From the moment one enters, it’s apparent that the Blue LLama Jazz Club in Ann Arbor, Michigan is a special place for live music, purpose-built from the ground up to the twinkling-star ceiling. It’s an intimate space—just over 100 seats, between the bar and the separate tables—and every seat has a clear view of the stage. The overall room and lighting design are exquisite, and according to artistic director Dave Sharp, the sound system went through months of testing before opening night on March 19 of this year. Those efforts have certainly paid off; the quality of both sound and mixing are excellent, and full multitrack recording is available as an option for performers. There’s also a camera and closed-circuit TV system that broadcasts performances to the sidewalk outside, for passersby or people waiting for the second show of the evening.
The opening of the Blue LLama has filled a major jazz vacancy in Ann Arbor that was left when Ron Brooks’ Bird of Paradise closed in 2004 after a two-decade run. Located right next to well-known folk club the Ark, the new venue has already showcased big names like Ravi Coltrane, Nicholas Payton, Kurt Elling, Rodney Whitaker, and Joey DeFrancesco, as well as up-and-coming talent like Mike Reed’s People Places and Things, the Nick Mazzarella Quintet, and the Marquis Hill Blacktet (featuring young vibraphone virtuoso Joel Ross). They’ve also hosted the incredible Indian slide guitarist Debashish Bhattacharya. And with plenty of local talent in and around the city, and Detroit and Chicago close enough for an easy drive, there’s no shortage of great musicians to draw from when the club doesn’t have a national act booked.
Shows run the gamut from straight-ahead to contemporary experimental and/or genre-crossing acts. “I’m looking to have a balance of local, regional, and international artists,” says Sharp, who’s not only a longtime local musician and educator but also the founder and director of the A2 Jazz Fest, now in its fourth year. Not coincidentally, this year’s festival will take place at the Blue LLama from September 19 through 22.
Other regular events on the club schedule, Sharp notes, are “’virtual concerts,’ where historical jazz footage is presented on a projection screen onstage.” So far they’ve shown footage of John Coltrane, Dave Brubeck, Dexter Gordon, Art Blakey, and Chet Baker, with Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Johnny Griffin coming up.
But the Blue LLama has more to offer than just a fantastic environment for seeing and hearing live music. Marketing VP Carolyn Pullen notes that the two capital Ls in the club’s name are not a typo and represent “our Love of food and Love of music.” The food is fresh, upscale gourmet; a musician himself, executive chef Louis Goral creates “jazz-inspired shared plates,” and the menu changes often.
A beautiful, intimate room with great sound, great food, and an audience that comes to listen—add all those details together and it’s not hard to imagine the Blue LLama becoming a destination venue.
Blue LLama Club: The Facts
- The Blue LLama is located at 314 S. Main St., Ann Arbor, MI 48104; phone (734) 372-3200
- Presents a mix of national, regional, and local musicians; upcoming performers include Keyon Harrold (8/10), Makaya McCraven (8/17), and Allison Au (10/23)
- The club hosts the A2 Jazz Fest 9/19-22
- Go to BlueLLamaClub.com for schedule and tickets