MTU Jazz Lab Band tours U.P. historic theatres

Michigan Technological University Jazz Lab Band, under the direction of Mike Irish, will be in concert at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Crystal Theatre in Crystal Falls.

CRYSTAL FALLS — Wednesday will be a night of jazz at the Crystal Theatre in Crystal Falls. The Michigan Technological University Jazz Lab Band, under the direction of Mike Irish, will be in concert at 7 p.m. at the theater as part of their winter break tour of U.P. historic theatres.

Admission is by donation. Funds raised will be split with the MTU Jazz Lab Band and Crystal Theatre. MTU has been touring the Jazz Lab Band since 1968. Originally a spring break tour, they have changed to touring the last week of their winter break from classes.

The MTU Jazz Lab Band has toured all over the midwest, has played at major regional jazz festivals, and in the ’80s, toured Jamaica on three occasions.  

The purpose of the tour is two-fold. First, the students are ambassadors for MTU. They connect well with other students and the public to promote the university. Second, the tour allows students to focus on music and communicating with a variety of audiences. MTU does not offer a music degree. They do, however, have many students that are very talented musicians. This tour is an opportunity for the students to experience the life of a road musician for a week, while connecting with people in other communities through music.

“They are immersed for five days.These kids are very talented musicians who happen to have chosen fields other than music as their professions,” said Irish. “The tour allows them to hone this craft to their highest degree. It is an exhausting, but very satisfying venture. They truly are road warriors.”

As part of their tour, they will be performing at local schools by day and historic U.P. theatres by night. Their tour will start with the Soo Theatre on Tuesday evening. Wednesday, they will be at Manistique High School during the day and then an evening community concert at the Crystal Theatre in Crystal Falls. Thursday they perform high school concerts in Iron River and Watersmeet, and an evening concert at the Ironwood Theatre in Ironwood.  

On Friday, they will do a morning program at Ewen/Trout Creek High School and then a joint school and community concert at the Ontonagon Theatre in Ontonagon.

When asked where the idea came from to tour historic theatres in the U.P., Irish said, “Personally, I have wanted to do an ‘historic theatre’ tour for years. Since I will be retiring in April 2018, this was my last chance.”

“I absolutely love the grand old theatres that are being brought back to life. Their stories are living history of the times and people of each unique area. People in each of the communities take such great pride in their unique histories and each venue is a gem in its own way,” he said. “Among the uninitiated, the U.P. might seem to be culturally barren — but, nothing could be further from the truth. These grand old ladies are living proof of our rich heritage.”  

Irish is the director of jazz studies at Michigan Tech University and has a broad background in jazz studies as both an educator and performer.

As a jazz guitarist, Irish has performed with Clark Terry, Louis Bellson, Dizzy Gillespie, Rob McConnell, Don Ellis, Steve Houghton, and Frank Mantooth, among others. In the area of popular music, he has worked with Bob Hope, Robert Goulet, Rich Little, Carol Lawrence, and Rodney Dangerfield.

Irish received the Michigan Tech Distinguished Teacher Award for senior faculty in 2001. He is also a jazz adjudicator/clinician and composes and arranges.

Two of his arrangements are featured on the latest MTU jazz CD entitled “Tech Jazz,” and he contributed seven of his original compositions to the Jaztec CD, “Watch Your Step.”

Irish currently has four solo jazz guitar CD’s to his credit “Northern Standard Time,” “Last Month Of The Year,” “Full Bloom,” and “By Request.”