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#OTGYpsi: The Ypsilanti Frog Island Jazz Series

Ypsilanti Frog Island Jazz Series

Ypsilanti-area residents will be treated to a series of free weekly jazz concerts throughout the summer, thanks to Ypsilanti-based musician John E. Lawrence. Lisa Barry and "On the Ground Ypsi" project manager Sarah Rigg talk to Lawrence about the upcoming free jazz concert series.


Lisa Barry: You're listening to eighty nine one WEMU, and this is On the Ground Ypsi, I'm Lisa Barry. This is our weekly conversation with the project manager for the Concentrate Media online publication about what's going on in the Ypsilanti area. The content manager is Sarah Rigg, who joins us now to tell us what she wrote about this week and a guest that she's bringing with her. So fill us in, Sarah.

Sarah Rigg: Hi, Lisa. I wrote this week about the new music series taking place at Frog Island in Ypsilanti. And it's important to the founder that we call it a series rather than a festival. But anyway, I brought with me a musician who was born and raised in Ypsilanti. Mr. John E. Lawrence.

John E. Lawrence: How are you doing?

Lisa Barry: Good, we're so glad that you're here to tell us about the Ypsilanti Frog Island jazz series. Now to WEMU listeners, that's sort of a familiar name. Is this what we've experienced in the past?

John E. Lawrence: Not to be totally different. I've got some national recording artists coming in and who have who are at the top of the Billboard smooth jazz charts. Listen, traditionally the Frog Island with more traditional jazz. Straight ahead, this is going to be more smooth. So it's going to be a different type of music. We will have some straight ahead because we've got artists like Rayse Biggs, who the legendary Detroit trumpeter who plays straight jazz and mixes it up a bit, too. We also have Straight Ahead, the female jazz ensemble out of Detroit. And they do more straight ahead. And, you know, they mix it up a little bit, too. But for the most part, it's going to be news that you can dance to. It has an up-tempo beat. That kind of thing.

Lisa Barry: How would you describe smooth jazz?

John E. Lawrence: I like to call it a cross between jazz fusion, R&B, and straight ahead jazz. So you see the complexities of straight ahead jazz as far as the key changes in the music and in different styles that you do, your samba, bossa nova, the swing and everything. But it's kind of more geared toward a listener that that likes to bob and dance to the jazz with the beat to it both danceable beat.

Lisa Barry: What made you decide to organize that this year?

John E. Lawrence: That's a good question. I tell you, after COVID-19 had me locked in for over a year and a half and all the musicians as well as everybody else was in the band. So then I figured it would be a perfect time to do it. You know, they just opened everything back up and just came up with the idea a couple of weeks ago and ran it by Mayor Lewis Richardson. And she thought it was a great idea, good in the community, back together and start enjoying life, you know, the way we used to before COVID-19.

Lisa Barry: And this is going to stretch out over a couple of months. [00:03:05][1.7]

John E. Lawrence: Yes, it's going to be all summer from July 2nd, all the way through September 3rd, every Friday from seven to nine at Frog Island Park.

Lisa Barry: Now you, John E. Lawrence, or Johnny Lawrence, I could call you, you're a musician yourself. Tell us about you.

John E. Lawrence: Oh yeah. I've been playing guitar for well, since I was nine and I'm 66 now, so I know a little something about it, but I'm still practicing every day and I still work hard. I feel like I'm still growing. As a matter of fact, I decided a year before the lockdown that I was going to set myself in my house and every minute I was awake, I was going to be recording my master P, C, D. I wanted to put together a series of songs that would be my best work as a producer. I started out one to do thirty songs and narrowed it down to 13, but I got into a groove and ended up with at the three month sixty songs. And then after a year I had over 100 songs and we talked and produced and arranged and until we ready to release and then cope with it and then I kept on doing it. Now I got 200, 250 songs that I've written and recorded. So but I took the best 13 and put them on. My new Masterpiece CD. And it just came out this summer.

Lisa Barry: You wrote over 200 tunes during the pandemic?

John E. Lawrence: Yes, I started a year prior to the pandemic. So basically I've got one hundred and I got about one hundred and twenty five in during the pandemic, but I had already had 125 before the pandemic it and I'm still writing and recording every day now, so I haven't stopped. Once you get into a work mode like that, it's like a way of life. You know, songs just keep coming to me. And the thing about that is not one of those songs sound like the others. Everyone is completely different.

Lisa Barry: Did the pandemic impact the music you were creating at this time?

John E. Lawrence: Oh, yeah. Yeah, I wrote one. I wrote a song called Coronavirus and I wrote song, you know, I wrote songs that made me feel better about being shut in at the time, you know, and understanding that we have to be careful, you know, because, you know, some people really get kind of depressed during that time because they couldn't be with they would do. But it just wasn't me that kept me going through hell. And then it didn't even bother me.

Lisa Barry: We say that a lot of WEMU that music can be healing. And it sounds like that was a big part of your experience. John E. Lawrence. And back to you, Sarah Rigg. Tell us more about what we can read in your article this week.

Sarah Rigg: So I gave the lineup of who is going to be featured during the jazz series. And it includes, like you said, a lot of really top notch musicians with natural national reach, including someone who hit number one on a smooth jazz charts on Billboard last fall. That was Randy Scott. But several other musicians that are pretty big names also that we talked a little bit about the fact that one of the reasons he was able to recruit all these folks is that many of them, Mr. Lawrence himself and many of the other musicians, had participated in a jazz festival in Canton for many years. And so they had a lot of connections from that. I don't know if you want to talk about that a little bit more,

John E. Lawrence: Oh yeah, when they had the chance to figure out a pattern with the Frog Island. The results of the captain, serious problems, many first timers that have started that I was one of the first people wanted to be called to be a part of it. And so I was in there from the very first vessel down to the last one, and they decided they have to cut it off. And but I thought it was a nice series because it just grew and grew because people had something to do every Friday night over a couple of months. And it was top notch entertainment and it was free to the public. And so that's one thing I want to make sure that ours is free to the public. And just come on out. Enjoy yourself all summer long. And so I patterned after that.

Lisa Barry: I'm assuming you'll be performing as well.

John E. Lawrence:] Yeah. First book, the whole series. And I let myself out and people on Facebook talking about “Where are you at hitting the series? How come you’re not, you know…?” And so I thought it would be OK if I just opened up for every act and opened up for them with one song. But people said that wasn't enough. So I gave myself July 23. I got a big number coming out of my band and we got to do songs from my masterpiece CD.

Lisa Barry: Ypsilanti Frog Island Jazz series beginning this Friday, July 2nd, running through September 3rd. Organizer John E. Lawrence, it's been a pleasure talking to you and getting all this information, you know.

John E. Lawrence: Thank you. My pleasure.

Lisa Barry: And Sarah Rigg, we'll talk to you soon.

Sarah Rigg: All right. Sounds good.


Concentrate Ann Arbor

Sarah Rigg's Feature Article: Ypsi musician to host free summer jazz concert series in Frog Island Park

Ypsilanti Frog Island Jazz Series

John E. Lawrence

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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at lbarryma@emich.edu

Lisa Barry was a reporter, and host of All Things Considered on 89.1 WEMU.
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