Jazz on the Maumee sings 'Happy Birthday'

A.J. Bihn plays the saxophone during Jazz on the Maumee at the Best Western Premier Grand Plaza Hotel.
A.J. Bihn plays the saxophone during Jazz on the Maumee at the Best Western Premier Grand Plaza Hotel.

It all started because of the lack of a piano.

A year ago Kay Elliott, the irrepressible Toledo jazz aficionado and spark plug of the Art Tatum Jazz Society, attended an event at what is now the Best Western Premier Grand Plaza Hotel on Summit Street and noticed something was missing.

“The hotel had the most wonderful food and I looked around and said, ‘Gosh, they don’t have a piano. Isn’t that terrible?’” she recalled.

Of course she had to do something about it. Contacts were made, a spare piano was found at the Toledo Museum of Art, and Jazz On the Maumee was under way. Celebrating its first birthday with a Jazz Jam Wednesday, a weekly two-hour combination of music, food, and drinks, has introduced Toledo to a number of fine young and veteran musicians and filled an important void.

The closing of Murphy’s Place last year meant that Toledo proper didn’t have a full-time jazz club. (Degagé Jazz Cafe is a fine spot with great music, but it is in Maumee).

Elliott said that she never would have promoted Jazz on the Maumee if Murphy’s was still in operation. She chose Wednesday nights for the shows to capture the downtown audience before they head to the suburbs.

Jeff Jaffe, president of the jazz society, said success of the Wednesday night program is directly attributed to Elliott’s passion and energy.

“Here’s somebody who has literally made all this happen and keeps it happening and finds ways to do it with little or no means,” he said. “It’s just a dedication to the music.”

Membership in the jazz society dwindled and it was hit hard in the economic downturn of 2008, he said. But Jazz on

the Maumee has helped stabilize the society and brought more attention to the genre in Toledo.

“I think anything we can do to get more people exposed to the music will help us... grow even more,” he said.

As part of the celebration, a special event will be held Aug. 28 at the hotel ballroom featuring New Orleans jazz trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis for “Party Like It’s Mardi Gras.” Details of that concert will be released later.

Wednesday’s birthday show will be from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the 444 N. Summit St. hotel and the band will include Clifford Murphy, Lori Lefevre, Chris Buzzelli, and Travis Aukerman with others sitting in for the jam session.

Highlights of the previous year’s Jazz on the Maumee concerts were a couple of great appearances by Toledo vocalese legend Jon Hendricks, a birthday celebration for the venerable bassist Murphy, and a birthday party for the late pianist Claude Black.

Elliott has a full slate of events scheduled through August with all of the shows from 5:30 to 7:30. Cover charge is $10 for jazz society members, $15 for nonmembers, and $5 for students. Information: society.cominfo@arttatumjazz

Complimentary valet parking and a grazing buffet are provided.

Contact Rod Lockwood at: rlockwood@theblade.com or 419-724-6159.