The Rapidian

Jazz festival in Grand Rapids this summer has something for everyone

Saxophonist Richard Elliot will headline the free sixth annual GRandJazzFest presented by DTE Energy Foundation on August 19 and 20.
Saxophonist, Richard Elliot

Saxophonist, Richard Elliot /Courtesy of Richard Elliot

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GRandJazzFest attendees dancing at the festival

GRandJazzFest attendees dancing at the festival /Courtesy of GRandJazzFest

Say “jazz” to someone who’s more into country or hip-hop and they might think “elevator music.” But jazz – known as the Great American Art Form because it was born in New Orleans – is an eclectic genre with something for everyone. Much of today’s music has its roots in jazz. And at the 2017 GRandJazzFest presented by DTE Energy Foundation, fest-goers can enjoy all that jazz has to offer – swing, big band, bee-bop, straight-ahead, contemporary, Afro-Cuban, bluesy jazz, jazz that makes you want to get up and dance – and so much more.

GRandJazzFest organizers announced the performance lineup for the sixth annual festival at a special event held in April in conjunction with International Jazz Day. The festival itself is Saturday, Aug. 19, and Sunday, Aug. 20, at Rosa Parks Circle in Grand Rapids.

Eleven diverse acts are on tap for West Michigan’s only free, weekend-long jazz festival – and this year’s fest will be headlined by world-renowned saxophonist Richard Elliot.

“We’re thrilled to have Richard Elliot headline our sixth annual festival!” GRandJazzFest Founder Audrey Sundstrom said. “He’s a huge name in the jazz and R&B world. We can’t wait for the energy that he’ll bring to the stage!”

Scotland-born, Los Angeles-raised Elliot has long been known as the “James Brown of Contemporary Jazz” for the intense soul inspirations of his recordings. Audiences embrace his joyfully exhausting onstage performances where he digs deep into his R&B and jazz roots. With a bestselling discography of more than 15 recordings since 1986’s Initial Approach, thousands of live dates spanning over two decades and one of the largest and most loyal fan bases in contemporary urban jazz, it’s incredible to hear Elliot declare: “What I’m doing now, enjoying this upward trend in my career, is seriously the most fun I have ever had.”

The festival kicks off as always with Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra with vocalist Edye Evans Hyde. The longtime band and Evans Hyde have performed together for years in West Michigan and delight audiences with jazz sounds from the 1940s and the Great American Songbook.

Terry Lower / Jazz Expedition Sextet is next in the Saturday lineup at the festival. Lower, a virtuoso jazz pianist, has been a fixture on the Michigan jazz scene for over 30 years.

Ed Stone and the Flowmasters also perform Saturday at GRandJazzFest. Stone, a jazz guitarist and vocalist, has played in numerous Top 40 groups and brings his songwriting and music to national audiences.

Tumbao Bravo returns to the GRandJazzFest stage for an encore performance after rain – and even a tornado! – cut short the group’s performance at the 2016 festival. Formed in August 2003 by reedman Paul VornHagen and conguero Alberto Nacif, the band is an exciting Cuban jazz combo that has released four critically acclaimed CDs.

No stranger to the GRandJazzFest stage, Bryan Lubeck returns to the fest for a repeat performance of Spanish guitar and urban grooves. Lubeck, who performed in 2015 and also brought with him a special Family Guitar Tent, plans to do the same at this year’s festival where people can try out different kinds of guitars.

Blushing Monk was the band selected to perform during GRandJazzFest 2017’s Student Showcase. Dutcher Snedeker, a Grand Rapids-based pianist with a long history of live-jazz performance, leads the band. They kick off the Sunday portion of the festival.

Next up on Sunday is The Isaac Norris Project, an assembly of Grand Rapids-area musicians who represent themselves individually as jazz, gospel, blues and R&B artists. Collectively under the direction of Isaac Norris, these musicians seek to develop and perform original smooth jazz and soul-inspired compositions.

Organissimo returns for an encore after rain and a tornado cut short the group’s performance at the 2016 festival. Formed in 2000, organissimo’s music leaps over fences and satisfies a diverse range of tastes. Their sound is instantly identifiable yet constantly evolving, infusing elements of funk, gospel, blues, progressive rock and Latin rhythms into a solid foundation of jazz.

Four80East joins the Sunday lineup. The band is an electro-jazz collective that’s all about the groove. Mixing jazz with soul music and electronic production, the Canadian producer duo of Rob DeBoer and Tony Grace have created a signature bass-propelled sound that entrances listeners of their recordings and enthralls audiences at their live shows.

The trio Nate Harasim & NILS featuring Brandon Willis takes to the GRandJazzFest stage on Sunday night. Harasim, a Grammy nominee and Soul Train Award recipient, is a producer, composer, keyboardist and multi-instrumentalist whose many live performances have included President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Ball, the Dubai International Jazz Festival and the 2015 GRandJazzFest. Joining Harasim at GRandJazzFest is NILS, an L.A.-based guitarist whose talents are featured on the contemporary jazz hit “Impact” produced by Harasim. Rounding out the trio is Brandon Willis, a saxophonist featured on the jazz CD “Impact.”

“We have music for everyone,” Sundstrom said. “The great thing about jazz is there are so many types. Our goal is to spread the love of jazz in all its forms.”

In addition to the 11 jazz performance acts and the Family Guitar Tent, the festival will also feature free face painting for the kids, and an outdoor refreshment area and food trucks on the adjacent Grand Rapids Art Museum plaza area. The nearby Amway Grand Plaza Hotel is offering a reduced rate the weekend of the festival.

“GRandJazzFest has truly become one of the region’s most important cultural and community events, and DTE Energy Foundation has been a proud sponsor since the beginning,” said Mark Stiers, president and chief operating officer, DTE Gas. “Not only does the festival bring world-class music to West Michigan, it supports the economy in so many ways. Our investment in GRandJazzFest is one of the wonderful ways we show our commitment to the communities where we live and serve.”

The two-day GRandJazzFest festival will again be free thanks to presenting sponsor DTE Energy Foundation and other generous sponsors, supporters and volunteers.

People can get a taste of past GRandJazzFests by viewing the “recap” videos here: http://grandjazzfest.org/newsroom/video/. More information on the sixth annual GRandJazzFest presented by DTE Energy Foundation can be found at www.grandjazzfest.org, and at the festival’s Facebook and Twitter sites – www.facebook.com/grandjazzfest and www.twitter.com/grandjazzfest.

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