The Rapidian

Steve Hilger and guests jazz up Ottawa Tavern

The Steve Hilger Jazz Quintet featuring Randy Marsh and Charlie Hoats performed at the new destination for jazz in Grand Rapids, the Ottawa Tavern.
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The Steve Hilger Band playing "At Last" with Stephanie Sallie on vocals

The Steve Hilger Band playing "At Last" with Stephanie Sallie on vocals /Ken Ford

The Steve Hilger Band transformed into The Steve Hilger Jazz Quintet this past Friday night exactly six weeks after the Ottawa Tavern transformed into Grand Rapid's newest all-jazz club.

The Ottawa Tavern's revamped scene responds to the calls for those seeking a premier jazz club in downtown Grand Rapids.

Last Friday night's line-up included a few distinguished and established West Michigan jazz musicians. As expected, The Steve Hilger Band had most of its original monsters with Steve Hilger on the guitar, Steve Talaga on the keys, and John Gist on the saxophone. But Friday's event also included well-known Grand Rapid's groovologist Randy Marsh and six-string fretless bassist Charlie Hoats.

The set list appealed to a variety of audiences from the casual to the connoisseur. The group balanced free jazz and traditional progressions in a way that jumped from smooth blows to more up and intense swings. They covered a few well-known jazz standards like Van Morrison's classic "Moondance" and Etta James' magnum opus "At Last" with the help of guest singer and Grand Rapids native Stephanie Sallie.

Walking into the venue seemed like walking into a public speakeasy without having to know a password. It felt smooth, it looked dim, and it desperately needed a dance floor. Often the audiences didn't know when to clap, and the only people that seemed to hear over the speakers were the musicians because their communication beamed through the music in the form of great chemistry, cadences and transitions.

The layout worked well for a jazz club. The crowd sat up close to the musicians and watched the virtuosos run up and down the scales. However, omniscient vision might be a good sacrifice for a dance floor. The set list might have proved too conjunct and mellow as the audience slowly thinned near the third act.

As part of Ottawa Tavern's transformation to a jazz club, The Steve Hilger Jazz Quintet made the venue feel cool like the 50's. It certainly helps sustain the jazz scene in Grand Rapids by bringing together a collection of local and unique talents like this past Friday night. With all the local jazz spots popping up recently, the community alone has the capability to befriend this refined taste in music, and local jazz musicians like The Steve Hilger Quintet will continue to do their part in keeping this genre alive and exciting.

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