Sunset Jazz and Art Festival returns to Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS — The 16th Sunset Jazz and Art Festival will celebrate the legendary saxophonist Gene Parker, who is the event headliner.

After a two-year hiatus, the annual event will be held Sunday.

“This year we are featuring Gene Parker. He will be playing with all of the groups, at some time during the day, and then be our headliner at the end of the day,” Lynne Long, president of the Grand Rapids Arts Council, said. “And Ramona Collins, she is very well known in the area. She’s great and she brings a following.”

The jazz fest was canceled because of the pandemic in both 2020 and 2021, but Long is expecting it to come roaring back this summer with the same familiar format that is expected to draw more than a thousand fans.

“People were really disappointed last year, but by the time we figured out that we could do it, it was just too late to put it on the way we wanted to. So I think we will have good attendance,” Long said. “They have had no problem filling the volunteer spots. People want to come back. Of course, we can always use more volunteers, particularly if the pent up desire for live shows is as big as it appears. We want everyone to have a great time.”

The Gene Parker Quintet is a favorite in Northwest Ohio, with Parker heading bands for more than 50 years. He is also known as a jazz instructor.

Long before jazz education became a staple in schools, Parker began teaching it in 1963. He also teaches at Ohio Northern University and Wayne State University.

A graduate of Maumee High School, Parker stayed in state and attended the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and has been a private teacher since 1960. Many of his students have gone on to professional music careers.

Known as a saxophone player, Parker is a multi-instrumentalist. He also plays vibes, clarinet, flute, percussion, bass and piano.

In addition to Parker, the 2022 Sunset Jazz and Art Festival will welcome performers Ramona Collins, Organic Ingredients and the band 6th Edition, featuring Kim Beuhler, Lori LeFevre and Lisa Young.

Suzanne Carroll, former host of “The Jazz Brunch” radio show Sundays on 101.5 “The River,” will be the emcee once again.

Regional juried artists will also be on hand, displaying and selling fine art and hand-crafted items including pottery, books from local authors, baskets and jewelry.

The free festival is held on the towpath in the Wright Pavilion, behind the merchants on Front Street, between the canal and the Maumee River in the village, with performances held behind LaRoe’s restaurant.

“We open the gates at 2 p.m., but, of course, anyone can listen along the tow path, and the music starts at 2:30,” Long said.

The arts council is asking that coolers be left at home, but chairs and blankets are encouraged.

Boy Scout Troop 325 will sell hot dogs, pulled pork sandwiches and other food items, as well as water and soft drinks. While the event is free, there is an ID check to enter. The arts council will sell beer and wine.

Downtown businesses will be open during the festival.