F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that “life begins again with summer” and so it is with the first summer season of the Traverse Symphony Jazz Orchestra at the Botanic Garden in Historic Barns Park.
Since the beginning of my time with the Traverse Symphony, there have been continuous discussions of a summer season. For a few summers we played at the City Opera House, but everyone wanted us out. This, coupled with the challenges of parking downtown on a summer evening for many of our year-round customers, ultimately led to this idea being abandoned – although I always thought it was very promising.
Presenting outdoor concerts presents many challenges for an organization that must build everything from scratch. By that, I mean, when there is no existing physical stage infrastructure, adequate public space, parking space, or backstage support space for performers, it is hard.
Once we decided to found the Traverse Symphony Jazz Orchestra with a group of musicians numbering around 35, compared to the usual 60 to 75, one of the pieces of this summer puzzle came together. We would only need stage space for about half the usual number of musicians. Our experiences developing our recital series at the Cathedral Barn led to the assembly of the following piece. One day when we were in the barn deciding how to arrange the seating for our concerts, I looked out the window and noticed this pavilion across the way and asked about it . Well, soon after we came up with the concept of the jazz band performing under the roof of the pavilion with the audience sitting on the grounds of the Botanical Garden and using the barns themselves as the production support space.
Thus, with this preamble, the TSO proudly presents its very first Sherry Milliken Reum & Family Summer Jazz Orchestra series at the Botanical Garden! Named after our generous sponsors… I can honestly say that this series has been a long dream in the making for the TSO family. I must also say that the substantial financial support from the Milliken Reum family is crucial to making this a reality. As anyone who has tried to throw an outdoor party or wedding over the summer knows, there are many challenges to overcome and each of them has a price. Their donation was a turning point in the decision to go ahead with the project, and we can’t thank them enough!
So what are we going to do? We begin on June 16 with a program featuring some of the great defining music in the history of the Jazz Orchestra… Dixieland, Latin/Cuban, Big Band/Swing, tributes to jazz legends Charlie Parker, Doc Severinsen, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Buddy Rich, Harry James and others. On July 3, we will have a fun patriotic program celebrating the United States.
The well-known vocal ensemble from Northwestern Michigan College will join us in saluting the armed forces and some of America’s great cities – Chicago, San Francisco and Chattanooga. Joining us for this will be one of our jazz band singers – a local favorite with a national following – Dominic Fortuna with some of his unique styles and performance flair. Then we wrap things up on August 4 with a tribute to film and stage music with a jazzy version. Everything from “As Time Goes By” to Quincy Jones’ “Soul Bossa Nova” used in the Austin Powers movies, to the theme of “Shaft.”
So it will be a series of light musical entertainment that will take advantage of the summer beauty of northern Michigan as a backdrop. If you remember the different times when this music was new, or you’re a young hipster with a taste for retro and vintage, or you just like having a good time outdoors with a hot band and good music, it will be a set of concerts not to be missed.
Kevin Rhodes is Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Traverse Symphony Orchestra.