Jazz Jams in Grand Rapids

Something is happening with jazz in Grand Rapids. Overnight, it seems, the art form which hitherto has garnered lots of respect but little support is coming into its own in this area. People are turning out to hear live jazz. It has been a long time coming, and it's good to see. Last night I went to a jam session at the Winchester, located at 648 Wealthy Street SE. Running from 9:30 to 12:30, the session is hosted by trumpeter Chris Lawrence, with John Shea on keyboards and a rotating lineup of bass players and drummers. Besides being an incendiary improviser, Chris does a splendid job fronting the session, and he has an enthusiastic audience. A number of great area jazz musicians showed up to share their talents, among them veteran drummer Scott Veenstra, vocalist Kathy LaMar (she's a marvel!), and keyboard wizard Steve Talaga. Steve arrived after wrapping up his own earlier jam session down the street at Billy's in Eastown. I haven't made it to that session yet, but it's on my list. Like the one at the Winchester, it's new, and it amazes me in the pleasantest way that, suddenly, not just one but two Tuesday night jazz jam sessions have emerged right down the road from each other. Steve's runs from 7:00 to 11:00 p.m. at 1437 Wealthy. A guest musician could close out that session and then, if so inclined, head over to the Winchester and still have plenty more time to play. Both of the Tuesday sessions are recent and very welcome developments, and the Winchester and Billy's are to be saluted for supporting them. But that's not the end of it. Across town on Sunday nights is where the session with a history to it takes place. At SpeakEZ Lounge, 600 Monroe NW, well-known drummer and harmonica man Randy Marsh hosts this town's longest ongoing jam session. The session began a couple years ago at HopCat, where it ran for quite a while before moving to SpeakEZ. The second location is an excellent venue for Randy, who rotates a consistently topnotch cast of section players and provides a welcoming setting for visiting musicians to air out their chops. Blowing sessions are a part of the jazz tradition, and to see them emerge and succeed here in Grand Rapids seems to me a litmus test of the state of the art. West Michigan has got some world-class musicians as well as a heap of upcoming talent, and I'm delighted to see room being made for all. I have an idea that there's a link between the explosion of craft beer in this town and the ascendance of live jazz. Beer--good beer--is art, and artists recognize and support other artists. In a town that has been named Beer City for two years running in the Beer City USA national poll, and which in recent years has also garnered national attention for its three-week-long, citywide ArtPrize contest, a new and positive mindset toward things aesthetic has become apparent, and it is sweeping up jazz into the mix. Bravo for those restaurant owners who see value in live jazz and are choosing to support it by giving it a venue in their establishments.    

Gig Alert! November 4 with Francesca Amari at Seasonal Grill

The Seasonal Grille in downtown Hastings, Michigan, is a great place to eat, and if you're a musician, also a great place to play. I've done several gigs there over the past year, and from the start I've appreciated the owner, Justin Straube, and his crew as people who genuinely enjoy the music, and who treat musicians well. Perhaps that has something to do with a mutual respect among artists, because the fare that Justin serves up is just that: culinary art. I continue to be amazed that food as superb as what you'll find at the Seasonal Grille comes at such an affordable price. But enough of my touting the Grille. Let me switch to talking up my friend Francesca Amari. I met her on a big band gig four or five years ago, and we've played together ever since as opportunity has presented itself. Francesca is more than a great vocalist and gifted national cabaret artist: she is also an engaging, well-loved performer who projects a wit and sweetness that are totally authentic. In a word, she shines. She loves her audience, her audience loves her, and as a bandmate, she's just plain fun to work with. So you see, you have lots of incentive to come hear Francesca and the band, including moi, at the Seasonal Grille two weeks from now on Friday, November 4. We'll be there with a full rhythm section consisting of Dave DeVos on bass, Bobby Thompson on drums, and Mark Kahny playing keyboards. This is a more ambitious date for the Grille than the piano–sax duos that I normally do there. I'm pleased that Justin was open to my suggestion to bring in Francesca, who will be visiting Grand Rapids that week. This event will be something more than background music for diners, so I hope you'll come join us. If you enjoy live jazz and show tunes, I can guarantee you a great evening. Here are all the details in one compact call-out:
Francesca Amari and Friends Place: The Seasonal Grille Date & Time: Friday, November 4, from 6:00–9:00 p.m. Phone: (269) 948-9222 Address: 152 West State Street, Hastings, MI (right across from the courthouse square)
The band will also be playing the previous evening, Thursday, November 3, at One Trick Pony in Grand Rapids. Downbeat for that gig is 8:00 p.m., and Wright McCargar will be filling the keyboard chair. That will be another fun night, so if you can't make one, then make the other. See you in two weeks!

Jazz Friday Night at the Seasonal Grille

Yikes--almost forget to mention, I'll be playing tomorrow night (Friday, September 23) at the Seasonal Grille in downtown Hastings, Michigan. Come on out, drop a few dollars on dinner with your sweetheart, and take in a little live jazz. The Seasonal Grille is a fabulous place, and the food is not only outstanding in quality, but also just about absurdly affordable. Paul Lesinkski will be joining me on keyboards. We've done a good number of piano-sax duos through the years; he's a fantastic musician, a good friend, and someone I love playing with. You'll like what you hear. Here are the details: The Seasonal Grille 150 West State Street Hastings, MI Time: 6:00–9:00 p.m. Phone: (269) 948-9222 Hope you can make it!

Live Saxophone Jazz Friday at The Seasonal Grille in Hastings

Tomorrow night keyboardist Bob VanStee and I join forces to play for the one-year anniversary of The Seasonal Grille in downtown Hastings. I feel honored to be a part of the celebration. Justin Straube and his crew are great to work with. They appreciate their musicians, genuinely enjoy the music, and all around are just plain "good people." In other words, this place is a pleasure to play at. Justin has turned out a first-class dining establishment that gives his patrons far more than their money's worth. The ambiance is comfortably elegant, the kind where you can dress up or dress down and feel good about either option. As for the food and the prices, it's hard to believe that culinary creations of such superb quality can be so ridiculously affordable. You'd have to look far and hard in order to find meals of comparable gourmet deliciousness that cost so little. Frankly, I don't know how Justin does it. I think a large part of it is, he simply wants to give people a good deal. Anyway...Bob and I play tomorrow (Friday) from 6:00–9:00 p.m. Come on out and get a plateful, a beerful, and an earful. I might add, this is a great date-your-mate location! Here's the info:
  • The Seasonal Grille
  • 150 West State Street
  • Hastings, MI
  • Time: 6:00–9:00 p.m.
  • Phone: (269) 948-9222
Some of my storm chasing friends will be coming out tomorrow to hang out with each other. Maybe I'll see you there too.

Stormhorn Jazz Tonight at the Cobblestone

A quick reminder, in case you haven't gotten one from me on Facebook, that my jazz trio, Stormhorn Jazz, is playing tonight from 6:30–9:30 p.m. at the Cobblestone Bistro in Caledonia, Michigan. This is a beautiful place with superb food, world-class wines, a good offering of domestic, imported, and craft-brewed beers, an elegant and comfortable bar, and ambiance galore complete with a fireplace and even, yes, a waterfall--plus, of course, live jazz by Dave DeVos on bass, Steve Durst on keyboards, and me on the alto sax and vocals. The Cobblestone is one of the best things about Caledonia, at least from a musical and dining perspective, and Ben, the owner, loves jazz. So come on out and show your support. I promise you, you'll be pleased at what you find. Here are the details:
• Date & Time: Saturday, January 15, 6:30-9:30 p.m. • Place: The Cobblestone Bistro & Banquet Center • Address: 9818 Cherry Valley Ave. SE (M-37), Caledonia, MI • Phone: (616) 588-3223 Reservations are recommended, but walk-ins are welcome.

New Years Eve Gig at the Cobblestone

Man, this year has blown by fast, hasn't it! Five days from now we'll have turned the corner into circa 2011. New Years Eve is the last of the big holidays. After that, we get down to the business of doing winter up here in the circumboreal region. So what are you doing for New Years Eve? How's about enjoying it with Steve Durst and me at the Cobblestone Bistro here in Caledonia, Michigan? We'll be playing jazz standards through the dinner hours from 6:00-10:00 p.m. Let me tell you a bit about the Cobblestone, because it's a jewel. Located on the east side of M-37 (aka Cherry Valley Road) on the south end of Caledonia, the Cobblestone is designed for ambiance. Step inside and you'll find an elegant, modestly sized dining room that features a fireplace, a waterfall fountain, superb cuisine, a selection of world-class wines, and a very nice bar. We're talking destination dining right here in little old Caledonia. If you're looking for a cozy place to spend the evening with your special someone, you'll be absolutely delighted. Of course, besides all of the above, this New Years Eve you'll also get Steve on the keyboards and me on the alto saxophone providing live jazz to complement the mood. So come and enjoy dinner with us in one of the nicest settings you can imagine. Here's the info:
• Date & Time: December 31, 6:00-10:00 p.m. • Place: The Cobblestone Bistro & Banquet Center • Address: 9818 Cherry Valley Ave. SE (M-37), Caledonia, MI • Phone: (616) 588-3223
If the weather proves to be as warm as is currently forecast, this New Years Eve should be perfect for a night out. Spend it with us at the Cobblestone! I hope to see you there.