The Grand Hotel Jazz Festival: A Conversation With Alex Graham

Aug 27, 2021

Credit Grand Hotel

WEMU's Michael Jewett chats Alex Graham, organizer of the Grand Hotel Jazz Festival coming up Labor Day weekend.

Michael Jewett: 89.1 jazz, 89.1 WEMU Hello, Michael Jewett here, I have the pleasure of speaking with the man putting together and taking care of business for the Grand Hotel Jazz Festival coming up Labor Day weekend. Hello, Alex Graham. It's good to talk to you. It's been a while, I think. Long. Yeah.

Alex Graham: So long time. Of course. I've been by the studio many times in the past, and I love your work and everything you guys do. There is a pleasure to be on.

Michael Jewett: Fantastic. The Grand Hotel Jazz Festival has a bit of history. What year is the first and how long the festival has been running? We're closing in on a milestone, aren't we?

Alex Graham: You know, I think we're close to fifty years. Maybe. I honestly, I, it's been going along a lot longer than I've been there. I've been there since 2001 and, and I'm not sure exactly how many years, but I think, you know, definitely started in the nineteen eighties, I believe. OK, yeah. And so, so maybe not fifty years is off.

Michael Jewett: Yeah. Yeah. Fantastic. It always runs on Labor Day weekend. A great, great end of summer or start of fall depending on how you look at that getaway at the historic Grand Hotel performances running Friday through Labor Day itself. The schedule. Exactly the performance schedule or what days?

Alex Graham: Yeah, it's actually Friday, Saturday and Sunday. All three of those days we're going to have headline acts. OK, so.

Michael Jewett: Yeah, and this year, like every year you have a great mix and a great offering for people. A great mix of contemporary and classic jazz. Diann. Sure. The Yellowjackets and not Cohon, the great kind of like contemporary traditional jazz. Well, how are we going to call what are we exactly calling the hot sardines of hot sardines? Yeah, you know, they, they Bennetta Paul and Paul Kellar all playing. You know, let's start let's start with kind of like the traditional jazz offering. The first sardines are, are like one of those bands that I think people that know them are really into them, but maybe they're not as well known as they should be. They really have a great concept and great take on on hot jazz. On traditional jazz.

Alex Graham: Yeah. You know, they're really fun, kind of they really do a great job of connecting with audiences there. Like you said, it's it's like a lot of hot jazz. A lot of them, you know, they have some of the gypsy jazz kind of thing happening. Right. OK, kind of that that vibe. But they're also but they're more than just that traditional jazz and they have a vocalist and horn players and they're just a lot of fun. You know, they really engage.

Michael Jewett: I love that they're I love that they really, you know, have like their history and their grounding and everything. But they're also it's very, very fresh take on all this stuff. It's not just we're going to play, you know, a Muggsy Spanier Charter, whatever they're definitely doing, doing their own twist on things. Yeah.

Alex Graham: So, yeah, definitely. And they're playing actually on Sunday and they're going to be in the Teagarden, which is our outdoor venue. So I think it's going to be like just a fun kind of party atmosphere with them.

Michael Jewett: Oh, fantastic. Well, that's another thing we should talk about for those are those we were not really too familiar with the Grand Hotel. This is actually a really interesting place to experience music because it's not there's all these different areas and everything, and it's really, really fantastic and luxurious settings. So there's besides give me the venue rundown. How about that?

Alex Graham: Yeah. So so actually, you know, it's one of the great things about the festival for the current time we're living in is that so many of our events are already outdoors because of the beautiful scenery and the I'm so so a lot of our headliners play in this area. We call the Teagarden. It's kind of like the front lawn of the Grand Hotel. So anyone up there knows what that's like. Got a view of the Straits of Malacca on the Mackinaw Bridge. And and and then we have another you know, like Dave Bennett plays. I know a lot of your listeners know Dave. And so he's great, great entertainer, a lot of fun as well. He plays in the Jockey Club restaurant, which is also an outdoor venue. And that's just a really casual, fun, fun place to be. And he plays actually the first two nights of the festival, Friday and Saturday. And then we have a big theater on the inside and we're, of course, doing all the safety precautions you would expect or hope for, for masking, etc. But we're going to have a couple of headliners in there, Dayanara on Friday night. And then I'm not going on Saturday. OK, and and Paul Keller, you know, who was one of my mentors growing up and in Ann Arbor and is just better than ever. We can have a great group up there in the Coolabah, which is the bar at the top, the hotel.

Michael Jewett: OK, all right, cool.

Alex Graham: And we do like little casual jam session things up. There's a lot of fun.

Michael Jewett: Well, casual jam session things. I have to mention though, now you've got in terms of clarinet, if you're a fan of any clarinet, clarinet. Dave Bennett, world class player. But I'm not Cohen, who was just an amazing figure on clarinet. I think it's kind of interesting. You have two of the best players on that instrument. Living and working today, one has more of a kind of like a Benny Goodman vibe, if you go back to like the swing swing your reference and not Cohen would have maybe lean more toward the Artie Shaw vibe. So it's kind of like an interesting cross section if you're a fan of jazz clarinet. This is definitely not a weekend to miss out. Oh, man. A chance to hear them. Is there any way you can't promise who's going to show up for an impromptu thing? But there's a chance you could hear Bennett and Cohen together.

Alex Graham: It's a huge chance. I mean, he's been there for 20, 20 years. And, you know, Paul Paul is sure, you know very well he is great at working the room and he knows these people anyway. But he works. He he's just such a gregarious guy. He's able to get people involved and he'll get a lot of these headliners coming up to jam. And it's just a great time. It's a great atmosphere. And it's such a nice. Last year we had the festival, you know, despite everything that's going on and magic, it's very safe. And it was just such a nice thing to have to be around on music and connecting again.

Michael Jewett: Absolutely. I think with everything that people have been going through, reconnecting with live music is just one of the one of the really, really welcome, welcome things. And a plus, you know, you probably know the clientele on your your festival goers. You get a fair amount of regular or returning customers and also people who are making maybe their first trip. So this is and and just a great setting. And just to get to to northern Michigan to get up to the streets and everything, it's always a little bit cooler, right? A little bit cooler is always a nice thing. And then with the music and that and that.

Alex Graham: Yeah, no, we've been very fortunate. I don't want to jinx it, but we've been very fortunate over the years. We're just perfect weather. And now that I said that, I just enjoy it. But yeah, but it's, it's, it's just a fantastic place. And I know that the hotel still has rooms available and

Michael Jewett: So so if people are need complete information or whatnot. And once again, the Grand Hotel Jazz Festival next weekend, Labor Day weekend performances Friday, Saturday and Sunday. And the packages, the hotel packages themselves include the departure on Monday, if I'm not mistaken, right?

Alex Graham: Yeah, that's

Michael Jewett: Right. So complete information about this is at...

Alex Graham: Just go to Grand Hotels.com, OK, right there on the front page and everything you need to know about it all the headliners in the schedule will be listed there, too. Well, you have to click on the jazz festival, but everything you need to know right there. All right.

Michael Jewett: Fantastic.

Alex Graham: Fantastic. Yeah. We hope to see some people up there.

Michael Jewett: A chance to hear Diane Shaw in a in a in a somewhat intimate, you could say, somewhat more intimate setting. I mean, you usually hear her in like a bigger concert hall, so.

Alex Graham: Yeah, yeah. She'll be performing in our rooms called the theater, which is not as big as like a traditional, you know, big concert hall, but not not tiny either. But it's so it's it's pretty er it's very airy space. But and she's just she's been performing up there off and on for, for many years now. I'm always a fan favorite.

Michael Jewett: Yeah. Fantastic. So run through the schedule again. Friday night, opening night for the Grand Hotel Jazz Festival. You get a chance to hear.

Alex Graham: Diane, your opening night, along with Jay Bennett and Paul Keller afterwards, space the concerts out so you can kind of get a taste of everything if you want.

Michael Jewett: And then Saturday, a lot of the offerings, too.

Alex Graham: Yes. Saturday it's going to be during the day. My group is going to be opening for the Yellow Jackets and the Teagarden. That's during the daytime.

Michael Jewett:] Oh, OK. So you guys are the afternoon thing. OK, got it. All right.

Alex Graham: Yeah. And then Anat Cohen will be performing that evening in the theater and then again to Ben and Paul Callan and later on after the FAA not concert and then Sunday in the Teagarden is going to be we have a gospel concert actually on the front porch in the morning. And then we have hot sardines performing that afternoon. And then again, Paul Keller performing late. So, OK. And I'm playing all kinds of random things,

Michael Jewett: like all the random stuff. Alex is Gisele R.A.F. got

Alex Graham: a lot friends of.

Michael Jewett: Well, fantastic. Fantastic Labor Day weekend happening again, the Grand Hotel Jazz Festival, complete information, Grand Hotel, Dotcom, and then they'll have the link there for the Jazz Festival. Densher Yellowjackets Anat Cohen, the hot sardines, Dave Bennett and Paul Keller, as well as our man, the director of the festival, Alex Graham. Great to hear you. Great to touch base. Good luck. Have a great weekend. And hey, man, keep this swinging. You know, keep keep this live music happening.

Alex Graham: Thank you, Mike. Good work. All righty. Yeah, we absolutely will. And thank you for having me on today.

Michael Jewett: Always, always. Manner, as always. Always a pleasure. Always a pleasure to talk about great music, Grand Hotel, Jazz Festival, Labor Day Weekend Grand Hotel and Mackinac complete information. Grand Hotel got dotcom. Alex, thank you so much again.

Alex Graham: Thank you, Michael, great to talk to you. All right. Take care. Take care. OK.

Non-commercial, fact based reporting is made possible by your financial support.  Make your donation to WEMU today to keep your community NPR station thriving.

Like 89.1 WEMU on Facebook and follow us on Twitter