Jennifer Pollard Lifts Up Local Jazz Scene

 In Blog

In honor of International Jazz Day, Grove Studios is proud to spotlight Jennifer Pollard, who runs the LiftingUpA2Jazz group on Facebook. She serves as a strong advocate for our local jazz scene and shares valuable content about jazz artists, releases and events in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and nearby areas. We recently reached out to Jennifer about LiftingUpA2Jazz’s origin and her personal love of jazz:

Why did you decide to create the LiftingUpA2Jazz group on Facebook in 2016?

 I had been doing some volunteer work, getting the word out about A2 JAZZ FEST, which is directed by David Sharp. I was handing out handbills and talking to people about how this was an event to bring musicians and the community into a closer relationship. I began asking them about where they were listening to jazz, and I learned that a lot of people did not know about many of the venues where jazz musicians were regularly playing.

I thought at the very least that I should prepare a listing, which I made available at the welcome table for A2 JAZZ FEST. I also made a sign-up sheet and started to share some very basic information via an email newsletter. The name came to me rather quickly because the idea was to make musicians and events more visible, hence “lifting up.” Then I began to talk to Patrick Chong, a student from Malaysia, who volunteered with us, about the prospect of adding a Facebook group as well.

I had another friend who encouraged me, too. He was a business student from India who loved jazz and had come to a couple of Dan Bennett’s Friday sessions at the then Rush Street. I set up the Facebook group toward the end of 2016. I guess it was the new year, or 2017, when I reached out to musician friends, shared the page and asked what they thought. They just started sharing it with other people, so I decided to go ahead and launch it.

How does LiftingUpA2Jazz continue to serve as a valuable social space where jazz musicians and fans can share information about jazz projects, releases and events?

People have told me that LiftingUpA2Jazz has done the scene a lot of good. There are times I am not sure to what degree that is so. I know that not everyone is going to check a Facebook group in a patterned or regular way to look for what’s happening each week. But rather only see what’s coming up in their newsfeed.

However, I do believe that the page has helped to heighten the visibility of artists and venues. I try to do repeat posts as an event draws near. With regard to past streamed performances, interviews and so on, sometimes I feel compelled to re-share based on my “inner urge.” (That’s the name of an album by saxophonist Joe Henderson.)

How did you develop an appreciation for jazz?

I wasn’t exposed to much jazz when I was a child other than through old movies shown on Sunday television back in Barbados. However, as a senior in secondary school working hard on advanced level studies, my only break night was on Thursdays. I chose Thursdays because I happened upon a radio program called “Jazz Gems.”

I can’t remember the name of the host, but the show was fantastic – very diverse and educational. He played everything, ranging from vocal jazz to organ. I never thought I could love the sound of the organ until experiencing the music he played on this program. Even now, I can hear him saying the name of “Rhoda Scott.” I think I began to love the music because it captured my own unspoken inner world no matter what was going on in it at the time.

Which jazz artists have inspired you the most?

There are too many to mention. When I went to Montreal in the ‘90s to study at McGill University, I explored secondhand shops to see what I could find there. It was an adventure – you could find good stuff for pennies – mostly on cassette, though. I listened to Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan (one of my dorm neighbors gifted me a cassette she made of some Sarah Vaughan selections), a couple of jazz trumpet compilations and Freddie Hubbard’s The Body & the Soul, which I became obsessed with.

I also came to love Carmen McRae, Dianne Reeves, Betty Carter, Clifford Brown, Arturo Sandoval, Miles Davis and so many others. I must mention that the next step after sampling a lot of music from secondhand stores was starting a weekly pilgrimage to Sam the Record Man. I wanted to see what was out, what was in the bargain bin and what CDs were on their way to the bargain bin because the prices were gradually being reduced. I’d go there on Fridays after school; it was almost like a ritual.

How did your experiences at McGill continue to fuel your passion for jazz?

McGill had a good jazz program, and there were lots of concerts in the music department featuring students at different levels, faculty and special guests. Also, there was a lounge in the student union building called The Alley. Students would gig there, sometimes faculty would play, or there were groups featuring combinations of students and faculty. I think that’s where I first got to see the brilliant Canadian singer Denzal Sinclaire (or Densil Pinnock at the time).

There were other clubs as well. One was Biddle’s, and it was a quick walking distance from my dorm, where a saxophonist and singer called Johnny Scott played. I used to go see his band regularly. One of my other memorable experiences was “Trumpet Summit,” which was hosted at another downtown club and featured a front line of four trumpet players. I attended both the Friday and Saturday night shows, and both nights’ performances were epic.

Then, of course, there was the Montreal Jazz Festival, and it was the best thing to happen to me every summer. This is where I first got to see trumpeter Arturo Sandoval. His tribute to Clifford Brown via Benny Golson’s “I Remember Clifford” still makes me cry.

How do you see LiftingUpA2Jazz evolving as we slowly transition out of the pandemic and shift back to in-person live music events?

I think the evolution already exists. When musicians started hosting livestreams given the COVID-19 restrictions, those were the main events I was already posting about. Also, given that there are fewer in-person events, I started looking up more material on YouTube, including past performances and interviews, that would help the community learn more about musicians in the area and assist with visibility and connection. Indeed, more in-person events have been happening again, but I do believe for a while there will continue to be a mix of both in-person and virtual events.

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