John E. Lawrence, an Ypsilanti resident and musician, is hosting a free jazz concert series titled “The Ypsilanti Frog Island Jazz Series” all summer long.
Lawrence, a music educator and the director of the Music Performance Program at Washtenaw Community College, has been playing the guitar since he was 9 years old. On top of being a guitarist, songwriter, and performer, he is also an author.
“I’ve written about 16 instructional books on how to play the guitar,“ explained Lawrence.
Lawrence shared that one year before the pandemic, he had written hundreds of songs each day which also led into what kept him occupied during the pandemic.
“A year prior to the pandemic, I decided I was going to lock myself in the house and I was going to record my 'Masterpiece' CD,“ Lawrence said. "I was going to write, record, produce, and the goal was to record 30 songs and narrow it down to the best 12. After about three months, I had 60 songs."
When three months turned into six months, he ended up with about 125 songs which then the pandemic had begun which led to more song writing. Lawrence shared that he spent 15 to 20 hour days in his studio during these two years. Altogether, Lawrence wrote about over 250 songs which sparked the idea and enthusiasm of creating a jazz series so that performers and attendees could be able to listen to jazz music in a concert setting again.
“Music is what got me through the pandemic,“ Lawrence said.
His new CD, "Masterpiece: Vol. 1,” as well as his previous CDs can be streamed on YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music, and SoundCloud. The CDs are also available for purchase. He will be the opening act each night of the series.
The purpose of this concert series is to bring the Ypsilanti community together after the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of canceled events and moved some to a virtual setting for the past year.
“Once the restrictions were lifted, I wanted to do a free concert series for the public,” Lawrence said. "They are ready to get out and do something."
The event is scheduled to be every Friday from 7 to 9 p.m. starting July 2 and continuing through the summer until Sept. 3. Originally, the concert was to take place at Frog Island Park, located in Ypsilanti’s Depot Town. Due to flooding from this past week, the event will be across the street at Riverside Park until further notice. The relocation will allow time for Frog Island’s ground to become dry again. If any rainfall happens during the event's scheduled time, the concert can be found in the Ypsilanti Freighthouse (100 Market Place) in Depot Town.
Lawrence encourages people to come out, and visit local restaurants and historical spots before/after the event to support Ypsilanti’s Depot Town. During the concert, attendees can bring their own lawn chair, blankets, and coolers, as well as visit the food truck vendors that will be on-site during the event. A souvenir booklet is also available for purchase at the events for $10 as well as visiting booths set up by the performers.
The setlist is as follows:
July 2: Rayse Biggs
July 9: Straight ahead
July 16: Kimmie Horne
July 23: John E. Lawrence
July 30: Charles and Gwen Scales
Aug. 6: James McMurray
Aug. 13: Yancyy
Aug. 20: Garard Gibbs
Aug. 27: Lashawn Gary
Sept. 3: Randy Scott
Performers for this event are looking forward to being able to share their music with the Ypsilanti community. Randy Scott, a professional musician, record producer, and composer, stated how he is looking forward to being able to perform his new music for the first time.
"After such an incredibly difficult year for everyone, I am truly looking forward to performing at the Frog Island Jazz Series on Sept. 3rd,“ Scott said. "Not only will it be a great opportunity for everyone in the area to enjoy live music, it will also be a chance for me to share new music from my latest album, 'Elevation'...I'm extremely blessed to have had this record debut at No. 1 on Billboard, and the Frog Island Jazz Series will be my first opportunity to perform some of it live with my amazing band.”
Marion Hayden, the bassist for Straight Ahead, is looking forward to July 9 when she and her band play at the series.
“Our band, Straight Ahead, actually performed several times at the original Frog Island Jazz and Blues Festival,“ Hayden said. "During that time the festival brought in both resident, national, and international artists for a spectacular three-day music event. We have really missed the energy and warmth that comes with having this concert nestled in the heart of Downtown Ypsilanti. Ypsilanti has always had a vibrant arts and music scene. We know that the Frog Island Jazz Series will be a fantastic event."
The concert series is also looking for sponsors. Sponsorship levels include Super Titanium, Platinum, Gold, Silver, and Table Sponsorship. To learn more about becoming a sponsor, visit the Sponsorship tab on the event’s website.