Traveling every week from Elberta to Baldwin to Ludington and beyond, impressive lineups of acclaimed musicians deliver jazz, blues, R&B and more to eager fans in quaint locales.
Starting this week through Sept. 4, the sounds of rock, jazz, R&B, blues and more will ring out in towns across northern Michigan.
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Which towns? That depends on the day of the week.
Promoter Tim Scully has created a tour for veteran bands from across the state and beyond, with performances at several small-town venues through his World Class Jazz n Blues Productions (WCJP), which books artists performing various styles of music.
The series started more than 30 years ago in Baldwin, and has since expanded to Pentwater, Ludington, Cadillac, Reed City and Manistee, before filling out the week with shows in Elberta, which joined the fray in 2022.
It all stems from an unlikely friendship between Scully — the owner of a motel and moving company outside Manistee — and world-class bassist Eddie Calhoun, who had performed with the likes of Erroll Garner, Miles Davis and Ahmad Jamal.
Like many other African-American musicians of his era, Calhoun spent time performing at Idlewild near Baldwin when they were prohibited from playing in venues across the country.
After segregation ended, Idlewild’s appeal declined. Tourism dropped off sharply as black families found other vacation venues, but some remained attached to the area, including Calhoun.
He was working with a friend to put a jazz festival together in northern Michigan, and Scully stepped in to help Calhoun.
“I even drove to Grand Rapids to rent the musical gear — having no idea what I was renting — but we pulled it off, and that became the first Idlewild Summer Jazz Fest, back in 1990,” Scully says.
Calhoun passed away at his home on Paradise Lake in 1993, but Scully continued producing shows in the area. He found that people were traveling from miles away to attend the shows in Baldwin.
“One day, a couple of ladies from the Cadillac Arts Council and the visitors bureau asked me what it would take to get the series to Cadillac. I said two things: interest and funding.”
ELBERTA, MANISTEE, LUDINGTON, CADILLAC, REED CITY, BALDWIN, PENTWATER
Today, interest and funding continue to fuel the program in towns across the area.
The performers kick off their mini-tours on Mondays in Elberta. On Tuesday, they travel to Manistee, Wednesday they’re in Ludington, Thursday in Cadillac. Friday means Reed City, Saturday finds the music happening in Baldwin, and the week-long tour winds up in Pentwater on Sunday. All the shows run from 7 p.m. to 9:15 p.m. except Sundays in Pentwater, with those concerts running 6 p.m. till 9:30 p.m. Then it all happens again the following week, with a different act traipsing from town to town.
The schedule this year kicks off Monday (June 19) with the band Sunset Groove at the bandshell on the waterfront in Elberta, across Betsie Bay from Frankfort. The band boasts an energetic mix of pop, classic rock and R&B.
The following week features Organissimo, the popular Michigan organ trio that adds a bit of funk, soul and blues to its jazz.
Virtuoso bassist Rodney Whitaker, chair of Michigan State University’s jazz program, follows with his hard-swinging combo in early July, ahead of Howard Wilson & The Salt City All Stars, who put their own stamp on blues and rock classics.
And if it’s bluesy rock you want, there’s the Paul Nelson Band, led by a two-time Grammy Award winner who served as Johnny Winter’s musical director, producer and fellow guitarist.
Also on this summer’s touring bill: Planet D Nonet and Metro Soul Band from Detroit, tenor titan and clarinetist Wendell Harrison, Auntie Kim & Uneek Soul, and finally, the world-class lineup of Jim Alfredson, Donny Brown, Joseph Veloz and Greg Nagy, together known as the Men of Leisure.
The tour’s success and longevity can be measured in a couple ways. One is that towns and venues have been steadily added to the mix, with Scully also running a second series in Baldwin dubbed “Echo Through The Timber,” with shows taking place on Wednesdays at the Wenger Pavilion. That schedule:
June 21 – Ben Turner Trio (Jazz and blues organ trio with vocalist)
June 28 – Harper and Midwest Kind (World jazz, blues and roots)
July 5 – Fremont John Trio (Jazz, acoustics, originals and vocals)
July 12 – Igor and the Red Elvises (Rockabilly, surf Ukrainian, Klezmer music)
July 19 – Mustang Band (Classic rock, country and dance favorites)
July 26 – Serita’s Black Rose (Funk, rock and soul)
Aug. 2 – Evidence – (Hard bop, contemporary Latin sounds_
Aug. 9 – Sung Lisa Quartet (Jazz)
Aug. 16 – Big Band Nouveau (17-piece jazz ensemble)
Aug. 23 – Sturtzs (Folk music, string harmonies)
Aug. 30 – General Assembly Big Band (18-piece orchestra)
‘LUCKY TO GET THAT KIND OF TALENT’
Many of these artists have previously been part of Scully’s tours. “I’m lucky to get that kind of talent,” he concedes.
He’s effusive in his praise of the performers – “local cats, like Sunset Groove and Howard Wilson,” who he says are all accomplished musicians – and veterans like the Men of Leisure, featuring former Verve Pipe drummer Donny Brown.
“Jim Alfredson is a wizard. So is Greg Nagy,” says Scully.
The money to pay the artists and utility and travel costs comes from a variety of sources, including donations taken during the show.
“It’s fueled by listeners, businesses – each entity has its own funding. Only a couple venues are non-profits,” Scully says, making it difficult to get grant funding.
Last year, WCJP was responsible for more than 100 successful programs. “We have built a unique network. I am proud of the scores of artists, local volunteer committees, financial supporters and the listeners,” says Scully.
Find locations and details for this concert series, along with full listings of community concerts across Michigan in Local Spins’ Free Outdoor Community Concerts 2023 Guide.
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