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Jazz Rent Party

It’s safe to say that many in Ann Arbor hadn’t heard live music in months. With venues like the Blind Pig, Hill Auditorium, and random basements spread throughout the city, Ann Arbor is a town with live music in its DNA. But here we are, with unused venues and rent due. However, on August 23rd, the sounds of jazz standards echoed across Kerrytown, drawing residents out to their porches to listen.

In the backyard of a gracious college student house, Joe Thomas, Hayden Cusmano, and Joey Lauerman played a one-hour set of jazz classics to raise money for Rent Party Detroit’s Rent Relief Fund. The set was livestreamed on Instagram, with comments and hearts rolling in constantly. If you were watching the livestream that night, community lived in the comments. At the end of the night, the gig raised $275 for the Fund, helping to keep Detroit, Highland Park, and Hamtramck residents in their homes.

The energy between the members of the trio was hard to miss in-person. Swapping solos with Thomas on trombone, Cusmano on guitar, and Lauerman on keys, a good run during solo time drew smiles from the others. The housemates came with their masks to listen, celebrating one of their birthdays, and couldn’t help but cheer at the end of a song.

Cusmano’s skill at both rhythm and lead guitar kept the trio rooted while also bringing the tunes into new sonic landscapes. His deft fingers hit surprising and satisfying chords and kept up with the changes like a pro. When Thomas and Lauerman looked at him to solo, Cusmano took off, maneuvering all around the neck of his guitar. 

On the keyboard, Lauerman could not be stopped. His truly expert moments came when supporting his trio members. His rich chords rang throughout the backyard, drawing people to their windows to watch.

When Thomas took the mic to sing a few tunes, the trio reached new heights. Thomas’ vocal and scatting abilities are unparalleled. Many expect the singer to carry the melody and hang back for the solos. But when Thomas leaned into the mic and began scatting, the percussive energy in his voice really shined.

A highlight of the gig wasn’t even a moment in a song, but a (nowadays) rare moment of community. Behind the trio was a parking lot and another large Ann Arbor house with two residents on their balcony listening. Eventually, Thomas turned around and recognized them as other students in the Jazz program at the University of Michigan. Halting the set to catch up, we all got a glimpse into the camaraderie of jazz jams that we’ve missed all of these months. As Thomas, Cusmano, and Lauerman ramped back up to finish the set strong, I was grateful to see the jazz community is just as close-knit as it always has been.

Event organized and write-up authored by Rent Party Organizer Matt Harmon.

Matt Harmon is a recent graduate from the University of Michigan. He is one of the former Co-Presidents of Empty Mug Records in Ann Arbor. He is currently a Green School Coordinator with the EcoWorks Youth Energy Squad in Detroit. He is also a journalist, playwright, and musician.