The debut of Randy Marsh’s Sunday night jazz sessions at SpeakEZ Lounge shows great promise as a hot spot for the genre in downtown Grand Rapids.
This may be the best fit yet.
Grand Rapids drummer Randy “Randissimo” Marsh’s new Sunday night jazz sessions at SpeakEZ Lounge kicked off with everything an organic jazz experience should be – veteran players stretching out, young budding musicians sitting in to hone their chops, a big-city atmosphere and a cozy setting that allows patrons to chat on the fringes if need be.
“This has got a good vibe. We like this room a lot,” Marsh crowed to the crowd before the second set on Sunday night featuring Marsh on drums, Carlos Melendez on guitar and Mark Kahny on keyboards, plus a variety of guest musicians, ranging from Grand Rapids Community College student/saxophonist Tony Scott to a pair of Northview High School Students and others.
Although the opening night of Sunday night jazz at this new venue inside what was formerly Cambridge House at 600 Monroe Ave. NW wasn’t packed to the gills, it was a solid, enthused audience which included dancing couples and a smattering of Grand Rapids area musicians – guitarist Steve Hilger, bassist Matt Fouts and others.
The debut comes after HopCat ended 15 months of Sunday night jazz sessions in September and Ottawa Tavern closed as a downtown jazz club this summer. Read another Spins on Music story about those changes here.
SpeakEZ entertainment manager Ellie Francis said the restaurant and bar which offers live music a few nights a week wanted to create a milieu that attracts a diverse crowd of jazz fans will still allowing diners to converse in other areas of the establishment.
“We want to be something Grand Rapids does not have,” she said after Marsh’s trio wrapped up its first set on Sunday.
At this early stage, that seems to be the case, especially when it comes to young and talented musicians such as Scott getting a chance to perform in front of an audience under the tutelage of some seasoned instrumentalists. As Marsh put it, there’s really “no place else” where this sort of thing takes place downtown.
“It’s a lot of fun,” the 19-year-old Scott, a Northview High School graduate and GRCC Jazz Ensemble member, said after playing some songs with Marsh, Melendez and Kahny. Scott, who hopes to enroll as a music student at Michigan State University next fall, noted performance experiences such as those offered by the jazz jams at SpeakEZ are critical for young players to improve their ability “to improvise at a certain level.”
Provided these Sunday sessions last, that could make SpeakEZ the breeding ground for the next generation of West Michigan jazz musicians as well as a showcase for an oft under-appreciated stable of established players. And it may be the closest thing since the Biermeister in the ’80s to boast the right environment for that to happen in Grand Rapids.
A veteran journalist and former music writer for The Grand Rapids Press, John Sinkevics is editor and publisher of LocalSpins.com, profiling regional artists and commenting on West Michigan's music scene. He hosts "Local Spins Live" on News Talk 1340 AM in Grand Rapids at 11 a.m. Wednesdays, with a preview at 9:30 a.m. Wednesdays on WLAV-FM (96.9). He also hosts the hour-long "Local Spins on WYCE" at 11 a.m. Fridays on WYCE-FM (88.1).
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