After huge turnouts in 2021, free jazz concert series moves to bigger venue in Ypsi Township

A free summer jazz concert series in Ypsilanti, started by local musician John E. Lawrence, was so popular in 2021 that it has moved to a bigger venue for 2022. This year's John E. Lawrence Summer Jazz Concert Series will kick off at 7 p.m. July 1 and run every Friday evening through Labor Day weekend at Ford Lake Park, 9075 S. Huron River Dr. in Ypsilanti Township.

Lawrence started the series in Frog Island Park in the city of Ypsilanti but soon had to move it to Riverside Park due to flooding at Frog Island Park and unexpectedly high attendance. The first concert drew 800 people, and weekly crowds soon grew to 5,000-6,000. Lawrence says saxophonist Randy Scott, whose last three singles have topped the Billboard Smooth Jazz chart, helped draw a crowd of 10,000 to last year's final concert on Labor Day weekend.

"Everything kept nearly doubling every week," Lawrence says. 

Lawrence says he started the free series to bring people together after the isolation they experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"I still get people telling me how nice it was to get out and about and see people again," he says of last year's jazz series. 

This year, the series will launch with Scott and conclude Labor Day weekend with the Jeff Lorber Fusion, headed by Grammy Award-winning keyboardist and producer Jeff Lorber.

"My goal every year is to outdo myself from the previous year. We're going to start out high and then go even higher," Lawrence says.

Other performers scheduled for the series are jazz trumpeter Lin Rountree on July 8, saxophonist Paula Atherton on July 15, Lawrence on July 22, saxophonist Daryl Beebe on July 29, saxophonist Yancyy on Aug. 5, pianist Alvin Waddles on Aug. 12, keyboardist Demetrius Nabors on Aug. 19, and trumpeter Jesse McGuire, returning from Arizona to his hometown of Ypsilanti, on Aug. 26.

Lorber played on Lawrence's forthcoming single, "Leather Jacket," and Lawrence will join the Jeff Lorber Fusion to play the song on stage. Lawrence says "Leather Jacket" will have been on the radio at that point, but the Ypsilanti Township jazz series will serve as the world premiere of the song being played live anywhere.

"In honor of that world premiere, I'm requesting that everybody in attendance wear a leather jacket," Lawrence says. Organizers will use a drone to get aerial shots of crew members and the audience all wearing their leather jackets, he says.

Guests are encouraged to bring a blanket or lawn chair to jazz series shows for seating. Shuttles will be available for those with mobility issues or those who have to park in offsite overflow parking.

Attendance at the jazz series is free, but there is a $5 charge for parking.  More information about the lineup is 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.

Photo by Doug Coombe.