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.