My Labor Day Monday was spent at the Waterfront Stage, and it was a very good day to plant myself there. Brought my own chairs for some extra added comfort, enjoyed the warm weather and a nice cool breeze coming off the river. There was a bit of a chop on the water, but that didn’t stop the boaters and even a few brave souls on Jet Skis. I had a couple of cold brews left, and there was lots of hot music.
My favorite set of music was one that epitomized what a visit to the Jazz Festival is for me. The Sean Jones Quartet played a mid-afternoon stretch of music that was masterful. Jones is a trumpet player who has been recording on the Mack Avenue Records label for ten years now, in fact, he had to be one of the original artists that they signed. They took a chance on him, and both the trumpeter and the label have grown together. The way the stage sits now, you can watch the musicians on the stage with the Renaissance Center rising up in the background. You can’t get much more Detroit than that!
Sean Jones has played at the DJF eight different times over the last fourteen years. I first heard him as a young man, before he was on Mack Avenue, in a showcase of young trumpet players, put on by Detroit trumpet legend Marcus Belgrave. Back then, the waterfront stage was smaller and in a big white tent. I remember Marcus was about thirty minutes late. The man is a saint and a great trumpeter, but I don’t think he has been on time for anything in the last 25 years. The rhythm section just played some music to keep the crowd from leaving, and I remember the piano player was the great Mulgrew Miller. Finally Belgrave showed up and the young musicians could start their show. What makes me remember all this was the very last tune, where Sean Jones and another young player teamed up for a little trumpet “battle”. If memory serves me (over the 14 years since then), it was the Freddie Hubbard tune “Birdlike” that they played. I remember Jones just blowing the roof of that tent!
Now here I was, back at the waterfront, listening to Sean hold down a quartet. For a brass player, that is very, very, VERY hard to do. Playing the trumpet as the only horn in a jazz quartet is like running a marathon carrying a cement block over your head. You definitely have to have your chops together. Mr. Jones certainly does have his trumpet chops together, which is why he is releasing his seventh album of music. It is called “improvise”, and I’m not sure if it is released already, or if the DJF audience was just able to buy advance copies at the Mack Avenue booth. I have enjoyed all six of his previous albums (Eternal Journey, Gemini, Kaleidoscope, No Need For Word, Roots, and The Search Within), and this one will not be one to miss. Jones still has all the fire and technique in his playing that caught my attention over a decade ago, but the thing I have heard grow over the years is his treatment of the ballad. One of the real marks of maturity in a musician is his/her mastery of the slow, exposed music in a ballad. Sean has written some very personal slow tunes, and his playing on this set showed he has mastered it completely.
Go out and get any/all of the albums by Sean Jones, you won’t be disappointed. In fact, he recommends you go out and buy two of each album, since they conveniently fit in a Christmas stocking as a gift. 🙂
See you at next year’s Detroit Jazz Festival!