The annual East Lansing Jazz Festival will take place June 23-24 at downtown parking lot 1 on Albert. Admission is free.
“This is the 21st year,” said Benjamin Hall, coordinator for the festival. “The festival was started as a celebration of jazz music as well as the longest day of the year. It’s also a chance for community engagement, as well as a chance to hear some really great music. The College of Music is very involved, so it also showcases the talent of the university as well as some of the groups in the surrounding area. It’s an opportunity to expose those that want to be exposed to international, national & regional artists.”
Aside from jazz, there are other acts.
“We do have also, one blues act each night,” Hall said. “This year we’re actually having our first smooth jazz acts. So we’re having one smooth jazz act each night.”
If parents want to bring their children, there’s also things for them to do as well.
“There will be some interesting food vendors,” Hall said. We also do an avant-garde jazz picnic at the Broad on Saturday, early afternoon. That kind of wraps up with a traditional New Orleans style second-line parade that goes through the Broad and up Grand River back to the main festival grounds.
The second-line parade is a New Orleans style parade.
“It’s a tradition in New Orleans,” said Lois Mummaw, festival board member. “Where brass bands lead people who are marching. It started because of funerals, like a funeral procession where the band would lead the family members, the mourners, with the casket and they would walk to the cemetery to really slow, dirge like music, get to the cemetery and have the ceremony there and then process back to usually a bar. When they process back, they play real happy music. We started doing that three of four years ago and it’s really great.”
To get people to come, they’re throwing a promotional event before the festival. The event will be held in the Westside Neighborhood of Lansing on May 13.
“This year also, we’re doing something else new and exciting. We’re going to do a block party in Lansing the month before the festival just as a means of goodwill,” Hall said.
“This year is the best ever,” Mummaw said. “This the earliest we’ve ever had our lineup out, it’s the earliest that we’ve been in the financial position that we’re in, which is good. So this year I would say is the smoothest it’s ever been.”
Artists are selected to perform, through the director of jazz studies at MSU, Rodney Whitaker, who is also the artistic director for the East Lansing Summer Solstice Festival.
“He has the final say,” Mummaw said. “The process starts usually the month after July, after we’ve just had the festival. We always have a board retreat where we talk about how things went, what went good, what we could do better, how the reception was for the various artists and we as board members give Rodney suggestions of who we would like to see. That’s another really great thing about our board, is every person on it is a jazz lover. Either a musician themselves or a promoter or just a fan so we all come from various backgrounds with lots of experiences traveling the world going to other jazz festivals and concerts. So we give Rodney suggestions, he finds out who’s available and he has the final say.”
“Also this year, we added something else that’s new,” Hall said. “We actually had a contest amongst MSU jazz studies students, sending in YouTube videos and our board selected the top three and they’ll be performing at the festival this year on the education stage.”
There are two stages at the festival. There’s the education stage which is a smaller stage for local artists and then there is the main stage, which just last year was named after the founders of the festival, Al and Beth Cafagna, for more known artists.
“They founded the festival 20 years ago,” Mummaw said. “So we got a new banner and we had a ceremony over at the Broad Art Museum and dedicated that stage to them.
For those who have never been to the festival, here’s an idea of what to expect.
“First of all, it’s hot ‘cause it’s summer and I love that,” Mummaw said, “I don’t think there’s anything better than hearing music outside in the summer. I’ve felt that way ever since I was a kid and I still feel this way now at 61. The feeling is really festive. You walk to downtown and it’s transformed. You can smell the food coming from the food trucks and the vendors and you can hear the music whether it’s a sound check or an actual performance and just see all the people.” If you want ot give the best care to your trucks on site fleet maintenance you can get help.
“It’s the best stereotypical summer day,” said Joseph Vasquez who is an intern for the
festival and has also performed in the festival (returning this year). “Hot summer day, but there’s ice cream on the corner, there’s live music. Just a carefree, very welcoming environment. It’s definitely a place that I feel comfortable being at all day, both performing and helping out. It really helps bring the community together and kind of showcase our artistic side. We really do have a creative side to East Lansing.”
The festival is also very diverse with all different types of people coming out to have fun.
“Here’s what I really love about Jazz in general but in particular to this jazz festival,” Mummaw said. “It looks like you’re in so many different Countries all at the same time, because Jazz more than any other music genre that i’ve ever found, brings people of all cultures together. So you see people of all ages, all backgrounds really digging this music. It touches me to see all of those different types of people, especially the age thing. People think of sometimes jazz as a dying art form and it’s just for old white hairs, but not when you come to the festival, you see that that’s just not true.”
There will also be a food court.
“It’s not a food court you’re used to seeing,” Mummaw said. “We don’t have as many in the food court, because we really try to encourage people to patronize the restaurants that are already here.”
“We actually this year have a creative cheesecake vendor,” Vasquez said. “That’s pretty interesting, I’m looking forward to that. I love cheesecake so it’ll be cool to see what they can pull off.”
The festival is funded entirely by sponsors and donations. The cost to produce this festival is well over $100,000.
“It’s free for anybody to attend,” Mummaw said. “ We do pass jazz hats around after each performance to collect money, to help us keep it free. But all year long that’s what the board does. Ben works on getting grants, board members identify people who are jazz lovers and maybe might want to be a sponsor of the jazz festival. You could be a sponsor for as little as $500, all the way up to $10,000 Then we have a large group of what we call friends. You can be a friend of the East Lansing Summer Solstice Jazz Festival for $25. The more that you give up to that $500 mark as a friend, gets you perks, like reserved seating and things like that.”
Mummaw has an extra reason to love the jazz festival.
“I actually met my husband at Summer Solstice Jazz Festival in 2006,” Mummaw said. “He was one the primary sponsors and I introduced myself to him after the festival and the rest is history. He’s also on the board, his name is Gregg Hill.”
For more information on the festival, you can check out the East Lansing Summer Solstice Jazz Festival website.