Some 6,000 people cheered stars Grupo Aye, Mike Frost Project 2.0, Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra, Brian Simpson & Jackiem Joyner and Paul Brown & Nate Harasim heated things up in Grand Rapids on Saturday. See the full Sunday schedule here. (Story, photo gallery)
A wave of sweltering heat, humidity and even an air quality warning on Saturday couldn’t keep a huge collective of enthused jazz fans from kicking up their feet and listening to some world-class jazz as part of the fourth GRandJazzFest on Rosa Parks Circle in downtown Grand Rapids.
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Not without finding some shelter in the shade, of course.
Many attendees could be found on Day 1 of the free two-day festival huddled together with chairs and coolers underneath Rosa Parks Circle’s generous shade-bearing copse, while the more daring in the bunch stuck it out in front of the stage with their own devices of artificial shade.
The scenario was eyebrow-raising for saxophonist Mike Frost, of Mike Frost Project 2.0, who performed Saturday afternoon in the midst of the heat.
“Because it was so hot out, people were sitting underneath the trees for shade, instead of in front of the stage,” he said. “That was pretty interesting for us, because we could hear them applauding, but we couldn’t really see our audience.”
Headlining world-renowned jazz clubs all over Chicago, Mike Frost brought some of his “good old straight-ahead jazz” to Grand Rapids, and the crowd embraced it with open arms.
“Jazz is my favorite. My brothers always played, so I grew up listening to it,” said longtime jazz enthusiast Ozell Campbell, who has attended GRandJazzFest every year.
“We don’t have lots of jazz around here, but I like to listen when it’s free.”
Grupo Ayé took the stage after, emanating with a high-spirited blend of salsa, Latin jazz, bachata and merengue.
The crowd quickly multiplied in numbers, with many fans coming out of their seats to answer the call of the group’s hip-swinging grooves.
“I love the energy that Grupo Ayé has. I like that they get people up and dancing,” said Heidi Stukkie, a jazz buff who used to write about the event as editor of Jazz Notes for the West Michigan Jazz Society.
“GRJazzFest is cool because it brings a big, diverse crowd together to enjoy some jazz. There’s a style of jazz for everyone.”
Upwards of 6,000 people flooded Rosa Parks Circle over the course of the day, organizers estimated. The Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra with Edye Evans Hyde kicked off the day, which drew thousands downtown and also included sets by Walt Gutowski & The Bridge Street Band and Brian Simpson & Jackiem Joyner, with Paul Brown and Nate Harasim, featuring Deon Yates, closing out the night.
Day Two of the festival begins at 1 p.m. Sunday with performances by Big Band Nouveau, Bryan Lubeck, Michael Manson and Steve Cole. For more information on the event and its featured artists, visit grandjazzfest.org.
PHOTO GALLERY: GRandJazzFest 2015 (Saturday)
Photos by Taylor Mansen