MOLLY AND BRIAN AND ALL THAT JAZZ – THE MICHIGAN JAZZ TRAIL FESTIVAL
MARY KATHERINE QUASARANO
THURSDAY AUGUST 24th, 2011
Why does it seem that artistic landscapes always appear greener in another state? That’s the question Molly McFadden asked herself in an ‘ah-hah!’ moment in New York City several years ago. She had traveled back to NYC from Midland with a group of Bay Area musicians to play a few gigs at some of her old haunts. Friends and associates marveled at the ‘incredible level of play’ of those in her company from Michigan. “I was sitting in the club in the afterglow of a performance, and this thought just hit me: You don’t have to be in NYC to realize your artistic dreams! There are talented and gifted people all around and you can’t stop the creative process. Nurture your art where you’re at.” That conceptual moment led to the birth, several years later, of the very first Michigan Jazz Trail Festival. The vision for this event is being nurtured by Molly and Brian McFadden and it’s impossible to separate the story of the Michigan Jazz Trail Festival from their journey as artists and entrepreneurs.
The McFadden’s came to Midland in the late 90′s, via New York City, having enjoyed success as a singer and actor (Molly) and playwright (Brian). An entrepreneurial business venture led them to Midland (Molly refers to this as heading west) and once they arrived, they discovered, “Midland loves the arts! We were embraced by a strong art community, and we love our life here.”
Creativity never stops flowing, and both Molly and Brian went with the flow. Brian wrote Soaring, a musical celebrating the 100th year of the Wright Brothers’ flight. Soaring debuted in Midland in 2003. In the meantime, Molly began selling breads and coffees at the farmer’s market all because their daughter Kate wanted to sell lemonade – and a few short years later Molly’s Bistro was born. The restaurant brought Molly back to jazz singing for an audience, and the Bistro fast became a showcase for jazz on the weekends, drawing talented musicians from across the Bay Area.
To celebrate her return to singing, and to showcase the talented musicians she was working with, Molly took her musical troupe to play some club dates in New York City. The rest, as they say, is becoming Michigan musical history. “I came home and knew that I had to find a way to highlight the incredible musicians and singers from all across the area. I asked myself, what would happen if we began tapping into the amazing resource of musicians right here in Michigan?” Molly began working with the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance to musically pull three cities together (Bay City, Midland, and Saginaw). To uncover talent she asked this simple question: “Where’s your gold?” Much to her delight she found that her westward journey had led to a veritable gold mine of musical gifts and in 2010 the first Michigan Jazz Trail Festival was held. It was successful and the commitment was made to make it an annual event.
On a beautiful weekend in late June 2011, the second Michigan Jazz Trail Festival was held. It began with Blues on the Bay in Bay City on Friday, moved to Jazz at theTridge in Midland on Saturday, and concluded on Sunday with Heart and Soul at the Temple Theatre in Saginaw. McFadden said one of the highlights of the 2011 Michigan Jazz Trail Festival was having local high school students perform and work with the professionals. “Renowned jazz guitarist and singer John Pizzarelli was astounded by the young talent we have in the area,” McFadden said. “He said the students have such a high level of knowledge and sophistication.” More than 110 high school students performed throughout the weekend.
Molly and Brian see the Michigan Jazz Trail Festival becoming one stop along a great winding trail of music festivals throughout Michigan. “We could plot a trail through the mitten with the International Jazz Festival in Detroit as our final musical destination.” As successful entrepreneurs, the McFadden’s are well aware of the great economic impact the Festival had on the region.
In the Ken Burns film Jazz, Wynton Marsalis offers, “The real power of jazz is that a group of people can come together and create improvised art and negotiate their agendas… and that negotiation is the art.”
That’s also a great description of Molly and Brian McFadden and the Michigan Jazz Trail Festival.
Bookmark michiganjazztrail.org to stay apprised of 2012 Festival news and stop by Molly’s Bistro anytime to say hello to Molly and Brian.