REVIEW: The Houston Patton Quartet at the Blue Llama

The Blue Llama is one of the most iconic jazz venues in Ann Arbor, bringing in top-tier performers from all around the world. Hosting the Friday late-night performance on March 29th was Detroit saxophonist Houston Patton and his Quartet.

Patton’s quartet features Detroit musicians Liam Charron (piano), Dylan Sherman (bass), and Stephen Oduro (drums), a powerhouse group led with sensitivity, joy and momentum.  This young quartet performs with a level of experience beyond their years, showcasing remarkable agility, technicality, and charisma. Their set featured the quartet members’ original music, with songs written by Patton and Charron.

I appreciate young musicians’ priority for creating and performing new music—especially their own. The jazz canon is filled with great Standards that are well to learn, but to create innovation and excitement lies within what’s new, and currently being created. Patton’s style emulates that of a modern musician with a deep understanding of the canon, and what to do to improve it.

Patton played a variety of his own tunes (as I am writing this the names are escaping me), which ignited an electric energy in the room. I adored each of the different tunes that were picked, each with fleshed-out and thoughtful contemporary musical ideas. The band was locked in and present with one another, playing with sensitivity to Patton’s choices and leadership.

Patton’s playing is close to that of a firecracker—colorful, unexpected, and wildly exciting. Patton’s beaming personality made for a strong bandleader and comfortable host. He has an ease with the audience, allowing joy to effortlessly resonate through the intimate Blue Llama lounge.

The one tune that was not that of Patton’s was the great Detroit saxophonist, Kenny Garrett’s “Wooden Steps”. It’s evident of Patton’s deep appreciation and emulation of Kenny Garrett in his playing. The percussive quality Garrett brings to the saxophone, coupled with his bright tone are traits that Patton has incorporated into many facets of his performance. “Wooden Steps” was performed with incredible spunk and vivacity, making it one of my favorite tunes from the set.

Patton’s Quartet ignites a beacon of inspiration for young players and illuminates limitless possibilities for the next generation of jazz.



March 30th, 11pm. Photo thanks to The Blue Llama.

REVIEW: Samara Joy at Hill Auditorium

With a nearly sold-out Hill Auditorium last Wednesday, March 27th, it’s needless to say that Samara Joy was long-awaited in the Ann Arbor community.

Samara Joy is a Grammy-Award-winning jazz singer who is touring the US and the EU on a nearly sold-out international tour. At just 24 years old, she is a trailblazing force in jazz for Gen Z. She sheds new light on jazz classics alongside her deep understanding of the canon and the singers before her. Joy has thoroughly charmed her Gen Z equivalents and beyond.

Joy was joined by her 7-piece band: Connor Rohrer (piano), Pail Sikivie (bass), Evan Sherman (drums), David Mason (A. Sax), Kendrick McCallister (T. Sax), Jason Charos (Trumpet), and Donovan Austin (Trombone). Most (if not all) of the arrangements they played came from her band, each one unique with a new character. No two tunes were alike, Joy’s set was diverse and exciting, featuring her vocal virtuosity at all times.

This was undoubtedly one of my favorite jazz performances of all time. Joy has a powerful and genuine presence, along with a naturally stunning voice. She mentioned influence from the great Betty Carter, which is apparent in her vocalism, but she brings a style to jazz vocals that is uniquely hers. She fearlessly floats through her top register, taking many phrases up the octave, yet doesn’t neglect her sultry lower notes and striking belt. She uses her voice as an instrument—just as the others in her band.

Joy’s setlist was nuanced and well-paced—a sensitive collection of jazz standards, instrumental tunes she wrote lyrics for, and original music trombonist Donovan Austin. One of my favorite moments in the show was Joy’s Grammy Winning tune, “Tight” written by the great Betty Carter. She has totally made this song her own—with her vocal playfulness and rich belts amid the crisp arrangement.

She played tunes I have seldom heard vocalists sing, such as Sun Ra’s “Dreams Come True”, Rob Obrite’s “Sweet Pumpkin” and Barry Harris’ “Now and Then”. I loved her arrangments of these—I can’t think of them without her voice now!

She often ends with the Grand/Boyd tune from her album Linger Awhile entitled “Guess Who I Saw Today”, and it was expectedly, the encore of the evening. A standing ovation sent the great Samara Joy off, leaving the room buzzing with our own Joy.




March 27th, 7:30pm. Photo thanks to Downbeat.

REVIEW: Gershwin Centennial Celebration

The University of Michigan’s School of Music is the world’s leading institution for the study of the work of the Gershwin brothers. SMTD partnered with the Gershwin family in 2013, and since then the team behind the Initiative has continued to educate and deliver George and Ira Gershwin’s iconic music to Ann Arbor community and beyond. Gershwin’s most beloved piece, Rhapsody in Blue, is enjoying it’s centennial this year, and the Initiative hosted a concert at the iconic Michigan Theater last Sunday to honor it’s legacy.

The concert featured SMTD’s Contemporary Directions Ensemble (dir. Jayce Ogren), along with a quartet of singers and pianist Kevin Cole, a member of the Initiative and a Gershwin brothers superfan. There were several speakers interjecting throughout the performance with information on The Gershwins including Editor-in-Cheif Mark Clauge, PHD stuent AJ Banta, Dean of SMTD David Gier and other presenters who work with the Initiative.

Four singers from the SMTD Musical Theater program performed songs from musicals the Gershwin’s wrote: Aquila Sol (BFA 25′), Keyon Pickett (BFA 25′), Alex Humphreys (BFA 24′), and Sam O’Neill (BFA 25′). The four were outstanding individual singers who nailed the pieces stylistically and dramatically while ensembling beautifully during their group numbers. Many of the musicals they were singing were not from the mainstream, including Of Thee I Sing, Sweet Little Devil, George White’s Scandals of 1924, and Lady Be Good. 

The concert closed with the iconic 1924 Rhapsody in Blue, a classic piano and jazz band piece that is always a hit with audiences. Kevin Cole was a fabulous soloist with the Contemporary Directions Ensemble and played with humble virtuosity and conviction. It was a thrill to see the piece performed in person. The concert was a hit, deeply appreciated by the Ann Arbor community.


More about the Gershwin Initiative here.

REVIEW: Extemporaneous: Solo Piano Explorations

Kerrytown Concert House recently hosted the magnificently versatile composer and pianist, Alyssa Smith. She is a recent graduate from the University of Michigan’s School of Music, obtaining her Masters of Jazz and Improvisational Studies last spring. She often frequented the Blue Llama Jazz Club in Ann Arbor with the Alyssa Smith Trio. Additionally, she held a flourishing piano studio for many students in the Ann Arbor community. Now based in New York City, Smith continues to enchant audiences with her sensitive and thoughtful playing. She is now working at the Brooklyn Music School while upholding her private studio, and performing in New York City with the Alyssa Smith Quintet.

The solo concert was entitled “Extemporaneous: Solo Piano Explorations”, featuring a culmination of Smith’s own improvisational compositions. She played a selection of six pieces, each with a different style and character. As a classically trained pianist, Smith delicately interweaves Romantic and Impressionist styles into her playing, along with inspiration from jazz greats like Bill Evans and Chick Corea. It is evident that she has transcended the realms expected of a concert pianist or a purveyor of jazz standards; rather, she has masterfully assimilated her profound understanding of these disciplines, fashioning them into her unique musical expression.

Smith introduced each tune with a personal statement or anecdote. Her remarkable capacity to intricately intertwine the humility and splendor inherent in the human experience was both impressive and deliberate. The themes of her pieces ranged from animals she admires to embracing change and even included a botched endeavor with fixing a broken medicine cabinet. When you think of these things, not often does virtuosic piano playing come to mind, but Smith finds a way to bring out humor and vitality in the ordinary. 

Alyssa Smith will be back at Kerrytown Concert House in the spring with a new set featuring her playfully virtuosic pianism. Keep an eye out at for her next performance—or if you are ever in New York City!

REVIEW: SMTD Jazz Ensembles Concert

The University of Michigan SMTD jazz bands came together last Thursday night to present a double-bill performance containing early jazz music, student arrangements, and classic big band repertoire. The two ensembles are led by Chris Smith (Early Jazz Ens.) and Dennis Wilson (Jazz Lab Ens.). This musically diverse concert contained a wide spectrum of jazz music.

The first hour and a half of this concert showcased 13 tunes, most of which were transcribed and arranged by Chris Smith, the interim band leader. None of these tunes were written any later than 1929, which intrinsically implies a specific style. The band was sensitive to the ensemble sound and rendered nuanced improvisational solos that supported the style. Two band members from the horn line (Callum Roberts and Houston Patton) lifted their voices in song during the tunes “Mr. Jelly Roll”, and “Six or Seven Times”. The audience adored this unexpected performance.

The Lab Band brought us back for the second half of the concert. The band’s repertoire was developed 10-20+ years later than the early jazz set, bringing a much different sound into the mix. They included two student arrangements: “This Little Light of Mine” arr. by Gavin Ard and “Dinah” arr. by Liam Charron. Both arrangements were equally impressive and enchanting—it’s inspiring to see such polished original student work within SMTD ensembles. 

The Lab Band later featured singer Stephanie Reuning-Scherer on the tune “The Song is You”. Ms. Reuning-Scherer wonderfully adhered to the jazz style and was a satisfying performer to watch. It is wonderful to hear vocalists with the jazz bands continuing the tradition of vocal jazz in community settings. 

The final song of the concert was a world-premiere piece written by director Dennis Wilson, entitled “Rhythms From The Flint Hills”. Additional players joined in, including tablas, bassoon, violin, flute, and electric bass. This was a long and harmonically complex work and offered a unique sound texture that contrasted the music before the concert.

The entirety of the performance allowed the audience to indulge in a historical journey through jazz history, including compositions spanning over 100 years of music.

There are numerous events around campus hosting jazz music. The Blue Bop Jazz Orchestra’s annual holiday concert is on Friday, December 8th at 6 pm in the Michigan League Ballroom. The next concert for the SMTD Jazz Ensemble will be back at Rackham on February 20th at 8p.  



Image thanks to @UMICHSMTD on Instagram.

REVIEW: All About the Trio

Kerrytown Concert House hosts various events including bluegrass, klezmer, string or wind quintets, and various jazz groups. “All About The Trio” is a concert residency hosted by some jazz greats from the Midwest: pianist Ellen Rowe, drummer Sean Dobbins, and bassist Paul Keller. These three are highly respected players in the Detroit jazz scene and beyond. It was a treat to see their trio perform last Sunday. The concert featured the music and legacy of Duke Ellington and proved equally enjoyable and educational. 

The concert featured 7 unique Ellington tunes including Take the A Train, In A Mellotone, In A Sentimental Mood, and Rockin’ in Rhythm to name a few. I enjoyed the set and the choice of tunes. A few I knew and a few I didn’t. I had never been inside this venue before, and I was surprised by the small space. The audience was essentially divided into two groups based on where you were seated in the room. This offered an intimate atmosphere, good for a lively and conversational concert like this one.  The sound was very hot in the room—I heard everyone very well.  

Ethan Moleski from the University of Michigan’s School of Music (BFA Jazz 24’) joined the trio on tenor sax during the middle of the set. Ethan served as a guest artist, playing In A Sentimental Mood in the style of Coltrane and Duke’s 1963 album. Ethan has a lovely sound and is very sensitive to the style of the recording he was working from. A senior in college, Ethan is ahead of his time in improvisational technique, sound, style, and passion. 

As a thoughtful pianist and composer herself, Ms. Rowe interjected with interesting information about Duke Ellington and his specific compositional choices throughout the concert. She informed the audience why Duke made the choices he did compositionally, with extra insight into his improvisational tendencies. I appreciated Rowe’s thoughtful piano playing behind all this information—each aspect she explained was apparent in her playing. She played sensitively to the style of Duke, and each transcription of his improvisational solos was spot on. I enjoyed having many of these tunes backed up with facts beforehand—it offered an informed aspect to the concert experience. I am reminded of these concepts when listening to Duke myself!

There are a plethora of diverse events to see at Kerrytown Concert House. Ellen Rowe’s trio will be back—playing a concert full of holiday fun on December 17th at 2 pm. Student tickets are available at 




Image thanks to Kerrytown Concert House.