Day 3: Jazz in the Park

The West Michigan Jazz Society has been hosting free jazz concerts on Monday evenings for 15 years now. My husband and I have only been attending for three, and it’s become a beloved tradition of our summer.

It’s a routine that I always tell people about. Word of mouth is how we found out about these concerts originally, so I pay it forward every chance I get. I’m surprised how many people I run into who have no idea it exists.

What I love about these concerts is how laid back they are. People bring lawn chairs, tables, and baskets full of food and wine and beer. It’s more like someone opened up their backyard and let all the neighbors come over for a big picnic.

When we first started going, the concerts were held at the band shell outside the entrance to the zoo. It was then called Jazz at the Zoo, or as my husband and I affectionately called it “Jazzoo.” (Later, the jazz society started calling it that, too, but I like to think we started the trend.) There were big trees that provided shade, and it was tucked away in a little alcove, like it was our little secret (along with hundreds of other people).

This year it moved to Ah-Nab-Awen Park on the river next to the Gerald R. Ford Museum. Regular attendees, including me, were disappointed by this announcement. There weren’t any trees there—how would we stay cool in the hot summer evenings? There wasn’t a lot of parking—finding a spot would be a nightmare. The park is on a hill—where will we set up our lawn chairs?

I went to the first jazz concert this year expecting the worst out of the new location. But it turned out to be the best-case scenario. There is plenty of shade, there is plenty of parking, and there is plenty of space to set up my lawn chair. And better yet, now there’s even a view.

At the most recent concert, the lead singer told us that the Native American “Ah-Nab-Awen” means “resting place” in English, which is a most appropriate title for that park on Monday nights. Mondays have the connotation of being miserable; after a nice relaxing weekend, people go back to their stressful work lives. But no one is stressed on Monday evenings at Ah-Nab-Awen with the smooth sounds of jazz and the soft breeze blowing off the river. I kick off my shoes and lean back in my chair. It’s a nice way to take the edge off of the beginning of the week.

While I rest, I enjoy people-watching. As I sip my beer and tap my toe, I watch children twirl around in circles until they get dizzy and fall down on the squishy grass with a smile. A regular elderly couple gets up every now and again and bops along to the swing beat with a routine they’ve learned at dance class. A little girl wanders over to a man who has a golden retriever in his lap and asks if she can pet the puppy. She pats the dog’s head timidly while it laps up wine in a forgotten plastic tumbler in the cup holder of the folding chair.

Jazz in the Park will cure anyone's case of the Mondays.

For more information about the West Michigan Jazz Society, visit their website