TRAVERSE CITY — On their own, Grand Rapids singer Kathy Lamar and pianist Robin Connell have impressive careers in the world of R&B, jazz and pop.
Together, the veteran performers have found a special and dynamic bond this summer, leading a supergroup of west Michigan musicians through classic R&B, funk and jazz gems. The Kathy Lamar & Robin Connell Band perform at 8 p.m. on July 25 as part of the Manitou Music Festival in Glen Arbor.
“Kathy and I played together occasionally over the past few years mostly with me subbing for the keyboardist she performs with the most, Bob VanStee. We talked about doing something more intentional together, but I was always too busy to work on a project such as what we have going now,” said Connell.
“Kathy is a soulful and charismatic performer and the show definitely revolves around her dynamic presentation. But the band members are all bandleaders in their own projects and are working all over the region in other groups, too, so I try, as the music director, to build a performance around each of our unique skills that we bring to the group. We perform quite an eclectic mix of music that even includes a celebratory East African song we learned from our guitarist, Ivan Akansiima from Uganda.”
The band features Lamar, Connell, Akansiima, bassist Charles Johnson and drummer Kevin Jones.
“We do include some jazz tunes, and have a few originals, but mostly we carefully select great tunes that we can rearrange and craft into our own version,” said Connell, a longtime music educator, performer and 2017’s West Michigan Jazz Musician of the Year.
“That's something I've done all my life as a jazz musician and I'm having fun putting those skills to use now with tunes by Sting, Earth Wind & Fire, The Beatles, etc. And the musicians are just great people as well as skilled musicians.”
Lamar has an impressive resume as well.
The Grand Rapids native spent three decades in Las Vegas, not only performing as a backing singer with stars Wayne Newton, Gladys Knight and Lola Falana, but playing with her own band and packing piano bars with enthusiastic fans. She returned to Grand Rapids in 2009 and quickly re-established herself as one of the city’s most beloved vocalists.
“It’s just a gift and you sing from your heart,” Lamar said of entertaining audiences.
Although Connell juggles several different musical projects, she said “this one is very different for me since all the others are jazz groups. This band takes me back to the days in which I played in funk and fusion bands, including my own. Although it’s technically a 'cover' band, I don't think the term fits because we do not try to sound like the record.”
Playing northern Michigan is also special for Connell, who spends summers at her family’s home in Northport and also performs with a jazz duo every Tuesday night at Bella Fortuna in Lake Leelanau.
“This summer is my second summer playing at Bella Fortuna in Lake Leelanau with my jazz duo on Tuesday nights. Now that is a beautiful restaurant, well worth the drive, where one can dine on the amazing food prepared by Chef Mario while relaxing on the terrazzo with soft jazz in the background,” she said.
If you go:
The July 25 Manitou Music Festival performance by The Kathy Lamar & Robin Connell Band takes place on the Studio Stage at Lake Street Studios, 6023 S. Lake St.
Tickets are $20 and available online at glenarborart.org/events. The concert begins at 8 p.m.