By Shelby Clark
The Avenue Cafe in downtown Lansing will host a fundraiser this Friday, “Nightingales: An Intimate Evening with Lansing’s Ladies of Jazz,” for the Summer Solstice Jazz Festival.
Accompanied by the Reggie Thomas Trio, Lansing’s “purest female jazz voices” will hit the stage. The jazz stylings will be from multiple women, including Betty Baxter.
Considered Michigan Historical Museum’s “Michigan popular music historian,” Baxter is also a founding member of the Jazz Association of Mid-Michigan. Lansing vocalist Twyla Birdsong will also be performing, as well as Mardra Thomas, who’s known for her realistic interpretation of Billie Holiday and her position as a featured performer on the MSU Professors of Jazz album, “Better than Alright.”
Other local performers include Jackson-native Betty Joplin, a Grammy-nominated singer and vocalist for the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Ursula Walker of Detroit will also be performing (Walker received a Lifetime Achievement Award in the 2012 Detroit Black Music Awards for her 60-year jazz career). The singer has opened for many greats, including Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson and Tania Maria.
Internationally-renowned Shahida Nurallah, known for her vocal work on pianist Gerri Allen’s album “Open On All Sides,” will also perform.
The SSJF is presented by the City of East Lansing, Wharton Center for Performing Arts and the Michigan State University College of Music. Since 1996, these organizations have been bringing cool jazz to the hot summer nights of June to celebrate the longest day of the year.
SSJF started out small, with its inaugural evening being moved from MSU’s campus to the Erickson Kiva roof. The festival stayed at this location until it moved to downtown East Lansing to attract more people into the business district. Popularity skyrocketed from 800 people to thousands.
This year’s festival features not just jazz performances but a “Jazz Kids” children’s activity area, food, jazz cafes and, special this year, the MSU Outreach and Engagement Educational Stage and After Glow Performances. The free outdoor festival, June 20-21, will take place in Parking Lot 1, 230 Albert Ave., East Lansing. More than 8,000 people are expected to attend.
“Nightingales: An Intimate Evening with Lansing’s Ladies of Jazz” is 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, March 21. Tickets are $25 for general admission and $50 for VIP selected seating. The Avenue Cafe is located at 2021 E Michigan Ave., Lansing. For further details, visit http://www.eljazzfest.com or call 517-319-6980.