Ypsi musician to host free summer jazz concert series

Editor's note: After this article ran, we learned that this series will be moved to Riverside Park at 5 E. Cross St. in Ypsilanti due to flooding in Frog Island Park. Please check the Ypsilanti Frog Island Jazz Series website for up-to-date information on the series.

Ypsilanti-area residents will be treated to a series of free weekly jazz concerts this summer thanks to Ypsilanti-based musician John E. Lawrence.

The Ypsilanti Frog Island Jazz Series will feature a different smooth jazz performer from 7-9 p.m. each Friday from July 2-Sept. 3 at Frog Island Park, 699 Rice St. in Ypsilanti. Lawrence will open each show and introduce the main act. The main acts will be Rayse Biggs, Straight Ahead, Kimmie Horne, Charles and Gwen Scales, Dave McMurray, Yancyy, Gerard Gibbs, LaShawn Gary, and Randy Scott. Lawrence and his band will headline the July 23 show.

Lawrence says he wanted to sponsor the series as a way to give back to the community and provide an opportunity for gathering and celebration after the social isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lawrence has gathered a few sponsors but is seeking others to defray the cost of the series, which could add up to as much as $30,000. He says he'll pay for the concerts out of his own pocket if necessary, though.

Lawrence plans to provide top-notch sound and will pay to feature notable smooth jazz musicians, including national recording artists like Randy Scott, who topped the Billboard charts in the smooth jazz category last autumn. Many of the artists, including Lawrence, are getting ready to release new albums this summer as well.

"We'll have musicians of that caliber every week," Lawrence says. 

Lawrence says he was able to get all those acts on board and launch the series only a few weeks after he conceived of it because the musicians knew each other from participating in a jazz festival in Canton for many years. 

Frog Island Park was chosen because it has a good layout for performances and room for large audiences, but also because the park was the site of WEMU radio's Frog Island Jazz and Blues Festival for many years.

"People who remember that festival associate Frog Island with that tradition," Lawrence says. "Mine is going to be different, though. It'll be smooth jazz for the most part, and I think it's going to be really good."

Lawrence hopes to make the jazz series an ongoing event.

"I want this to happen every year, and every year be bigger and better, filling up that whole football field," Lawrence says. 

Attendees are encouraged to bring their own blanket or chairs, and to arrive early for performances, as Lawrence anticipates that the series could draw 2,000 people or more each week based on the popularity of past local jazz events.

More information about the series and profiles of the performers are available here.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.
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