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West Michigan Jazz Society carries on mission of founding leaders

The West Michigan Jazz Society carries on the mission of Betty Forrest and Jack Hoppus by preserving and promoting live jazz in West Michigan.
Monday Night Jazz Series at Bobarinos

Monday Night Jazz Series at Bobarinos /Courtesy of West Michigan Jazz Society

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Additional Information

West Michigan Jazz Society website

West Michigan Jazz Society facebook

Monday Night Jazz Series at Bobarinos

  • January 21st, 2013 - 630pm
  • February 18th, 2013 - 630pm
  • March 18th, 2013 - 630pm
  • April 15th, 2013 - 630pm
Beltline Big Band performing at Jazz at the Zoo

Beltline Big Band performing at Jazz at the Zoo /Courtesy of West Michigan Jazz Society

Betty Forrest had a passion for jazz, and she was married to a jazz musician. Jack Hoppus was a radio DJ with his own all-night jazz show for WLAV, and collected jazz records while opening up Jack’s Record Shop. Together, these two helped to spearhead the creation of the West Michigan Jazz Society in 1986 as a way to celebrate, preserve and promote live jazz.

"Fast forward to today, the mission still holds true: to support live jazz,” says Eddie Tadlock, a volunteer board member for the West Michigan Jazz Society. And just like when Forrest and Hoppus started the Society, there are no paid staff members. Everyone volunteers their time for the love of jazz.

The Society carries on the work of the late Jack Hoppus and Betty Forrest by continuing to promote and preserve live jazz in Grand Rapids and West Michigan by putting on events such as Jazz at the Zoo, and their Monday Night Jazz Series.

Jazz at the Zoo is a weekly series of live jazz concerts at John Ball Park Zoo every Monday from June through August. At these free events, everyone is invited to pack a picnic, lay out in the grass before the John Ball Park Bandshell and surround themselves with the sound of local jazz artists.

As summer draws to a close, the Jazz Society puts on their Monday Night Jazz Series, held on the third Monday of every month from September through May. This Monday Night Jazz Series takes place at Bobarinos in The B.O.B. Another part of promoting and preserving jazz throughout West Michigan is done through a scholarship program.

"Each year, we give out scholarships, upwards of $2000, to students who are entering musical programs,” says Tadlock. The West Michigan Jazz Society Scholarship is a remnant of the beginnings of the Society.

Prior to the West Michigan Jazz Society awarding scholarships to local students entering musical programs, Jimmy Forrest was a jazz musician and Betty Forrest’s husband. After he passed away in 1980, the Jimmy Forrest Scholarship fund was set up through the former Grand Rapids Junior College, which is now Grand Rapids Community College.

A small turnout at a jazz concert that benefited the Jimmy Forrest Scholarship fund in 1985 prompted Betty Forrest to bring together Jazz lovers from all over Grand Rapids and the West Michigan area. The West Michigan Jazz Society was born.

“All the dollars that are raised are going to scholarships. There are no paid staff members,” says Tadlock, “All of the money goes to education and putting on the programming itself."

The programming that the West Michigan Jazz Society puts on, such as the Jazz at the Zoo, and their Monday Night Jazz Series, features local jazz musicians, musicians just passing through and musicians that have left and have chosen to return.

“Kathy LaMar [was] born and raised in Grand Rapids, left after high school and went to Las Vegas to sing jazz. She was out there 20 years,” says Tadlock, “She sang with Tony Bennett in Vegas...and she's here now, singing for the Jazz Society. And that's pretty awesome.”

Throughout the years, whenever jazz performers would pass through Grand Rapids, they would often visit with West Michigan Jazz Society Members such as Jack Hoppus.

"Jack Hoppus used to have these parties at his house. After they had a Jazz Society event, musicians would come and play,” says Tadlock, “Jack had a baby grand piano at his house, and whenever musicians would come and play, they would sign the piano. I wanna say that Duke Ellington and Count Basie, signed that piano."

The Jazz Society experienced great growth during its infancy as membership grew from 20 to 100 from January to June of 1986. However, new memberships have slowed considerably over the years. Currently, the Jazz Society has 550 members, but Tadlock says that they hope to increase and diversify membership in the future.

The Society is also currently working with venues that feature live jazz performances, such as the Speak EZ Lounge, Republic, One Trick Pony, The B.O.B. and Founders Brewing Company, to help promote the jazz events that are already taking place in the Grand Rapids community. The Jazz Society hopes that these measures will help to increase awareness of the Jazz Society, and will hopefully lead to a wider demographic.

"The membership in the Jazz Society is in the older demographic,” says Tadlock, “Probably, without exaggerating, the median age of members is 65.”

“[Our membership] has been steady, but that’s not sustainable,” says Tadlock, “That's been flat, for like five years.” The Jazz Society is working to reach out to music programs at local universities and other organizations to increase awareness among young people of their jazz events.

According to Tadlock, it is very important to continue the work started by Betty Forrest and Jack Hoppus and preserve and promote Jazz in Grand Rapids and West Michigan.

"Jazz is truly an American art form. Born and raised in America. And a wealth of people have contributed to that art form. Every religion, ethnicity... it's really a melting pot of culture and music,” says Tadlock, “As the Jazz Society, we need to do our part to kind of continue that legacy and make sure it moves forward in a positive way.”

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