Episode 28: Getting snazzy and jazzy on Main Street, featuring Dave Sharp

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Episode 28: Dave Sharp — “Getting snazzy and jazzy on Main Street”

Hi, I’m Deborah Holdship, editor of Michigan Today.

My guest today is bassist, composer, bandleader, and Michigan grad, Dave Sharp. He’s a jazz and world music aficionado whose group, Dave Sharp World’s Quartet, explore sounds and music traditions from Greece and Turkey, India and Ukraine among others. He also has a klezmer band. You could say he’s an explorer of sounds and thrives on experimentation and improvisation. Perhaps it’s that philosophy degree he earned at U of M that drew him to jazz. In addition to playing in bands of various types over the years he was actually a touring bassist with the hard rock band, The Melvins, back in the day. And he also played with Iggy and the Stooges during an Ann Arbor tribute to their late guitarist Ron Ashton. Dave also has spent many years as a music teacher in Ann Arbor. He books and plays with jazz musicians at local clubs like the Old Town and he’s the founder and festival director of the A2 Jazz Fest now in its fourth year. That’s all fine and good, but the reason Dave and I are chatting today is because he is the artistic director of a stunning and elegant new venue right next to The Ark on Main Street, It’s the Blue Llama Jazz Club. Dave has been busy booking talent from far and wide these past several months including student groups from the School of Music Theatre and Dance and NameX from New Orleans, New York, Chicago, and more. In a word he and club founder Don Hicks, who founded the company Llamasoft, and executive chef Louis Goral, have just given us one more reason to be in love with Ann Arbor. Dave wants to make Main Street a music corridor. And if anyone can do it it’s probably him. But we’ll let him tell you all about it, here’s Dave.

Dave Sharp: I think this town is certainly well-versed and has a long tradition of the house party and the do it yourself attitude which I think is great. I grew up and Warren, which is a suburb of Detroit, and it wasn’t until I left Warren and came here I was like wow there’s people like jamming inliving rooms, there’s people playing in bars, there’s people playing on outdoor stages, there’s people playing and university buildings, there’s people playing in all these different places, whereas back home, not so much. Just kind of seeing that makes you say welI want to do that to yeah like I love music and now I just don’t have to go to a concert or listen to my records, I actually do it myself.

Holdship: The other thing that’s happening more recently are calm house parties almost like house concerts. These intimate 40 person things and its very accessible for a jazz small group or…

Sharp: I just did one out in February out in Dexter, shoutout to my good friend Barry who has house concerts out at his place, and Barry is like a huge music fan and takes full advantage of the music scene around here to where he counts the number of shows he goes to per year and he always gets up into the three fifties or something.

Holdship: Wow like he’s hardcore.

Sharp: Yeah you know there’s a lot of good events around here. The Ann Arbor Summer Festival is coming up in a couple of weeks, the Sonic Lunch is starting, you know, there’s music on Main Street, you know…

Holdship: There’s always festivals in the summer, always things happening.

Sharp: There’s other places on Main Street like Lo Fi is a new music venue, its a basement, a place where they have a stage and they do live shows and DJs and karaoke. And then there’s the Ravens club which has great jazz on Sunday and Monday. And then Old Town, I’m continuing to book the Old Town on Wednesday the jazz series Wednesdays eight to ten it’s free. There’s some really great new jazz artists that are touring around. One of note is Theo Croaker who is a trumpeter from New York, he’s actually Doc Cheatham’s grandson and he’s going to be playing out the A2 Jazz Fest this September.

Holdship: What do you think is that unique alchemy that gives all this specialness, I guess, to the Ann Arbor music scene whether it’s great clubs or the location it’s near Detroit, it’s the school, it’s the vibe of the town like what’s the magic secret sauce? Cause I do think people perceive of this town as a music town.

Sharp: I think it’s like an attitude to be creative and also an attitude to play music with other people.

Holdship: And the pool of talent has gotta be outrageous.

Sharp: It is yeah the wall between Ann Arbor and Detroit and Lansing, there’s quite a few talented musicians even going out to Kalamazoo too. So I mean Michigan has a lot of great players that don’t mind traveling and know how to hustle and are working on projects.

Holdship: There’s a lot of creative technology driven people here.

Sharp: There are yeah that’s absolutely true. Yeah I think it’s really just an attitude of like valuing music when I was teaching lessons I was able to make some money teaching lessons because people around here are willing to pay for them. They’re interested in education they’re interested and doing something creative. They want to invest in learning something and doing something new.

Holdship: Okay I’m ready to do something new, it’s late afternoon and the Kurt Elling quintet is sound checking right now at the Blue Llama right now. So I think we need to go scope it out.

Sharp: Blue Llama opened in March of this year. And the goal is to have a jazz club and a restaurant co-exist under one roof where you can get really great food and listen to really great music. It’s about a ninety seat room and the sound system is state-of-the-art. There’s a stage and a sound system, were in the same building as The Ark which also has a stage and a sound system, although The Ark as a 400 seat listening venue it’s more like a small concert venue. They do great work there and that’s a great sounding room, but they don’t have like a full restaurant going.

Holdship: So you’ve got some sassy menu, something delicious to eat.

Sharp: And yeah there’s there’s a chef, Chef Louis Goral is the executive chef at Blue Llama and he’s actually from Iowa. He’s born in Iowa but has worked in Brooklyn, D.C., Philadelphia, Chicago. I read something, in one of those brain science books, and it said that food tastes better if you’re listening to good music while eating.

Holdship: And does the music sound better if you’re eating good food?

Sharp: I think so it works the other way, I mean why wouldn’t it?

Holdship: I hear you’ve been seeking gigs all these years now you’re the person people are seeking gigs from…

Sharp: That’s right.

Holdship: That’s again a little poetic.

Sharp: Yeah I remember I had to hand-deliver a cassette back on Main Street and club Heidelberg to get a gig. I remember the guy who gave us a gig there said make sure your number is on the tape and on the tape case it’s gotta be on both. You know there’s this Woody Allen movie where he only says he’s talking to a friend and he says boy you know everybody everybody tells me that show business as a dog-eat-dog world and he’s like I completely disagree. It’s more like dog doesn’t return other dogs phone call. Like that’s that’s actually the norm. Now it’s e-mail you know, now it’s getting bombarded with emails.

Holdship: So how is the line up now you’ve already had some pretty impressive people come through.

Sharp: Yeah the lineup has been great. Two weeks ago we had Ralph Peterson who’s a great amazing jazz drummer. He brought in an Art Blakey tribute group which is pretty stellar, including Bobby Watson on alto saxophone. Last weekend we had Adonis Rose from New Orleans who brought in Tia Fuller and Sasha Masakowski, two really great musicians. And a great piano player from New York. This weekend we have Kurt Elling from Chicago, he’s bringing in a quintet for Friday and Saturday. So yes a lot of really good stuff coming through, Rodney Whitaker is coming through on June 20th. He’s he’s out in Lansing, really great bass player.

Holdship: So it sounds like you’re kind of in the perfect spot now because you have a lot of local talent to choose from a nice pool here that you can not only play with or learn from or book but you can invite all these people from elsewhere now to come experience our town.

Sharp: Their response has been great, all the travelling artist are loving in the club, they like the food, and also and this goes back to what we talked about earlier, is they like the attitude the people running the place namely me. And our chef Louis and our staff and our management. And because we have a, I mean what’s the term, it’s like artists friendly or artist-centric…

Holdship: You’re an artist yourself, so you’re all in this together

Sharp: Yeah so the way that they’re treated our attitude toward them is positive and welcoming. And we kind of say this a lot like during shows or after shows and and it’s very true. So like if a musician comes into a venue and they feel good about being there and they know that they’re wanted there, and they have something good to eat and they have a comfortable place to get ready, they can hear themselves on stage and the sound is good, then they’re gonna play better the music will sound better. It’s not a technical thing, it’s a, you know it’s just like a feeling it’s an attitude that’s like are you feeling good about being here yes. Are you treated well? Yes. Is the music and sound better? Yes, because not everybody is in a good place

Holdship: And hopefully and they’ll be back and they’ll want to come back

Sharp: Yes that’s exactly right.

Sharp, Goral, various band members: I’m Lewis and general manager. Pleasure for me to welcome. Thanks for having us ledger. No. Thank so much. All right. I hope we make everybody real happy. You know completely sold out. Because well that’s great stuff right that is just like what kind of specialize and have a drive to victory guy feels good as we could make it feel. Joy ourselves as jazz musicians make you feel like 1956. Good me awesome. Yeah.

Sharp: I like promoting music and I like helping people to have a place to perform it and record it.

Holdship: Yes so are you going to do recordings there, are you’re going to do like live stuff?

Sharp: Yeah we’re going to launch a record label out of Blue Llama

Holdship: Right on, so cool

Sharp: For national and local groups.

Holdship: Okay and when do you think that’s going to happen?

Sharp: It’s happening now, we’ve been recording.

Holdship: That’s really exciting.

Sharp: And in fact Adonis Rose from New Orleans, his genesis quintet played last weekend and we recorded that and we’re getting to release that as our first release.

Holdship: Wow. Well don’t forget to put the label on the cassette and the case. Yeah right. So I mean a lot of times these places have a certain magic about them are like I love the Ark so I don’t know like, how does the Blue Llama feel to you?

Sharp: Oh feels great.

Holdship: Do you have favorite clubs like around the country like the Blue Node or Cliff Bell’s or places like that?

Sharp: Yeah actually my two favorites are, I really like the Green Mill in Chicago and I really like Small’s in New York City, I like Yoshi’s in Oakland, that’s one of my favorite places.

Holdship: So just trying to create that sort of energy and intimacy

Sharp: I guess yeah I think people really like the ambiance and the room, they like the lighting they liked the sound, the sound was engineered so that the sound is really crystal clear

Holdship: Jazz and blues always kind of strike me as sort of like mature kind of genres of music. And people here are young. A lot of people are very young. How do you keep jazz and blues alive like in contemporary culture and then in this town to among young people like what is it that attracted you and how do you get other people into it?

Sharp: When we were doing that is we’re hosting a jam session at the Blue Llama. We just had our first one about a week ago and we’re aiming to do it at the last Wednesday of each month. And so my good friend John Dobbins and I I serve as the house band and then we invite people to come out nice sit in. And when we did that last week a lot of people showed up about you know young people high school age, college age, professionals, musicians I know who’ve been playing for awhile. So that that’s sort of one way to kind of keep it alive and keep you know keep it active is to invite people to come down and be able to participate exactly you’re not just seeing a show or buying a ticket. You can come down and do that. Likewise at the A2 Jazz Fest in September, the Saturday show we’re going to have workshops on Saturday afternoon leading up to performances in the early evening. So that Scott and also the A2 Jazz Fest features student groups on a regular basis. The festival makes it a point to do a little bit above. One great thing we have in this town as the U of M School of Music, Theatre and Dance. And you know I knew Andrew Bishop and Alan Rowe who do an amazing job with jazz program there. And there’s plenty of other people who teach there too. I’m not to leave anybody out but I know Alan and Andrew had a U of M jazz showcase on graduation weekend. And that was amazing because we had about 14 out U of M undergrad students come and play at Blue Llama. They played for about four hours and it was different ensemble is doing two or three songs at a time. And these players are really great players. Again had a great attitude supported each other. I know I know a handful of those guys and they’re all really great players and then they start gigging around town and they are listening to each other.

Holdship: That’s gotta be inspiring to you as well. It keeps the love alive in your heart. There’s always like a new spark when you see stuff, it keeps the love alive.

Sharp: Oh yeah you know to hear people to hear their different music and it’ll return to you, we’re talking a lot about attitude to also hear ideas that people are putting forth is pretty cool as well.

Holdship: You’ve studied philosophy here, does your philosophy degree interface in any way with your musical world?

Sharp: Oh yeah constantly. I think it’s both a blessing and a curse and that it allows me to have an analytical mind, and to sort of think about all the possible outcomes.

Holdship: Jazz marries that pretty easily because it has any number of possible outcomes too.

Sharp: Yeah just being able to look at the different outcomes, consider them, you know do some analysis and think about what’s going to happen. And also to be you know just be open to any of those outcomes versus only wanting one, or only wanting two. You know maybe there’s like 12 different things that could happen. You never know and sort of being prepared for that and having the attitude to be flexible.

Holdship: One thing you have to love about Ann Arbor is its commitment to culture and education and music. Thank you, Dave for all you do to keep this town jamming. Okay, that’s it for now. Find and subscribe to listen in Michigan at Google Play music, iTunes, Tune in and Stitcher. You can also find us at www.michigantoday.umich.edu. Thanks so much for listening. And I’ll look for you at the front of the stage. Till then, as always, go blue.

A musical corridor

Bassist, composer, bandleader, and Michigan grad Dave Sharp has found a new groove on Main Street as musical director of the Blue LLama Jazz Club.

Interior, Blue Llama Jazz Club

The Blue LLama Jazz Club is open on Main Street, right next to the Ark between William and Liberty. (Image: bluellamaclub.com)

Sharp is a jazz and world music aficionado whose group Dave Sharp Worlds Quartet explores sounds and music traditions from Greece, Turkey, India, and Ukraine, among others. He even has a klezmer group. You could say he’s an explorer of sounds and thrives on experimentation and improvisation. Perhaps it’s the philosophy degree he earned at U-M that drew him to jazz.

In addition to playing in bands of various types over the years – Sharp was a touring bassist with the hard rock band the Melvins back in the day, and he also played with Iggy & the Stooges during an Ann Arbor tribute to their late guitarist Ron Asheton – Sharp also spent many years as a music teacher in Ann Arbor. He books and plays with jazz musicians at local clubs like the Old Town, and he is the founder and festival director of the A2 Jazz Fest, now in its fourth year.

Sharp’s latest role is the artistic director of the stunning and elegant new venue. He has been busy booking talent from far and wide these past several months, including student groups from the School of Music Theater and Dance – and name acts from New Orleans, New York, Chicago, and more. In a word, he and club founder Don Hicks (founder and former CEO of LLamasoft) and executive chef Louis Goral have just given us one more reason to be in love with Ann Arbor.

In this episode, you’ll hear Kurt Elling finishing up soundcheck prior to a recent gig.

Sharp wants to make Main Street a music corridor and, if anyone can do it, it’s probably him.

But we’ll let him tell you all about it. So, listen in, Michigan.

And, ugh,  a regrettable correction: In the email promo/intro to this episode, I stated incorrectly that Ellis Marsalis opened the club. (Since corrected on the podcast.) Also, Arturo Sandoval played a benefit prior to the opening but has not played at the venue itself. You know who HAS played there? Ravi Coltrane, Joey DeFrancesco, and Kurt Elling, among others. 


  1. Carol Schneider - 1974

    I was delighted to hear about Jazz in Ann Arbor. Also envious. I’ve lived in Sacramento since 1974 and we’ve had a very hard time sustaining a jazz club. More Jazz news always welcome.


  2. Diane Wyse

    I am so excited for this jazz venue on Main Street. Ever since the Bird of Paradise was closed, I had been longing for a new club. My husband and I celebrated our wedding anniversary at the Blue Llama on May 22. It was our first visit, and we will definitely be back. The ambiance, staff, dinner, and music were so amazing! Thank you so much for coming to Ann Arbor!!


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