Festive mood-- Attorney 'jazzed' about his new role as a board member

By Mike Scott

Legal News

Thomas Lewand has always loved jazz. Every summer the Bodman PLC lawyer attends the Grand Hotel's Jazz Festival on Mackinac Island where his son-in-law, Alex Graham, is the musical director.

Now, Lewand is bringing his love for music and his skills in networking, organization and the legal world to his role as a member of the board of trustees for the Detroit International Jazz Festival. The festival attracts more than 1 million people to downtown Detroit each summer, and is responsible for tens of millions of dollars in economic impact for the region.

This year's event will be held September 2-5. Now in its 32nd year, the festival takes place over several city blocks in downtown Detroit--from Hart Plaza to Campus Martius--with five stages and 100 acts during the four-day event. It also offers educational activities for adults and children along with a fireworks show.

In recent years, the festival has become more of a year-round institution, with the hiring of an artist-in-residence for every 12-month period. That musician will work with Detroit Public Schools and the musical programs at Eastern Michigan University and Wayne State University to help build awareness and interest while educating students about the merits of jazz in particular and music in general.

The educational component to the festival's year-round effort is also extended to other institutions, such as the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit.

"One of the main goals on the board that we have now is to expand the level of community support that we receive financially to ensure that the festival will continue to be economically viable for a long period of time," said Lewand, a Bodman member and business law expert. "We are fortunate to be on sound financial footing now, but it is important to ensure (sound finances continue) moving forward because of the positive impact it has on the region."

A major reason why the festival is strong financially is the support provided by Gretchen Vallade, part of a local family that owns clothier Carhartt, who has been a significant private donor over the years. Corporate support in recent years has been strong despite the challenges of the local and national economy, but funding always remains a long-term concern for any such event, Lewand said.

"We need to have a long-range view of support so we want to expand not just the corporate sponsors but the individual sponsors as well," Lewand said. %

The festival has continued to expand its overall reach beyond Detroit's borders. Last summer was the first year that portions of the concerts were broadcast by live simulcast over the Internet. There were more than 750,000 worldwide hits on the website, Lewand said, a number that is projected to rise this year.

Even before the live simulcast feature was added, festival organizers estimated that about 23 percent of its in-person audience traveled from outside of Michigan. Jazziz Magazine also has rated the Detroit International Jazz Festival among its top four such festivals in the United States.

"It gives us a great global presence and really helps to out Detroit in a positive light," Lewand said.

While Lewand has a personal love of music and jazz, he has been involved in many other charitable events or active boards. Lewand is a director for Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Wayne County Economic Development Corporation, and for Mackinac Island Affordable Housing Corporation. He is a treasurer for the Governor's Residence Foundation. In addition, he served as a member of the Board of Trustees of the University of Detroit Mercy for 12 years, the last four as chairman.

But working with the Detroit International Jazz Festival is of particular interest to him because of the family connection he has with music. And he sees how invested other board members and donors are in keeping the Jazz Festival in Detroit during a time where other events, such as the Detroit Grand Prix and The Buick Open in Warwick Hills, have left the region.

As part of his role, Lewand already has helped to modernize the board's legal structure to create another level of efficiency. He has a notable legal history having represented corporate clients in a variety of general business transactions and negotiating private partnerships between corporations and municipalities. Most notably, Lewand negotiated the deal to build Ford Field between the NFL's Detroit Lions, Wayne County and the City of Detroit.

But his involvement with the festival is less about his legal knowledge and more about organization and planning.

"Any good lawyer worth his or her weight in southeastern Michigan is involved with the community in some way," Lewand said. "My goal is to use the friendships I have personally and professionally, and use them in a positive way to help generate more awareness and support of the festival."

Visit www.detroitjazzfest.com for more information about the festival.

Published: Fri, Jan 28, 2011