Go Mad for Jazz


by Bri Kilroy

In 2011, Audrey Sundstrom, president of the non-profit GR and Jazz, was returning to Grand Rapids from Monroe, Michigan after attending the River Raisin Jazz Festival with her husband. Among the post-concert jives lingering in her mind, Sundstrom thought about Grand Rapids’ stature as the second largest city in the state, yet it hadn’t been utilized as a venue for an all-inclusive jazz festival. Having traveled to multiple jazz performances throughout Michigan, Sundstrom reasoned a city as big as Grand Rapids should have one too.

“If you want it to happen, you’ll just have to do it,” her husband urged.

Five years later and approaching the 5th Annual GRandJazzFest happening August 20-21 at Rosa Parks Circle, it’s evident that’s exactly what Sundstrom did. GRandJazzFest is a citywide, statewide and nationwide invitation for everyone to visit the heart of downtown and enjoy a lineup of free jazz concerts by notable and up-and-coming jazz artists.

“Jazz is an evolving art form,” Sundstrom said as she listed its many genres, from big band and straight-ahead to Latin and Cuban. In a similar way, she’s noted Grand Rapids’ transformation into a city where various arts are plentiful and appreciated. “Grand Rapids has evolved into a place of arts and culture.”

The festival thrives from a distinct effort to invite everyone. The resulting collection of different backgrounds, ethnicities, cultures, ages and wealth that visit Rosa Parks Circle every summer for this highly anticipated event emphasizes the welcoming atmosphere it creates.

Sundstrom, staff, and volunteers work tirelessly to gather a diverse array of performers that play a variety of jazz genres for the dynamic tastes among listeners. Exceptional fundraising, sponsorship from local businesses and volunteers are to thank for making GRandJazzFest free for all, a price-point even more unprecedented when you attend the event and see the quality of entertainment it brings. Use the vibrant location and the money you saved on tickets to grab a meal or a drink at one of the surrounding restaurants (it’s Restaurant Week GR, after all).

As you enjoy the final month of summer before inviting fall back into your life, mark your calendar to wrap up the season with GRandJazzFest. Visit GRandJazzFest.org for more information including volunteer opportunities, jazz lineup, schedule, and how to enjoy GRandJazzFest to the ultimate extent.

  • What: 5th Annual GRandJazzFest
  • Where: Rosa Parks Circle, 135 Monroe Center St. NW
  • When: August 20-21 (full schedule at GRandJazzFest.org)
  • Cost: Free

*Get to know more about this year’s GRandJazzFest headliner and performer in our Q&A With Cindy Bradley.


Bri Kilroy is a Grand Valley and AmeriCorps alumna who learned to type through vigorous Mavis Beacon trainings. She also passes as an artist, illustrator and author of this bio.




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