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Wednesday, April 24,2013

Growing the pie

Big lineup announced for East Lansing Summer Solstice Jazz Festival

by Lawrence Cosentino
Courtesy photo
While other jazz festivals shrivel, a three-way alliance among the City of East Lansing, the Wharton Center and the Michigan State University College of Music has led to more depth and breadth than ever for Greater Lansing’s early summer jazz fix, June 21-22.

Big names and sleepers, first-time visitors and familiar faces, a singer summit and a guitar summit are all in the mix, with a new second stage to showcase top student bands. 

Friday night’s headliner, 26-year-old vocalist Cyrille Aimée, is turning critical heads in Europe and the U.S. with her supple vocals tinged with Gypsy exotica. Aimée’s June festival gig follows a tradition established in 2009, with bassist/singer Esperanza Spalding, in which an up-and-coming jazz artist follows up a Solstice appearance with a Wharton Center performance the following season. (She returns to Wharton April 24.)

Arlene McDaniel, a jazz piano mainstay and music teacher in the Lansing area for over 30 years, brings a quintet Friday afternoon to kick off the festival at 4:30. Detroit organ legend Bill Heid will follow with an unusual “summit” of three top area guitarists: Detroit veteran Perry Hughes and MSU grads Ralph Tope and Cory Allen. Heid excels in organ-guitar combos, so he’ll be in his element, at least as long as he wears shades.

Aimée’s 7:30 p.m. headline set Friday will be followed by the Lansing Symphony jazz band and a late-night afterglow at nearby Beggar’s Banquet restaurant with familiar MSU-bred bassist Dave Rosin’s quartet.

Saturday’s slate begins at 4:30 with a vocal jazz summit hosted by MSU jazz studies chief and bassist Rodney Whitaker’s trio. It’s a stellar lineup of singers, with local veterans Betty Joplin and Betty Baxter, new MSU luminary Mardra Thomas and Toledo-based singer Ramona Collins, an unsung Midwest jazz legend who grew up in Lansing. 

After the singers leave the stage, Whitaker will anchor an hour of hard-bop heaven from the city’s unofficial house band, the MSU Professors of Jazz, with tenor saxophonist Tim Warfield, among the top reedmen in the nation.

Saturday night’s next headliner is probably new to most area jazz lovers. Fred Sanders, a popular and accomplished New Orleans pianist, will bring his trio and a guest vocalist, Germaine Bazzle.

Sanders studied under New Orleans legend Alvin Batiste (whom he met while playing at the wedding of longtime Duke Ellington trumpeter Clark Terry). Bazzle, another underappreciated gem, is one of New Orleans’ leading singers and jazz educators and a go-to vocalist for pianist Ellis Marsalis and other greats.

Grand Rapids’ 11-member salsa and Latin jazz machine Grupo Aye will close out the festivities Saturday night. The straight-no-chaser Detroit Tenors, an itinerant saxophone ‘rasslers of the old school, will play Saturday’s afterglow.

Dead air is forbidden, by virtue of palate-clearing interludes from the Community School of Music Jazz Orchestra (Friday) and the Paul Bratcher Quintet (Saturday).

For the first time, the Summer Solstice festival will open a second stage Saturday, with the aim of showcasing student groups to a real live jazz crowd. Among the showcase-ees will be the Saginaw Youth Jazz Ensemble, the Ann Arbor Pioneer and the East Lansing High School jazz band.

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