Blowing on the embers: JAMM marks Jazz Day with online watch party

Lawrence Cosentino

The big lockdown of 2020 has temporarily tamped down the fire of live jazz in Lansing to embers of memory. To behold the flame once more, and offer hope for its return, the Jazz Alliance of Mid-Michigan is taking its annual International Jazz Day bash online.

Friday, May 1, from 7 to 10 p.m., JAMM will stream an all-star jazz concert from Nov. 19 of last year for the first time, with every recipient who has received the group’s lifetime award, from bassists Rodney Whitaker and Gene Rebeck to drummers Randy Gelispie and Jeff Shoup, organist Jim Alfredson, pianists Ron Newman and Jeff Kressler and vocalists Betty Joplin, Betty Baxter and Sunny Wilkinson.

The watch party will help JAMM continue to distribute relief grants to area musicians who are hurting during an unprecedented dry spell.

Most of all, JAMM President Lois Mummaw hopes the party will “remind people what it’s like to be at a live jazz event and give hope that musicians will be able to play for live crowds again.”

Lansing’s thriving jazz scene, from Jazz Tuesdays at Moriarty’s to eruptions of international greatness from MSU’s stellar jazz department, supplied onstage miracles with the regularity of a public utility, building a close-knit, loving community of fans.

“I took it all so much for granted,” Mummaw said. “Now the thought of going out and sitting in a crowded room, or standing in a crowd at an outdoor festival, seems like a hundred years ago.”

In the quarantine era, Lansing area fans are getting their live jazz fix by from on line solo gigs from top musicians like organist Alfredson and guitarist Elden Kelly, but solo gigs only capture a part of the spontaneous give and take of jazz.

The East Lansing Summer Solstice Jazz Festival has been canceled this year and the fate of Jazz Fest and Blues Fest is up in the air.

JAMM’s annual Jazz Day bash began in 2013, a year after 2011, UNESCO named April 30 International Jazz Day.

For the last few years, the party was hosted by Gregory’s Soul Food at 2510 N. Martin Luther King Blvd. in north Lansing.

Gregory’s was again slated to host a Jazz Day Party April 24, a happy hour dance party with music from the JAMM Scholarship band, but the quarantine shut it down. JAMM is paying the band anyway, along with Gregory’s $250 rental fee.

This year, Mummaw hoped to connect with Gregory’s by organizing a pickup event to go with Friday’s live streaming event, but the logistics didn’t work out. Suffice it to say that if anyone wants the whole catfish and wings Jazz Day experience, Gregory’s is still open every day for takeout from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The major artists featured in Friday’s streaming concert assembled to pay tribute to the host of WLNZ’s “The Vinyl Side of Midnight,” Mike Stratton. The evening was not only a musical showcase nonpareil, capped by a moving and soulful set by Betty Joplin, but also a celebration of jazz love the likes of which the organization had never seen before.

The stream also contains the dubious spectacle of this writer, making his only public speaking appearance of this millennium or any other.

The virtual tip jar will help JAMM continue to distribute $200 Musician Relief Grants to local musicians who have been sidelined by quarantine. The group has already distributed 19 grants and plans to distribute 12 more, thanks to recent donations.

“The jazz community in Michigan is so generous. It’s amazing,” Mummaw said. “I know $200 doesn’t seem like much, but musicians are hurting so much now and everything helps.”

The grants are named after Joy and Robert Brown, two stalwart fans who supported JAMM for years, well into their 90s, and could be seen at nearly every jazz event in the area for many years. Robert Brown died last October and Joy Brown died in March of this year.

“If JAMM wasn’t around, they’d be the ones writing the relief checks,” Mummaw said. “That’s how supportive they were. They were always interested in the younger musicians.”

JAMM is also putting out the word for local jazz musicians to submit their live streaming gigs to the organizations’s online calendar. Mummaw invited musicians to go the JAMM web site, jazzjamm.com, and submit their gigs to inform the group’s wider membership, to help tide jazz lovers over until the moon shines on the bandstand again.

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