Top Three Michigan Artists in Jazz History

By Amanda Krebs, Ferris State University student

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of blog posts for GRandJazzFest written by Ferris State University public relations students. Thank you, Ferris, for helping to build awareness of jazz, the great American music art form! Read about the author at the end of this post.

Michigan is known for much more than cars and furniture. It happens to be a hot spot for jazz music as well, and it has a rich history. Many of the jazz greats have come out of the Mitten, and they deserve some recognition. Here are three greats from Michigan:

Kenny-BurrellKenny Burrell

Kenny Burrell picked up a guitar at the age of 12 years old, and he made his debut as a member of Dizzy Gillespie’s sextet in 1951. Burrell’s focuses within the jazz genre were bebop and cool jazz. Burrell made an impact on the jazz community in multiple ways. He performed with many groups as a leader and as a band member. He recorded over 100 albums, and he has won jazz polls in the United Kingdom, Japan, and the United States. In addition to his work as a musician, he also started leading seminars about the music of Duke Ellington in the 1970s. He wanted to spread the joy Ellington’s music gave to others, and his passion for music showed through all facets of his life.  Burrell is now 81 years old. Here’s a clip of Kenny Burrell playing “Midnight Blue” (1963).

Curtis-FullerCurtis Fuller

Curtis Fuller was raised in an orphanage in Detroit. He grew up around music, and he was childhood friends with many other artists, including Tommy Flanagan and Thad Jones. After Army service, Fuller joined a quintet as a trombonist, and in 1957, he recorded his first single, and he has been featured in many other recordings. Fuller is best known for his work on “Blue Train” with John Coltrane. Curtis Fuller became the first trombonist to be a member of the Art Farmer-Benny Golson Jazztet, which broke barriers for all jazz trombonists. Fuller has also toured with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and Count Basie, both notable jazz pianists. Fuller currently performs, records and teaches in New York City, at the age of 78. Check out this recording of “Blue Train” with John Coltrane and Curtis Fuller.

Hank-JonesHank Jones

Hank Jones grew up in Pontiac, Michigan, and he was a performing pianist by the age of 13.  He grew up performing in Grand Rapids and Lansing areas, and he continued until he met Lucky Thompson in his 30s. He then moved to New York City, where he played with many notable jazz greats. Jones played with everyone from Benny Goodman to Frank Sinatra to Marilyn Monroe. In the 1970s, he conducted the musical Ain’t Misbehavin’ and he also played piano occasionally for the show. Mr. Jones continued playing and collaborating up through the early 2000s. In 2009, he received a lifetime achievement GRAMMY award, and he passed in May 2010. Check out this video of Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” while Mr. Jones provides backup on the piano.

Notable Michigan jazz artists (to be announced) will perform live at the 2nd annual GRandJazzFest this August 18-19 at Rosa Parks Circle in downtown Grand Rapids. Stay tuned!


Amanda-KrebsAmanda Krebs is a senior at Ferris State University in the Music Industry Management program where she is specializing in public relations, event planning and advertising. Amanda is from Grand Rapids, and she is happy to be writing for a jazz festival in her hometown, as she enjoys playing jazz piano. 

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