it’s about letting folks in the community try a guitar and have some fun.”

Lubeck said he considers outdoor concerts like GRandJazzFest a more personal experience for him. “When you’re outdoors, you are more part of an event, an experience,” he said. “There’s the local food and there’s a sense you’re a part of a location, an event that you are a part of.”

GRandJazzFest draws a large crowd to Rosa Parks Circle. Photo by Christopher John Wilson

It’s stories like Lubeck’s that make it worthwhile putting on West Michigan’s only jazz concert, said Sundstrom.

“I’m a fan of jazz. I grew up with swing era jazz with my dad,” she said. “I was going to jazz festivals across the state and oftentimes, it was a three- to four-hour drive. We’re (Grand Rapids) the second largest city (in Michigan). Why don’t we have a jazz festival?”

Jazz is a unifying force for good, Sundstrom said.

“The crowd that comes out is really diverse and that’s a good thing for our country and our world, to realize we’re all humans,” she said. “Jazz attracts people of all different backgrounds.”

GRandJazzFest takes place Aug. 19 & 20 at Rosa Parks Circle. Details are available at GRandJazzFest.

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