The County Embraces Jazz

Jazz – one of the great American traditions. It represents the spirit of the ‘American melting pot,’ taking influence from musical styles all over the world and fusing them with spirituals and American roots music. There are a few excellent venues for jazz in Door County, where audiences can experience yet another fusion – one between jazz and the laid back style of Door County.

I have never seen a view quite like the one at Gordon’s Lodge in Baileys Harbor. The water and the sky stretch so far they seem to almost come full circle. When I went to the Top Deck at Gordon Lodge to see the Jana Nyberg Trio, the sun was setting in a wash of pastels, painting the water a light pink. Wisps of clouds hung in the sky, and the scene had an idyllic quality, like stepping into a watercolor.

The band was playing on a makeshift wooden stage in front of the deck, looking out on the water. Although the members of the Nyberg Trio (Nyberg, voice and flute, Adam Meckler, trumpet, Evan Montgomery, guitar) are all very skilled musicians, there is nothing pretentious about them. Their performance at the Top Deck was laid back and fun. The musicians developed a rapport with the audience that helped parties on both sides of the stage feel more comfortable. They took requests, dedicated songs to a couple celebrating their anniversary and mingled with the audience during breaks. Their onstage banter was comical as they bickered with each other and shared anecdotes with the audience.

The group did a number of jazz standards like John Coltrane’s “Afro Blues,” “Frim Fram Sauce” by the Nat King Cole Trio and Gershwin’s “Summertime,” giving a unique, yet respectful interpretation of each. They also delved into unconventional pieces, such as “The Way I Am” by Ingrid Michaelson, dedicated to a faithful fan and Top Deck employee who is leaving the peninsula, “Capri” by Colbie Caillat and even Britney Spears’ “Hit Me Baby, One More Time” (needless to say, it was quite an improvement from the original).

On the other side of the peninsula, the five middle-school aged members of Birch Creek Ambassadors II gave a concert in the Egg Harbor city park. Swimming in oversized, salmon-colored T-shirts, the group looked more akin to a Boy Scout troupe than the virtuosic musicians that they are.

They are, however, astonishingly skilled for their age. They played with the maturity of much older musicians at a performance that they did as part of the Egg Harbor Concert in the Park series. They played a few sets of traditional jazz pieces with several solo breaks for improvisation, giving each member a chance to show their talents.

Birch Creek is an Egg Harbor summer music school in which young, skilled musicians take classes during the day and perform concerts in the evening. The students are given the opportunity to work and perform with professional jazz musicians.

After watching the water lap in lazy swells to the sounds of John Coltrane or sitting in the grass in the city park of Egg Harbor, listening to the sounds of Sonny Rollins, it is easy to see why jazz has found a home in the county.

The Jana Nyberg Trio performs at the Gordon Lodge every Wednesday through October from 6 – 10 pm and at the Mission Grill on various Fridays.