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HomeArts & CultureMusicThe Birth and Beat of Voortex Jazz and Blues Band

The Birth and Beat of Voortex Jazz and Blues Band

Photos by Drake Whelton

One of the most compelling things about jazz and blues when “done right” is the role of serendipity. While the players may start with some basic forms or an idea of how the song will go, it really comes together as a mix in that moment in time.

You are reminded of this when talking to Mark VanVoorhees and Kelly Kiszka about the role of serendipity in the beginnings of the Voortex Jazz and Blues Band.

When asked how it started, VanVoorhees looked at Kiszka and said, “We met when the kids were in school, right?”

He continued, “My daughter, Emma, wanted a jazz band at her graduation party. I didn’t have a band at the time, so I invited a bunch of guys to come out and just play some jazz standards and see how it went. Kelly was one of them.”

The two of them hit it off musically as the jam that day strayed away from jazz into the blues, courtesy of Kiszka’s harmonica and vocal repertoire. They decided afterward that it might be something fun to work up into a full-time act. With a name that was a play on bassist VanVoorhees’ last name, the Voortex Jazz and Blues Band Featuring Papa Kiszka was born.

The name’s homage to circular motion is a testimony to a lineup that will often feature a rotation of guest soloists and singers on any given evening. What has evolved is an old-school show band based around six core members, with occasional guests to flesh out the lineup.

The core lineup consists of vocalist/harmonica player Kiszka, bassist VanVoorhees, keyboardist Jordan Edwards, guitarist Rhett Yocom (recommended to the group by blues legend Larry McCray), saxophonist Jeff Grassl, and drummer Steve Nyquist. The band will often supplement the lineup with top-shelf additions and award winners, like vocalist Kalysta Sylvester or guitarist Darrian Loehne.

The band is a pretty rollicking affair, with four members taking turns on vocals. Kiszka, Yocom, Grassl, and Edwards are all excellent soloists. Nyquist’s drums provide a proven pocket partner for the fretless bass lines from VanVoorhees’ vintage Gibson conversion or his slippery upright.

The whole thing takes on a new meaning, however, when Papa Kiszka steps to the mic. A powerhouse vocalist and no-holds-barred soloist, he is a stage presence that draws the attention of the room the minute he starts to belt it.

It’s worth mentioning the elephant in the room when you’re talking about the Voortex Band. When VanVoorhees mentioned kids, in addition to his own daughter, he was referencing Kiszka’s sons, Josh, Jake, and Sam. You may recognize that they joined their high school friend Danny Wagner to make up the lineup of Grammy-winning rock band Greta Van Fleet.

When queried about this bit of trivia, specifically if they ever get calls for “Highway Tune” from the crowd, the band said “No.” They did point out that they have people in every crowd that are there because of their connection to Kiszka’s famous offspring.

While it’s by no means the main reason to see the band, attending a Voortex live show is a way that you can see first-person proof of the younger Kiszkas’ stories about growing up listening to their dad’s blues records. Here he is, singing and playing many of those classic songs. They may have a Grammy, but he has a cool band and magazines talking to him, too.

The 2024 plan for the Voortex Band is to continue growing its fan base. They will continue to play some of their favorite local venues, like TDubs and Col. Benny’s, while trying to add festival dates and finding other stages on the regional blues circuit.

If you like your jazz and blues rough, tumbling, bawdy, and spinning on the edge of control, the Voortex Jazz and Blues Band may just be the act for you.

Matt de Heus
Matt de Heus
Despite his background in chemical and manufacturing engineering, Matt's true passion lies in music. Matt has received local awards from REVIEW magazine, recognizing his achievements in country songwriting, single releases, music videos, and more. His captivating song "Gone" has garnered particular acclaim. Alongside his musical pursuits, Matt is an accomplished freelance writer, lending his expertise to REVIEW magazine. He now joins LLL as their resident music expert. By following Matt and LLL, music enthusiasts can stay informed about Michigan's exceptional artists, captivating venues, and remarkable music scene.
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