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Sunday night jazz returns

Grand Rapids jazz drummer Randy Marsh is back at it, firing up Sunday nights with rotating trios in a brand new location: The SpeakEZ Lounge.

Drummer Randy Marsh plans to shake up Grand Rapids’ jazz scene with his Sunday night SpeakEZ sessions.


Changes in the downtown jazz scene have left fans’ heads spinning the past year or so.

Popular Sunday night jazz jams hosted by drummer Randy Marsh at HopCat came and went.

The debut of a bona fide downtown jazz club, The Ottawa Tavern, generated excitement and raised hopes, but fizzled after just a six-month experiment by The Gilmore Collection.

Still, The B.O.B. has now picked up some of the jazz slack, and the West Michigan Jazz Society has started staging its once-a-month concert series at Bobarino’s, with Benje and Ashley Daneman and the Western Jazz Quartet performing on Nov. 19. (Get details here.)

Republic on S. Division Avenue continues to host Monday night jazz sessions, and of course, St. Cecilia Music Center on Ransom Avenue NE brings in the big guns of jazz (part of a new “NYC2GR” campaign) with national acts such as the John Pizzarelli Quartet for the Great Artist Gala on Nov. 1 and the jazz series kickoff with the Tierney Sutton Band on Nov. 15. (More online at NYC2GR.)

But now, never-say-die guy Marsh is preparing to launch a new era of downtown jazz in a fresh location: Randissimo’s Sunday Jazz debuts at 7 p.m. Sunday inside the SpeakEZ Lounge, 600 Monroe Ave. NW.

If everything goes right, the intimate and rather unique setting the inside the restaurant and bar that was once Cambridge House could fuel a rousing jazz vibe starring some of Michigan’s best jazz musicians. And the SpeakEZ’s smart cuisine can’t hurt.

“It is exciting to have a new venue because it gives me a chance to play every week with musicians in the community as well as introducing an occasional newcomer,” Marsh says, adding it also gives “the young student musicians a place to hang out and get experience and inspiration.”

Grand Rapids craves a regular downtown hub for jazz, contends the drummer with the “No Commercial Potential” T-shirt.

“It works better to have a jazz venue or weekly event downtown because it’s where most folks like to go when they want to hear live music and has that metropolitan atmosphere,” he offers.

SpeakEZ Lounge

“After shows at DeVos (Performance Hall), people can go a few blocks and hear music. Now, there’s live music venues in other parts of the city like Eastown, but they don’t really feature the more sophisticated and eclectic forms of music like One Trick Pony, Republic on Mondays, Gilly’s at the B.O.B. and the SpeakEZ Lounge.”

SpeakEZ entertainment manager Ellie Francis says featuring jazz just seemed “like the perfect fit” for the restaurant, especially after Marsh described the approach. The décor, milieu and menu seem apropos for jazz, and Francis says SpeakEZ will offer drink and wine specials on Sunday nights.

“I personally grew up with jazz and standards and swing in my house,” says Francis, a jazz singer herself who’s been involved with Grand Rapids’ theater community. “I was really excited about being approached about it rather than having to go out and find it.”

To kick things off this Sunday night, Marsh will be joined by pianist Mark Kahny and guitarist Carlos Melendez. The drummer anticipates he’ll have other players – some of them college students – sitting in to start many of the jazz sessions.

Francis stresses that SpeakEZ may not have entered the jazz arena had HopCat and Ottawa Tavern continued to regularly feature the genre. She notes the restaurant already has been featuring acoustic and cabaret-type acts on its small stage on other nights of the week.

The trio Organissimo will play SpeakEZ Lounge on Nov. 18.

“It was a little puzzle piece that I think we were missing and I’m really excited about it,” she says, noting SpeakEZ considers its live music offerings as “an enhancement of our space” and a niche that it’s filling in the nightlife scene.

Marsh will continue to “procure musicians” for the Sunday jazz nights, Francis says, just as he did for the HopCat Jazz Jams.

As for the future of downtown jazz, which certainly has had its ups and downs, Francis notes acts are booked at SpeakEZ through the end of the year. And she’s convinced that “in the long run, I do see it as a series. I plan on doing it every Sunday.”

Email: jsinkevics@gmail.com

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