With its proximity to Detroit and an abundance of neighborhood
talent, Ann Arbor has developed a fervent jazz scene. From clubs to
concert halls, University concerts to festivals, the Ann Arbor jazz
scene repeatedly attracts first-rate talents and fresh new faces.
Affordable and accessible, it’s a wonder most students take
it for granted.
The club scene centers on two main venues: the Bird of Paradise
and the Firefly Club. The Bird of Paradise is located on Main
Street, identifiable for its fluorescent saxophone. The Bird,
founded by bassist Ron Brooks, has hosted local and national acts
for nearly 20 years. Situated in a basement, the Bird’s large
space is simple and chic, with gray walls, black vinyl stools and
“We’re not your typical club; we’re about
maintaining the art and culture (of jazz). We bring in only the
best names in music,” manager Baye Perry said. Perry
recommends Friday or Saturday nights for newcomers — the
weekend usually offers world-class musicians. The schedule
fluctuates, but owner Brooks is a constant presence with his piano
trio on Thursday nights.
Around the corner on South Ashley Street, The Firefly Club
offers a more intimate alternative to the 200-capacity Bird. The
ambience is cozy, with its cheerful purple walls and framed posters
of past performers. Although touring musicians are less prevelant,
when the Firefly does get out-of-towners, they are usually worth
seeing. And the best part is, with its semi-tucked away location,
its not difficult to see someone who’d sell-out in New York
up close and personal without advance tickets.
On Sunday nights (at the only 19-and-over weekly event), the
old-fashioned but hot Rhythm Kings perform, followed by the
eclectic klezmer group Into the Freylakh. Paul Keller’s
15-piece big band performs Monday nights, Keller’s Ensemble
plays Wednesdays and Thursdays feature Latin band Los Gatos with
free salsa dance lessons. “Live music is the best …
There’s nothing like the energy exchange of live
music,” owner Susan Chartan said.
If you’re looking for more of a conversation-conducive
atmosphere, check out Goodnite Gracie Jazz and Martini Bar.
Goodnite Gracie, located under D’Amato’s Italian
restaurant, offers couches and soft lighting in a ’40s style
Manager Terry Martin says, “It’s not just about the
music; it’s about the scene too … the music’s
important but it’s not the focal point.” With no cover
charge, it’s a great place to experience an eclectic array of
live jazz (except Tuesday nights, when a live DJ spins techno).
And, as Martin said, “If you don’t like the music one
night, then you can come back another night.”
Aside from the clubs, there’s a couple of other venues
worth mentioning. The Kerrytown Concert House, along the
brick-laden Kerrytown district, is a mecca for the avant-garde.
Hosting unique concerts in a living room setting, the House
attracts some of the best performers in the world. From the
exciting, cutting-edge October festival Edgefest to performances
from names like Dave Douglas and Misha Mengelberg, the Kerrytown
Concert House is not to be overlooked.
While the Ark is primarily known as a folk club, every once in a
while it attracts big-name jazz artists. This weekend it hosts the
seventh-annual Mr. B’s Blues & Boogie Piano Celebration,
which features two nights of big-name performers, including Cyrus
Chestnut, Barry Harris and Bob Seeley.
There’s so much jazz in Ann Arbor that it isn’t
feasible to mention everything. The Music school’s Department
of Jazz and Improvisation Studies has an established, actively
performing faculty and a plethora of rising talent. The University
Musical Society is dependable for repeatedly bringing in the best
and most exciting. The annual Ann Arbor Jazz and Blues Festival,
Steve Rush’s Canterbury House jazz sermons, and increasingly
rare jazz-friendly record stores like Schoolkid’s Records (In
Exile) and Encore Recordings also boast a wide variety of jazz
In the end, it’s all about the music. As Perry of the Bird
of Paradise states, “Jazz is something that plays on your
emotions and speaks to your soul rather than just being
entertaining.” The Ann Arbor jazz scene is a great place to
be adventurous and experience a little bit of everything —
take advantage of it.
— Daily Arts Writer Jiwon Lee contributed to this
Bird of Paradise
312 S. Main St.
207 S. Ashley St.
Goodnite Gracie Jazz and Martini Bar
301 W. Huron St.
Kerrytown Concert House
415 N. Fourth Ave.
316 S. Main St.