Wild about jazz

Aug 17, 2005 at 12:00 am

In the 1940s, Idlewild in western Michigan was a popular visiting place for such legendary jazz artists as Count Basie and Sarah Vaughan. In those days, the small township was one of the few places where African-Americans, so often hemmed in by discrimination elsewhere, could vacation freely and buy summer homes. Jazz clubs such as the Flamingo and the Paradise Club provided the music for what for many became a home away from home.

Janice Jones, one of the founders of the annual Idlewild Jazz Festival, explains that Idlewild, about 60 miles north of Grand Rapids, became a popular resort for African-Americans during the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s mainly because local land investors and business owners advertised in black newspapers, including the Michigan Chronicle and the Chicago Defender. She is proud of the progressiveness of the city and hopes that the festival will encourage Detroiters to again buy property in the historic city. “Developing Idlewild represents something that we as black people did collectively,” Jones says.

Gad Holland, another festival founder, believes that this event, now in its third year, will help others understand how uniquely important Idlewild is to the history of jazz. “This concert will definitely create a connection between the past and the present. High school students will perform at the festival and the older people can tell stories about the good times that they’ve had at Idlewild,” Holland says.

This year, the festival hosts a variety of jazz artists including Eric Alexander, Rod Hicks, harpist Onita Sanders, Gerard Gibbs & ReORGAN’YZ, Vinx and Mose Allison. Tumpeter Jeremy Pelt, who has received props from Downbeat magazine and the Jazz Journalists Association, will also be taking the festival stage. “This is my first time coming to Idlewild and it’s good to get this type of exposure,” says the 28-year-old Pelt. An up-and-comer who draws on the lessons of such seasoned artists as Herbie Hancock and Bobby “Blue” Bland, Pelt believes that festivals like Idlewild will help to revive an interest in the music that shaped his life. Pelt says, “History is important in music because it shows you how far you have progressed.”


The Idlewild Jazz Festival takes place Friday, Aug. 19-Sunday, Aug. 21, on Williams Island in Idlewild. 313-965-0505 or visit idlewildjazzfest.com for directions. Tickets are $30 per day for adults and $5 for children.

Kenneth L. Powers Jr. is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]